Great world building, awesome scientific magic, [and] plain brilliant snarky humor.
Brandon Sanderson is one of the best worldbuilders of his time. Each of his worlds has its own place in the shared Cosmere and is therefore a part of a universe with shared gods and original forms of magic.
Warbreaker, a standalone novel, is a part of this Cosmere as well. That means that this book, like other books by Sanderson, has its own, well thought out magic system with a scientific feel to it. This magic system is a significant part of every aspect of this story. The world, too, is both original and creative.
Magic through colors
The magic in this book – called BioChromatic – involves colors. Every human being in this world is born with one so-called breath, somewhat like a soul. This breath, however, can be given away or sold, creating magicians with hundreds of breaths, who are able to use them to perform all kinds of tricks, such as giving life to objects. To accomplish these tricks, one needs the color of the surrounding world.
An uneasy peace
Once a person has given away his or her breath, he or she will be colorless, or soulless. In the world of Warbreaker, this giving away of one’s soul poses an ethical debate, that eventually led to a bloody civil war, some three hundred years ago. At the end of this war, two countries remained, living in an uneasy peace: Idris, a colorless land without magic, where the old royal family rules, and Hallendren, a powerful nation of color, magic and exuberance, where the Returned – gods among men – rule, with their Godking at the forefront.
These two nations, especially Hallendren, set the stage for Warbreaker. To keep the tremulous peace intact, the king of Idris has twenty years ago promised the hand of his daughter to the Godking. However, once it is time to send his daughter – Vivenna, who prepared for this task her entire life – the king decides to send his worthless, impulsive, rebellious daughter in her stead.
It is through the eyes of the naïve and impulsive daughter, Siri, that we come to know the nation of Hallendren. This turns out to be a country of political intrigue, conspiracy and, above all, a longing for a war to conquer Idris.
The book also follows Vivenna, the jealous sister of Siri, who travels after her sister to save her from the task she was unprepared for, as well as Vasher, a mysterious magician and warrior, handling a hilarious, bloodthirsty and talking sword.
The most interesting of all characters, however, is Lightsong. Lightsong is one of the Returned, a god among men, sent back to Hallendren after death, to be worshipped by its citizens. Lightsong is sarcastic, snarky, extremely funny and an unbeliever of his own divinity.
The biggest problem I have with this book is the alternative way in which it was published. Warbreaker can be downloaded online for free, but most importantly, Brandon Sanderson has published every chapter and revision online as soon as it was written. Don’t get me wrong, I love this method, but in this case, it gave the book an unfinished feel. It’s as if Brandon wrote this as a side project and didn’t take the book very seriously.
Although the world, the magic and the characters hold a lot of potential, they weren’t very well developed. The alternative magic of colors held great appeal for me, but was far from reaching its full potential in Warbreaker. Furthermore, the story felt slow and the end wasn’t the least bit satisfying. Also, the absence of information about events back in Idris felt very unrealistic to me.
What must be said, though, is that the last hundred pages of this book work hard to redeem those flaws. These pages are written like true art, are intensely exciting and thrilling and have great speed and make the book into a real page-turner.
Why should you read this book?
Should you even read this book? I would say you should, but only if you’re a fan of great world building, awesome scientific magic, or just plain brilliant snarky humor. This book, despite its flaws, is still a very good one that will take you to a great and intriguing new world. At times, it even has a mysterious and conspiracy-like feel to it, as well as a very epic feel. Furthermore, with the multiple loose ends Sanderson has left behind, the chances of a sequel are great.