Warbreaker – Brandon Sanderson

warbreaker cover I am nearly caught up on Sanderson. The guy just had to go out there and release the monstrously large Words of Radiance, sequel to Way of Kings, which I am rather impatiently waiting to devour. I tell myself that I need to read something else, and so I have! I’ll review that one next. Spoiler alert: it was also very good.

But to address the matter to the left here, I’ve recently finished reading Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker. It represents a rarity for Mr. Sanderson in that it is a standalone novel, but it holds up to his serialized work (and to his other standalone, Elantris.) He has, yet again, built a world so fantastical-yet-believable that the color-changing hair of the royal line seems perfectly reasonable. I would venture that this is why I like his work so much. He consistently creates such grand visions that, to me, read like the accounts of a real, far-off place. (Whereas Tolkien, with whom I’m also quite enamored, reads somewhat biblically, which tends to kick me out of the books.)

The world we discover in Warbreaker is a world where color is sacred, and where each person’s soul can be bought or traded as commodity. The “soul” in this world is a thing called a BioChromatic breath, and can be called upon using a variety of command phrases. It is a world where a new religion of living gods (people who were reborn shortly after dying) rules over the decadent and hedonistic masses, while a small sect of loyalists to the “original” royal family worship the old god (of relative austerity) in the mountains.

We meet our colorful (yuk yuk) cast of characters during a time of unease. War is brewing, and one of the princesses from the mountains must be sent to the royal court in Hallandren to be married off to the God-King, rumored to be a terrible and frightening tyrant with a penchant for human sacrifice and all manner of baditudes. As is so often the case, however, things are not what they seem.

Warbreaker is, in many ways, a combination of four different coming-of-age stories that intertwine and inform one another. The interplay of these different characters learning how to cope with change, disappointment, failure, and responsibility is what made this book most interesting to me. That, and the notion that a god can disbelieve in his own religion and personal divinity. Brandon Sanderson’s expertise lies in building convincing characters who struggle with real issues in fantastical settings. I am compelled to learn more about their struggles, and to find solutions alongside them. Occasionally, I find myself to be incredibly frustrated by their shortsightedness or by their chosen path. All of this spells a wholly addictive reading experience. This is at the kernel of all of Sanderson’s work, and it is that which I have been unable to explain in previous reviews of his books. I see myself as a more “experienced” Sandersonian now, and I can tell he likes certain tropes, has fallibilities as a writer, but is by and large the most prolific and talented fantasy writers of our time.

Warbreaker is much like its brethren, in that I read it voraciously. I found that the cliffhanger ending practically outlined a sequel, but apparently this one is a standalone novel, which is in and of itself a Sandersonian unicorn. The magic is fascinating, the characters are dynamic, and the action…well present, if subdued in comparison to his other novels. This one deals more in politics and intrigue, though there is still action to be read, and well-choreographed action at that. The twists were unexpected, and several had me exclaiming aloud as I reached them. You know it’s a good book when there are multiple moments when you literally gasp at a new revelation.

All that said, I think this would come later in the list of recommended “first Sanderson readings,” as he has more accessible work published. I enjoyed this book immensely, and despite what I now want to do, I will do my damnedest to read some other books before sinking my teeth into Words of Radiance. 4/5

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