I just finished Warbreaker, and the words that keep coming to mind are “That was so good!” This is the first Brandon Sanderson novel I’ve read, and it certainly won’t be the last. Warbreaker combines highly original world-building with an exciting plot that kept me on the edge of my seat.
The novel begins with the introduction of two major characters: Vivenna and Siri, princesses of the tiny kingdom of Idris. You may think you’ve seen these archetypes before — the stiff, elegant princess and the feisty, rebellious princess — but the way the two women develop is unexpected and realistic. Neither is prepared for what awaits them in the neighboring kingdom of Hallandren. The royal line of Idris once ruled Hallandren, and everything about present-day Hallandren is vilified in Idris, especially its magic, its colorful clothing and architecture, and its flesh-and-blood gods.
Siri is sent away to be married to Susebron, the mysterious God-King of Hallandren. I was reminded of the Cupid and Psyche tale, in that Siri is given every luxury but kept from learning the true nature of her husband. Vivenna runs away from Idris shortly after Siri’s departure, planning to rescue Siri and find her own purpose in life, and ends up involved in a resistance movement. The court and the street are both filled with dangers. Things are not always what they seem, and few people can be trusted.
Most of Hallandren’s gods are pushing for war with Idris, a war that Idris cannot possibly win, and the plot revolves around Siri and Vivenna’s attempts to prevent it. They are aided by Lightsong, the reluctant god of courage, and by a mysterious man with a long and troubled past. The plot is exciting and complex, with lots of twists and turns. Often a revelation would make me jawdrop in surprise, and then the next moment I’d be thinking, “Of course! How did I not see that?” Those are the best kinds of plot twists — they seem to come out of nowhere but in retrospect make perfect sense.
There’s a brief period when the story dragged a little for me. I’ve noticed that, as a reader, I tend to get bogged down when the point-of-view character is being buffeted along by the plot rather than driving events. Looking back, I wonder if I was subconsciously picking up on the fact that this character was being used as a pawn. Like many other things, it makes sense later.
A short scene I loved: the goddess Allmother’s treatment of a petitioner, which showed that a god can change someone’s life without using a drop of magic.
Warbreaker is dark in places, but the darkness is tempered by hilarious dialogue, a tender love story, and unexpected acts of heroism from the unlikeliest sources. I’m reminded of my fellow reviewer Kat’s comment about a completely different book: it leads us into darkness but doesn’t leave us wallowing there. In Warbreaker, you never know who might turn out to be a villain. You never know who might turn out to be a hero, either.