Warbreaker by Brandon SandersonAuthor: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor Fantasy (2009)
Number of Pages: 440
How long it took me to read: 1 week
Where I got this book: borrowed it from my husband
ISBN: 978-0765360038

Like a Moth to a Flame

I have been reading fantasy novels since I was eight years old, but I have always struggled with the genre’s great authors. They mostly write plodding, battle-strewn, stone-faced epics; I don’t always want to have to slog my way through a novel. That’s why, when I started looking for something fast-paced and fantastical to read several weeks ago, I asked my husband if he had any other Sanderson novels. I read Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy years ago, on my husband’s recommendation, and was impressed by the originality of his world-building and the twists of his plots. My husband again obliged by lending me Warbreaker.

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Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “It was strange, how easily and quickly protection could cause destruction…. Protect a flower, destroy the pests who wanted to feed on it. Protect a building, destroy the plants that could have grown in the soil. Protect a man. Live with the destruction he creates.” (p.153)

4. “I see only the color. The rich, wondrous colors that make up all things and give them life. I cannot focus only on the face, as so many do. I see the sparkle of the eyes, the blush of the cheeks, the tones of skin—even each blemish is a distinct pattern. All people are wonderful.” (p.235)

3. “…it is very strange to be a god whose wife does not believe in him.” (p.238)

2. “She had to stop judging people. But was that possible? Wasn’t interaction based, in part, on judgments? A person’s background and attitudes influenced how she responded to them. The answer, then, wasn’t to stop judging. It was to hold those judgments as mutable.” (p.367)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1.Priests are always easy to blame. They make convenient scapegoats—after all, anyone with a strong faith different from your own must either be a crazy zealot or a lying manipulator.” (p.377)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

New Word: garrison (noun)

Definition (Source: Merriam-Webster.com): a permanent military installation; troops stationed at a garrison
: from Middle English ‘garisoun’ protection; from Anglo-French ‘garisun’ protection; from ‘garir’ to heal, protect; of Germanic origin
As in: “They have military garrisons within striking distance of T’Telir!” (p.120)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

Warbreaker is unique in the fantasy genre: the novel is able to stand alone without the crutch of sequels and it maintains a speedy simplicity of style without detriment to its thematic content. For those of you who are not familiar with the tropes of the genre, both of these items are extremely rare. Sanderson is one of the few fantasy authors who has mastered the art of concluding a story. I think fantasy authors’ peculiar attachment to writing sequels into perpetuity partly stems from how much effort these authors put into building their worlds. To let the narrative come to an end is almost to let that world die, or at least to abandon it to neglect. When something of mine has absorbed that much of my creative energy, it is difficult for me not to think of it almost as if it were a child, more procreation than creation. To abandon it is intellectually, if not emotionally, painful.”

“One of the first things that draws me to Sanderson’s work is his systems of magic. Every fantasy novel has some implicit or explicit system of magic, but as the genre has grown exponentially in the last several years many of those systems turned out rather derivative. Sanderson is unafraid to explore new ideas, and his development of Warbreaker’s ‘BioChroma,’ an unusual system that utilizes the vibrancy of color and the strength of one’s soul, demonstrates that.

“I also find Sanderson unusual in that he understands that these systems of magic must have rules. There are two schools of thought in the fantasy genre: there are authors who let magic do just about anything without any limitations (the miracle-in-a-box subscribers), and authors who only allow magic through sacrifice. Sanderson realizes that a, for lack of a better term, realistic system of magic is not a cure-all. No matter how interesting it is, that magic will be reduced to deus ex machina. Magic must be based on the premise of some kind of exchange. The system must require something of those who use it: years of study, the offering of first fruits, an ascetic lifestyle, or even human sacrifice. Warbreaker’s ‘BioChroma’ requires the use of ‘Breath,’ which, depending on which theologian you ask, may or may not be a person’s very soul.

“If I am to truly be engaged by a story, any system of magic must follow the universal rule that great deeds require great sacrifice. Otherwise I will never be induced to treat the story as anything but an escapist daydream.”

“The more I read of Warbreaker, the more it foils my expectations. Sanderson knows how to lure me into a false sense of security by building and quelling the anxiety of his characters. I know Vivenna is out of her league the moment she enters the city of T’Telir, and she does too. Thank goodness Denth, the mercenary, appears on the scene to look out for her! He’s charming, witty, a master duelist; Vivenna will be fine. Both Vivenna and I are so flooded with relief that we both ignore the details that reveal Denth’s true nature to be self-serving and sadistic. I have to believe that Vivenna’s safe in order to quell my own anxiety, and Sanderson realizes that I am more than willing to do that for him. Then he shocks me with the revelation of Denth’s actual motives. In this brutal twist of plot, I’m drawn even further into Sanderson’s storytelling.”

“I think that challenging the perspectives of both his characters and his readers is one of Sanderson’s favorite things. One of the major themes of Warbreaker is that of the necessity of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, or the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time. This is a concept that I, self-proclaimed pursuer of truth, find inherently uncomfortable. Does the fact that most of us must maintain cognitive dissonance in order to stay sane indicate that the world itself is contradictory? That the world is in some way broken?

“The world of Warbreaker isn’t necessarily broken, but the perspective of its characters certainly is. None of Sanderson’s characters are complete in their understanding of the world they live in, which is a rare quality for a fantasy novel. Normally, there is at least one character who stands in for the author as the purveyor of wise truths. I want someone to purvey all wise truths to me. If that person does not exist, then I must admit that my perspective is limited. Sanderson challenges me to continually expand my perspective even though I know that it will never be all-encompassing. He wants me not only to question but to interrogate our universe.

“Sanderson demonstrates in Warbreaker that no single perspective completely reveals truth; and if I do not learn to treat others with both empathy and skepticism, if I do not learn to accept cognitive dissonance within myself and others, I will never achieve peace of any kind.”

Rachel Castleberg

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