Just picked this one up on Sunday, based on the glowing reviews that I’d read online. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed by Warbreaker, Brandon Sanderson’s latest novel. For those of you who haven’t read anything by him, Sanderson is known for two things. First, he ends his series; something rather unusual for fantasy writers. Second, Sanderson invents completely new systems of magic, based on geometry, metals, and in Warbreaker, color and a person’s anima along with some simple “magic words.” It’s impossible not to appreciate the sheer amount of thought that went into this book. What intrigued me here was that the magic wasn’t ancient. It was new, and the characters were still figuring out how it worked and what its applications could be. The history of this world, for the most part, is only about three hundred years old. Another unusual development in a genre where everything began a thousand years ago, according to the prologues.
Warbreaker features an ensemble cast of mercenaries, shady do-gooders, gods who may not be gods, princesses, and priests. Everyone’s got a motive, but the challenge is figuring out what they are. There were so many double-crosses and betrayals in this book that you start to wonder if you can even trust the narrators. Sanderson’s characters were brilliant actors; I didn’t see a one of those betrayals coming. In one plot thread, we follow Vivenna, a princess whose purpose is taken away from her. In another, we follow her sister, Siri, who has that purpose thrust on to her. And in a third, we tag along with Vasher, a mysterious figure who I didn’t figure out until the last chapter. And in the fourth, we follow Lightsong the Bold, a so-called god who doubts his divinity and spends most of his time trying to appear as a lazy, unimportant, lay-about despite the best efforts of his chief priest.
The plot threads twist around each other as the four main characters learn more about each other, motivations are revealed, and plans are made and re-made. They don’t completely converge until near the end when all the loose ends are wrapped up. The way it’s written is very natural and I loved that the main characters all had to act independently. It made for a very tense climax and conclusion. Would Vivenna learn who was really begin the plot to invade her country? Would Siri find the chutzpah to stand up to her enemies? Would Vasher survive to become a hero? Would Lightsong find his purpose? Sanderson keep me in suspense all the way to the end. Have I mentioned how much I like writers who can keep me guessing?
Sanderson really thinks about the details and the structure of his books. They are all very intelligent and present issues in such a way that you end up thinking about them, too, without feeling like you’ve been preached to. In Warbreaker, I have to wonder about the religion. It serves a purpose, like all religions should. But it seems like the faithful are wiser than the people who’re supposed to be their gods. The gods in this book are complicated, sure, but they are kept so sheltered and ignorant that they have to devote a lot of energy to finding things out.
Warbreaker is a surprisingly complex novel for a stand-alone. If he wished, Sanderson could no doubt build on this world. But like I said earlier, Sanderson ends his series. Elantris is a standalone, for now, and the Hero of Ages ended definitively in the third book. Considering how many three-foot fantasy series there are out there, the brevity is refreshing.