Brandon Sanderson
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Buy *Warbreaker* by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson
688 pages
March 2010
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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A stand-alone epic fantasy, which are rare these days, Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker revolves around two princesses and a reluctant god. The novel features a colorful cast of secondary characters, a unique magic system, and an intriguing world, its plot centering on scheming and mysteries instead of battles.

Princess Siririnah, or Siri, is the youngest of the royal children of Idris and has always been headstrong and somewhat of a tomboy. She loves to bend the stern rules of the austere Idrians, loving to bring colorful flowers to children in the city where brown is the dominant color.

Vivenna, the oldest of the four siblings, has always known that it would be her duty to marry the heretic, blasphemous Hallandrian God King so that her country can continue to live in peace with the powerful Hallandirans. Dutiful and restrained, she has prepared her whole life for living among the heretics in their huge, bright capital T'Telir. However, when the time comes to send the Idrian bride, it is Siri who is sent instead of Vivenna, shocking both sisters.

Siri has no choice but to travel to Hallandren and become queen to a people about whom she knows almost nothing. She will also find out quickly how naive she is when confronted with the Court of Gods, where plotting and scheming is almost an art form. She will also need to adjust somehow to an extravagant way of life which is almost opposite of everything she has ever known. All her life she has been irreverent and irrelevant. Now she will be the bride of a god she does not believe in and an important figure in the strange court - and many still want a war against the royal family of Idris. Siri may be the only one who can stop the war, but to do that, she has to find an ally in the Court, where no one is what he or she appears.

Vivenna has always known that her sacrifice on behalf of her people is a very important thing, and that it makes her also a very important person. Now her baby sister has been sent as a sacrifice to the king of false gods instead of her. She cannot see how her little sister will be able to survive in the bright city of T'Telir, and she concocts a desperate plan to save Siri. She decides to travel to the city with the only man she feels that she can trust: Paldir, whom she might have married had things been different. They travel to the huge and colorful capital but find that their contact is dying and unable to help them. However, the dying contact gives Vivenna a small group of mercenaries and also wealth beyond belief: many Breaths.

Lightsong the Bold is the god of courage. Unfortunately, he does not believe in gods. He is one of the few Returned, those who have returned from dead and are revered as gods in Hallandren. They do not remember who they were in their previous lives, and their priests are not allowed to tell them. While they do not have any magical powers, their dreams are considered prophetic. Lightsong's dreams have been about a war and a mysterious woman he does not recognize. He tries his best to be flippant and irreverent whenever possible, mocking everyone he meets and refusing to engage in politics. He aims to use himself as the example of the uselessness of gods and thereby point out how inefficient the Hallandren government is. The country is ruled by gods who rarely live past a decade and who never leave the palace area. Soon, though, Lightsong must choose if he is going to stay lazy and incompetent or get involved in the happening around him.

The fourth point-of-view character, the mysterious Vasher, has his own agenda.

In Sanderson's fascinating and complex world, people, politics, and religions clash. Its unique magic system is based on Breath, which the Idrians also call the soul. Every human is born with one Breath. He or she can willingly give it away and will still continue to live, but they will seem to others a little grayer - less lively and less able to notice things happening around them. The Idrians pity these "Drabs" and consider it monstrous to accept another's Breath. Halladrens consider Breaths basically trade goods that even the poorest human has.

A person who has fifty or more Breaths can do magic with that power, including Awakenings - they can make human-shaped, organic stuff come alive and do what the Awakener wants it to do. This does require the knowledge of the correct words to say and the ability to say them clearly. When the required work is done, the Awakener can take the Breath back from the thing.

Awakeners can also make the Lifeless by reanimating the bodies of dead creatures - usually male soldiers, but animal bodies can also be used. The Lifeless cannot feel or think for themselves, only follow commands. However, the Breath that is given to the dead body cannot be taken back.

The Returned need at least one Breath a week to continue to exist. The Hallandreans consider it an honor to give Breath to their gods and are well paid for it. Lightsong does feel guilty occasionally for being useless and still taking a Breath from another person once a week.

The Idrians do not believe that the Returned are gods. Instead, they worship Austre, who cannot be seen or heard. Coming to T'Telir is a shock to both princesses, who each have to deal with the other culture in her own way, this society where people do not believe or think as they do.

The main characters are well-written, and often the plot depends on what they do. However, they are not perfect and can make even huge mistakes. Both Vivenne and Siri grow and change a great deal during the book, and their journeys parallel each other in a way.

The secondary characters are just as strong: Lightsong's pious and humble high priest, Llarimar, who must endure much from his own god; the nervous Bluefingers, the chief scribe; the God King's high priest, Tredelees, who constantly puts Siri down; the philosophical mercenary Denth, and his small band. All seem to have their own interests and goals.

The plot centers on plotting and scheming - learning who you can trust and what you are capable of, and finding your own identity. The humor in the book mostly comes in the form of Lightsong mocking everyone around him, but the mercenaries are also quite witty. Unfortunately, the ending seems a bit weak, and I could not believe in a few choices some of the characters made.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Mervi Hämäläinen, 2009

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