Book Review: Warbreaker

Warbreaker (Warbreaker #1)
Published By: Tor
Publication Date: June 2009
Page Count: 692
Source: Library
Audience: Adult - Fantasy

I’ve reviewed several of Brandon Sanderson’s books here on Reading Lark, and Warbreaker holds to his high standard of intriguing magic systems, witty dialogue, and a great twist that knocks the reader off balance. The premise of the story almost sounds like a joke: Two princesses who are sisters, a fearsome God King of a rival nation whom one of them must marry, and a lesser god who is unconvinced of his own divinity… Add to the mix a couple of wisecracking mercenaries to aid one of the princesses and an immortal with a sentient sword who is working against them. Out of this jumble of characters, Sanderson weaves a story both intricate and sweeping. 

In each of Sanderson’s fantasy series, he develops a new type of magic system. For the Mistborn series, the allomancers used different types of metals to fuel their abilities. In The Way of Kings, it was… In Warbreaker, the characters use a combination of color and Breath. Breath seems to be part of one’s soul, though you can buy or extort Breath from others and collect it within yourself to achieve various levels of abilities called Heightenings. As a long time fantasy reader used to magic being somewhere on the continuum between innate power and incantations, I continue to be impressed with the seeming ease with which Sanderson creates completely new forms of magic. 

Where Warbreaker really shines, though is in its characters and their interactions. Sanderson is a master at taking a well-worn trope and standing it on its head. The fantasy genre has gods aplenty, but I don’t think it’s ever had one like Lightsong the Brave, whose apparent life’s quest is to deliberately and humorously undermine his own religion and antagonize his high priest. The two mercenaries, Denth and Tonk Fah, provide comic relief in the first half of the novel by making fun of the princess’s preconceived notions of mercenaries. Nightblood, the sentient sword, however, completely stole my heart despite being deeply bloodthirsty and not even human. It’s view of life is so black and white and tempting. 

Warbreaker is also a deeply political novel. The court of the gods is filled with intrigue and scheming priests. The priests handle the day to day operation of the government and debate openly in the court, but big decisions are left to the gods to make. And so, each of the characters at the court must carefully amass influence and curry political favors. Seeing all this through both the eyes of a naïve princess and a purposefully slack deity added to the fun of the book. 

This novel does have a Sanderson signature twist to it, but it happens fairly early in the novel, about 1/3 of the way in. The twist completely changes the foundation of the story, but having it so close to the beginning made me want even more toward the end. Warbreaker is still a great book, but I guess I prefer to get blown out of my socks later in the game. In any case, though, I am completely stoked for the sequel.

Sisters Vivenna and Siri are princesses of Idris. Susebron is the God King one must marry. Lightsong is the reluctant minor god of bravery. Vasher is an immortal still trying to undo mistakes of centuries before. Magic from individual breath from everyday objects can perform all manner of miracles and mischief.