Warbreaker on audio: I’m blonde with excitement

fantasy  book reviews Brandon Sanderson WarbreakerWarbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

My fellow reviewers have sufficiently covered all of the important elements of Warbreaker (indeed, Bill Capossere’s review was nearly as long as the book) so I will briefly report my own reaction and then mention Recorded Books‘ version.

I really enjoyed Warbreaker for all the reasons that Bill Capossere and Kelly Lasiter did: Unique world and magic system, interesting twisty plot, agreeable humor, and great characters. I was slightly annoyed with Vivenna’s use of the word “ostentatious” and her constant concern about modest clothing (this reminded me a lot of The Wheel of Time), but I looked forward to the transformation of her character that was obviously coming.

There are two things that I really like about Brandon Sanderson’s writing in general, and Warbreaker is no exception:

  1. His magic systems. I’ve read all of his work now, and in each case he’s developed a wonderfully thoughtful, unique, and internally valid magic system.
  2. He’s funny. So many authors try to be funny, but I find few of them to be actually funny. Brandon Sanderson is funny.

This brings me to the audiobook. (Listen to sample). At first I was put out by James Yaegashi’s slow pace which at times sounded like he was reading to first graders (I know how big this book is, so I thought “this is going to take forever!”), but it turns out that his reading really highlighted Sanderson’s humorous dialogue.

Yaegashi’s voices for the mercenaries Denth and Tonk Fah really brought out that “comic duo” feel and worked charmingly with their hilarious black humor. His voice for Nightblood (the sentient sword — probably a nod to Elric’s Stormbringer) was suitably creepy, demented, and naïvely zealous at the same time — perfect. The following scene is one I played back several times because Yaegashi’s rendition made me laugh (keep in mind that up to this point nearly all of Nightblood’s thoughts, speech, and actions have seemed remorselessly evil and unnecessarily bloody):

[Vasher] reached into a pouch at his belt, pulling out the object within: a dead squirrel.

Yuck, Nightblood said with a sniff.

(This renders better on audio than print, I realize now, but I guess that’s my point.)

Also entertaining was Yaegashi’s voice for Lightsong, the god who doesn’t believe in himself (actually, his priest preaches to him!) and who strives to be as lazy and useless as possible. Yaegashi chose to use upspeak for Lightsong’s voice, and the effect is amusing because it reinforces the impression that even his stupid jokes are purposeful.

“Lightsong,” Lifeblesser said with his tactlessly honest voice, “You really need to take more of an interest in politics. It can be very diverting. Why, if you only knew the secrets to which I’m privy!”

“My dear Lifeblesser,” Lightsong replied, “Please trust me when I say that I have no desire to know any secrets which involve you and a privy.”

Yaegashi’s voices actually contributed to my surprise at a couple of the plot twists which involved characters doing uncharacteristic things.

Warbreaker is a terrific book and would be nearly flawless in my eyes if not for Sanderson’s just slightly superfluous writing style. For example, the “Yuck” quote above would work better this way:

[Vasher] reached into a pouch at his belt and pulled out a dead squirrel.

Yuck, Nightblood sniffed.

I’m sure I’m unusual, but these things pop out at me — probably because of all of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, Omit Needless Words is the one I find myself constantly working on with students. So, I can’t help but notice needless words in all of Brandon Sanderson’s works (though they’re getting better!) and this is the main reason I can’t consider him to be the Perfect Fantasy Author. However, though style is slightly lacking, substance is not — Brandon Sanderson writes great worlds and great characters. He is a Nearly Perfect Fantasy Author and is near the top of my must-read list.




fantasy book reviews Brandon Sanderson Warbreakerfantasy  book reviews Brandon Sanderson WarbreakerWarbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (Graphic Audio’s version)

I made a mistake a couple of weeks ago when I gave Graphic Audio the credit for the Recorded Books audiobook I was reviewing: Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker. I incorrectly assumed that the rights for production were given to only one audio publisher and I had downloaded the book from Audible, so when I did the research to find out which audio company to credit, I first saw Graphic Audio and looked no further. Within a couple of hours of putting up the review however, Graphic Audio contacted me to let me know of my mistake and to offer a copy of their version, and several other titles, for review. (Heh heh — turned out to be a clever mistake, eh?)

When I looked into Graphic Audio, I discovered that their books are abridged, so I was concerned about this (how can I properly review a book if I don’t read the whole thing?), but after learning more about these productions at Brent Weeks’ website, I decided to give it a try. It seems that all of the content is there, but because it’s performed as theatre, we hear the actors say the lines and we hear sound effects. Therefore, it’s not necessary for the narrator (there is a narrator) to read “he said,” “she replied,” and “the door slammed.” Thus, the listener may miss out on the structure of some of the author’s prose and dialogue, but won’t miss any of the plot. The Recorded Books version was over 24 hours long and the Graphic Audio version is about 18 hours long, but much of that difference is likely due to the speed of the narrator’s voice. In fact, I mentioned in my review of the Recorded Books version (above) that their narrator spoke painfully slowly.

I tested some areas of Graphic Audio’s production against the print book and could detect nothing missing. For example, the passage I quoted in my review above goes like this in Graphic Audio’s version:

Narrator: He reached into a pouch at his belt, pulling out the object within: a dead squirrel.

Nightblood: Ooh, Yuck.

Nightblood’s voice, by the way, was suitably creepy. A different actor does each voice (they have a large acting staff) and mostly I found the voices appropriate and at least as good as those in the Recorded Books version (though I have to admit that I hadn’t considered an Irish Brogue for Siri and Vivenna). There was quite a bit of background music (Celtic in this case, composed by their staff musicians specifically for Warbreaker). The music ramped up the drama while never getting in the way of the voices.

If anything, the theatre atmosphere draws the attention away from any defects in the actual writing style — it is, as their motto indicates, like “a movie in your mind,” so the “reader” is focused on the story and not the mechanics of the writing. This makes it really fun to listen to, but gives a reviewer the difficulty of not being able to adequately critique some aspects of the author’s style. (Thus, if I listen to more of their audiobooks, I’ll be sure to indicate this in my review.)

If you’re picky about writing style and mechanics and feel the need to evaluate those in the literature you read, then it’d be best to stick with the print version or a traditionally narrated audiobook. If you’re the type of reader who just wants a fun fantasy story (which, I suspect, is most of you), then you will find these productions to be really entertaining and I confidently recommend Graphic Audio’s version of Warbreaker to you.

Warbreaker — (2009) From the author: In many ways, this book is a companion — yet opposite book — to ELANTRIS. Though set in separate worlds with very different systems of magic, both take the same concept, then run different directions with it… Now, I want to try another book about deified men. Coincidentally, I decided I wanted to deal with another concept I promised in ELANTRIS, but then ignored — the bride who is sent to another kingdom to marry a man she doesn’t know. Once again, I wanted to take it the opposite direction. In Elantris, Sarene arrives to discover her fiancé is dead and gone. In Warbreaker, however, I wanted to show what happened if the bride didn’t get to dodge this uncomfortable situation, but actually had to marry the man she’d been promised to.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. “blonde with excitement”… that’s a new one for me :)

  2. I read it in the book! :-))

  3. I read this book! I am always amazed with Brandon. I was so surprised at how much he jammed into a single book. The magic system is amazing. The characters were wonderful. The plot and story line was just wow.

    I think he could write more in this world and I would love to read more in this world. The magic system its self is amazing. I love how he gives limits and rules to the systems. Then there is always the way to push the limits, and Brandon is great at that.

    Amazing book!

  4. Yeah, he does the best magic systems. I like how his brain works and I think I’d like him as a person — he sounds interesting.

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