A standalone (for now) fantasy novel by Brandon Sanderson, author of Elantris, The Stormlight Archive and the Mistborn series, Warbreaker once again demonstrates Sanderson's fondness for cool new systems of Functional Magic, strong female leads of royal derivation, religious quandaries, and shocking plot twists.In a world where magic is ruled by three aspects (color, voice, and Breath, the essential power of one's soul), where those who die nobly can return to life and be worshiped as gods, the minor kingdom of Idris wants to stay as far away from such things as possible. They wear muted colors, usually a simple gray or white, and look upon the use of Breath magic as an abomination. But in the neighboring kingdom of Hallandren, where the immortal God King rules over a court of deities returned from the dead, sinister plots are stirring and many are calling for war against the "rebels" in Idris.The only way to avert it is for the king of Idris to honor an old treaty and send his daughter to the God-King's court to be his bride. He has trained up his beloved daughter Vivenna to do this, but when the time comes he pulls a switcheroo and sends his youngest daughter Sisirina instead. When Siri arrives, she's immediately pulled into a tangled web of plots and betrayals within the court of the Gods. Meanwhile, Vivi, at loose ends now that the husband she went through a lifetime of Wife Husbandry for has married someone else, sneaks away to Hallandren to save her little sister from the ruthless God-King and take her place. It doesn't quite work out that way, especially when the mysterious Vasher, a fighter with a black sword that speaks to him and enjoys killing people, takes notice of her...The entire work can be found for free on Brandon Sanderson's website, as Sanderson performed a brave experiment with this novel: as he wrote and re-wrote it, he published each draft on his site, so that aspiring authors and/or curious readers could watch the story evolve artistically and technically. (For obvious reasons, he also kept a changelog.) As a result, spoilers abound; you know where to go if you want to get the story first. (Alternately, buy it on Amazon, where it has been officially published.)For more works in The Verse in which this takes place, see The Cosmere.
This book provides examples of:
Achievements in Ignorance: Lightsong sometimes plays a kind of highly complex ball-game with the other gods. He makes a point of never learning the rules, but keeps managing impossible moves (and winning) on sheer force of dumb luck.
Also, how he rediscovers the skills he had in life. Entirely by accident, he learns halfway through the book that he is good at interrogation and finding hidden details,and is pretty good at juggling fruit. He has no experience like that in his life as a god, so he reasons that they must be skills from his previous life and wonders if he was a police detective or something similar. Later, he gets a sword, turns out to be dangerously incompetent with it, and is informed that in his previous life he was an accountantnote We never do find out why he can juggle fruit..
Affably Evil: Denth is genuinely funny, witty, and charming. He's also completely amoral, obsessed with revenge, and willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish either his vengeance or his current job as a mercenary.
Also Bluefingers who is benevolent, fatherly, humble, and busily plotting a world war.
The Returned can continue to live indefinitely if they are supplied with Breath once per week but are otherwise as vulnerable to injury as anybody else, as poor Blushweaver discovered.
Anyone can live indefinitely if they have the Fifth Heightening or above (People with less than that age more slowly, but the Fifth Heightening is when it stops completely). It's actually better than being a Returned since such people don't need a constant supply of Breath to live.
And Call Him George: Tonk Fah and his pets. Interestingly, this is at least implied early on, yet it's still a dark twist when we learn that he's not killing them by accident a la Lennie, but to satiate his psychopathic tendencies.
Artifact of Death: it has a distressing tendancy to try and kill whoever draws it, or make nearby people kill each other (but only if they're evil; good people get violently ill when they get too close), something Vasher was clever enough to weaponize- see Throwing Your Sword Always Works below for details.
Badass Beard: Word of Godexplicitly confirms that the Royal Locks (the Idrian Royal Family's control over the color and length of their hair) extends to facial hair in the case of male royalty.
Bait the Dog: Denth and Tonk Fah, especially with the latter.
Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: Siri goes through this every night before she is sent into Susebron's bedchamber. Ultimately a subversion, as Susebron is not a villain and doesn't even understand sex for most of the book.
Beleaguered Assistant: Llarimar, Lightsong's high priest, who does his best to keep his religion running despite its god's total lack of interest in it.
Big Bad: Teased constantly. At first it looks like Susebron, but he turns out to be harmless. Then it looks like Denth, but it quickly becomes apparent that someone else is paying him. All the characters' suspicion then falls on High Priest Treledees of the God King, but it turns out he's a deliberate red herring for Bluefingers.
Buxom Is Better: All the gods, upon Returning, are transformed into their own idea of physical perfection. As a result, almost all the goddesses have enormous breasts.
Cast from Hit Points: How Returned magic works—it can accomplish things far beyond ordinary Awakening, but only at the cost of the Returned in question's life. Nightblood works like this too, drawing on its wielder's Breath to fuel its powers when fully drawn. Running out of Breath while trying to wield Nightblood is fatal- even for a non-Returned, as explicitly confirmed by Word of God.
Chekhov's Gun: Vasher reveals in the prologue that he is able to instantly achieve the Fifth Heightening, the same as all of the Returned. It turns out in the end that he is indeed a Returned, and has been living in hiding for 300 years.
Also, the D'Denir statues are Kalad's phantoms, the army of uber-Lifeless which ended the Manywar.
The Breath wasted in Tonk Fah's clothes ends not being wasted at all.
Chekhov's Skill: Subverted. While he's trying to work out who he was pre-Return, Lightsong figures he was probably some sort of detective or soldier and guesses he'd probably be a really good swordsman if he ever tried. So later, when he picks up a sword and tries to go all Big Damn Heroes to rescue Blushweaver... he promptly gets his ass handed to him, because he while he was indeed an investigator, he wasn't a city guard officer, he was an accountant.
The Chessmaster: Bluefingers plotted out almost all the events of the novel like clockwork. Ultimately, it was only two factors he couldn't possibly have foreseen (Lightsong's Heroic Sacrifice and Vasher really being Kalad and Peacegiver) that stopped him.
Vasher and Blushweaver are more well-intentioned Chessmasters.
Combat Pragmatist: Vasher. First with his technique of throwing Nightblood into groups of people, and then in his fight with Denth, giving up his Breath for one chance to kill him.
Corrupt Church: The priests of the various Gods are some of the main plotters in the intrigues at court.
Also subverted with the God King's priests. While bound by tradition and rather more ruthless than is good for them, they're not actually the den of evil schemers Siri and Lightsong think they are.
Dark Is Not Evil: Vasher is a Manipulative Bastard with Perma Stubble, a Guile Hero or Science Hero but particularly ruthless about it, whose preferred tactic when fighting groups is throwing an Artifact of Doom at them and making them kill each other and themselves. We're introduced to him when he deliberately gets himself arrested so he can break into a deeper jail and extort a stockpile of magic power from another prisoner. However, he's a good guy and the Artifact of Doom in question was created specifically to destroy evil.
Deadly Decadent Court: Subverted—the Returned might be decadent, but really, nothing they do has a great deal of long-term relevance, and most of them simply can't muster enough interest to do anything important anyway. Moreover, the Femme Fatale who seemed to be plotting the most ends up being manipulated by the Pahn Kahl scribes pretty thoroughly. And then murdered by them.
Deadpan Snarker: Pretty much everyone has their moments, but Lightsong unquestionably earns the grand prize.
Determined Expression: Clod gets one briefly while protecting Vivenna. It's the only time he or any other Lifeless shows expression.
Didn't Think This Through: Much more serious example than usual. When Vasher and Glorysinger (his wife) were forging Nightblood, they knew that whatever Command they gave would define the sword's personality and purpose. Given the fact that Nightblood contains a thousand Breaths and is thus one of the most powerful objects in the world, choosing the right command was obviously very important. After much thought, they selected "Destroy Evil". Only later would they realize the problem with this command: How is a piece of metal supposed to know what "evil" is?
Distaff Counterpart: Word of God has it that Llarimar and Lightsong's relationship is supposed to be a parallel of Vivenna and Siri's. Lightsong (or Stennimar as he used to be called) liked traveling and enjoying his bachelor lifestyle whereas Llarimar was the one who always did what he should, but Llarimar also always admired his brother for his sense of adventure, his proactiveness, and his simple kindness toward other people.
Dragon with an Agenda: Denth is hired to act as The Dragon for the Pahn Kahl conspiracy. While he does loyally fulfill this role, his primary motive remains revenge on Vasher.
Easy Logistics: The chief advantage of Lifeless over regular soldiers. They don't have any need to eat or drink and don't appear to rot or decay, which allows Hallendren to sustain a standing army of forty thousand of the things with barely the slightest impact on their luxurious economy.
This appears to be a subversion at the start, however, so it's not played 100% straight.
High Priest Treledees is a complete subversion—he's a bit of a jerk and is quite hidebound, but he's doing no more than what he believes is his duty to his nation and his God-King. Indeed, he's the Red HerringBluefingers uses to keep from being spotted.
Evil Overlord: Subverted. Susebron the God-King has a reputation as being this, especially in Idris, but he's really a figurehead and a very nice (if naive) guy.
Evil Weapon: Subverted with Nightblood. It's a black sword with magical powers that continually goads its wielder to kill people but was actually created to destroy evil. Pity a sword can't tell the difference.
Exotic Detective: Lightsong when he tries to solve the mystery of the murdered servant in Mercystar's palace—he uses his Fifth Heightening powers to see clues that no-one else could.
Expy: Word of God says that Siri and Vivenna were exported from a novel he never got around to completing. While he never was really satisfied with the book and shelved it half-finished, he and his alpha readers liked subplot with the two princesses, so he wrote a book about them instead. He also mentions that Denth is more or less the same concept as Kelsier, except that he's on the villain's side.
False Reassurance: Denth is a master at this, as well as Exact Words. Denth repeatedly tells Vivenna that he can be relied on to faithfully carry out the task he's been hired to do. He just doesn't tell her that she's not the one that he's been working for.
Fiery Redhead: The hair colours tend to play it straight, with red hair representing passion, temper, fire. Brown hair is described as pensive and is usually the colour that comes out when Siri/Vivenna are thinking intensely about something. Blonde is the colour of happiness. The ones that might subvert or avert the tropes are black (neutral) and white (afraid).
Gambit Pileup: It becomes obvious almost as soon as Siri arrives at the court of the God King that everyone's plotting against everyone else in one way or another. But you won't believe how many people end up being involved, or how bad things get when the plots finally start to collide.
A God Am I: Susebron is an oddly humble version of this. He firmly believes he's a god, having been raised almost entirely by his own priests, but he doesn't make a big deal out of it. It's just part of who he is.
A God I Am Not: Lightsong, who constantly denies his godhood, though he does acknowledge the powers that come with it. Until, right at the end, he regains his memory and decides he is a god after all. Cue Heroic Sacrifice.
Gods Need Prayer Badly: Variation—the gods are Returned and in order to survive, need a Breath given to them once a week in order to continue existing.
God Was My Copilot: Vasher is Talaxin, one of the Five Scholars who pioneered BioChromatic research. In a subversion, The Dragon Denth is VaraTreledees, another of the Five.
Gone Horribly Right: Nightblood. Creating a sentient sword with the Command to destroy evil seems like a good idea. Trouble is, an Awakened sword doesn't even have a clear cut concept of life, let alone something as abstract as evil. So you end up with a weapon eager to kill anyone it considers evil. Doesn't take all that much to make Nightblood think you're evil...
I'm figuring it out, Nightblood said. I've had a lot of practice.
Good Is Not Nice: Vasher;lampshaded several times when he points out that he knows full well he's got a bad temper and terrible people skills.
Guile Hero: Vasher and Denth have elements of this. See the Character page.
Hair Colors: The hallmark of the Royal Family of Idris is the Royal Locks, hair that can change colors to reflect its owner's emotions: black for confidence, white for fear, red for passion, blond for happiness...
Heroic Sacrifice: The Gods are each able to perform a single miracle, at the cost of their own lives. The only one we actually witness is Lightsong's.
Also the way Lightsong became a god: he died saving his brother's child.
Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Played with concerning the mercenaries Denth and Tonk Fah. They're killers for hire, but they're good guys because they're funny and helpful to Vivenna. Maybe Sanderson's doing a homage to his good friend Howard Tayler.
They used to call him other things, too, Nightblood said.
I Love the Dead: In the author annotations, Sanderson states that Jewel still slept with Clod, whom she was in a relationship prior to his death and subsequent "rebirth" as a Lifeless.
Implacable Man: The chief advantage of the Lifeless. Unlike zombies in other worlds they aren't any stronger or faster than living soldiers and can't spread their condition, but they make up for it by not needing food or rest and being able to shrug off any wound that doesn't directly impair functioning. Kalad's Phantoms are Lifeless encased in stone, making them ultra-implacable men.
Note that the real advantage of the Lifeless is that it was discovered near the beginning of the nation's founding how to animate one from a single Breath rather than the fifty it took before. That means that they double the size of their army without any difficulty.
Impossibly Cool Clothes: Lampshaded by Lightsong: he muses that his clothes are so impossibly cool that, were it not for the horde of servants in his employ, he would not be able to dress himself.
Blushweaver: And are you going to explain why you consider competing with me to be the most sincere form of compliment? Lightsong: Of course I am. My dear, have you ever known me to make an inflammatorily ridiculous statement without providing an equally ridiculous explanation to substantiate it? Blushweaver: Of course not. You are nothing if not exhaustive in your self- congratulatory made-up logic.
Jerkass Gods: Pretty much the entire court except for Lightsong, Susebron, and to an extent Blushweaver.
We don't know for sure. It seem likely that Blushweaver is average among the gods in jerkass-ness, although more competent at it, but whether that means they all aren't so bad or she is worse is hard to say.
Justified and explained during Lightsong's philosophizing: When each god can only perform one miracle to help their people, and that at the cost of their own life, the truly good and noble ones die off quickly and those who stick around are the less compassionate.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Lightsong's stated goal in life is to tick off as many people as possible in the most spectacular manner possible. When the chips are down, though, he turns out to be perhaps the most basically decent god left in the pantheon, with the possible exception of Susebron.
Kaleidoscope Hair: The Royal Locks, the sign of Idrian royalty, change color according to the owner's mood. It also can be grown out at will.
Literal Genie: The key limitation of the magic system is that everything you try to Awaken behaves like this, though not out of a sense of malice; becoming a better Awakener means learning how to phrase commands so that they actually work and don't backfire on you.
This is also part of the explanation for why Nightblood is the way it is, according to Word of God. It's made of Awakened steel, and driven by a somewhat vague command to "destroy evil." The indiscriminate nature of Nightblood's slaughter is a product of the blade not really having a firm concept of "evil."
Locked into Strangeness: The Royal Locks turn white to show fear. After Vivenna discover's Denth's true colors, her hair stays white for two weeks straight.
Long-Lost Relative: Technically, they were never really lost, but Lightsong's head priest, Llarimar, is actually his younger brother. Lightsong's (named Stenimar as a mortal) Return came to be when he saved Llarimar's daughter from a sinking ship.
Luke Noun Verber: Many of the Returned have very Noun Verber names, although not all. Gods like Peacegiver, Warbreaker, and Blushweaver fit the trope, but there are others, like Lightsong, Mercystar, and Weatherlove, who do not. Allmother kind of looks like she works, but not quite.
The Magocracy: Inverted. Being a powerful Awakener isn't a guarantee of social status, but most of the wealthy and powerful buy lots of breaths so that they have the power available if they need it. In other words, magic is a sign of status, rather than the other way around.
Man Child: Word of God is that Sanderson felt he had to walk a very fine line with Susebron, to make him childlike enough to be believable as someone who's been largely isolated his whole life, without being so much that his relationship with Siri was squicky.
May-December Romance: Siri and Susebron are a... complicated example. Chronologically, he's in his fifties and she's in her late teens. Mentally, she's an adult while he starts out almost childlike.Physically, they're about the same age because of how a Returned's powers keeps them ageless as long as they have a steady supply of Breath.
This veers into Mayfly territory when the shippers pair Vivenna with Vasher.
Although in this setting anybody can become immortal (barring accidents) if they have enough Breath so it's not that big of an issue.
Meaningful Name: Austre, the name the people of Idris give to God, evokes "austerity", which is a hallmark of their religion.
Our Zombies Are Different: The Lifeless are reanimated corpses. They don't rot, they don't eat brains (or anything else) and they're intelligent enough to take orders, if you know the magic password to command them.
Arguably the Hallandren gods themselves, as they're people who've died and been Returned; supposedly the Iridescent Tones (or to the Idrians, Austre, God of Colors) Return those individuals who die exemplifying one of the "great virtues of human existence." They require at least one Breath a week to continue living, and whether or not they're actually gods is up for debate. As Lightsong finds out once he remembers how he died and came back, they really are gods in a sense.
Considering the way the Returned feed off Breath, they might also be considered a (relatively harmless) variation of Our Vampires Are Different, and are in fact treated as such in certain countries of Nalthis, by Word of God.
Physical God: The Gods of Hallandren...for a loose definition of god.
Anyone with enough Breath to reach one of the upper Heightenings would probably qualify as well under most definitions, even if they aren't actually Returned. The Tenth Heightening, so far seen only as a product of the tens of thousands of Breaths the God-King carries, gives one the ability to Awaken perfectly by pure instinct (bypassing the key limitation of this magic system, the need to know how to phrase something exactly to make the Awakened object do it properly). There is a reason the God-King is such a powerful figure.
Physical Religion: The Iridescent Tomes of Hallandren. People literally talk to their gods to ask favors, though they rarely receive aid.
Psychopathic Manchild: Nightblood comes off like this at times. Tonk Fah also has elements of this, with emphasis on the "psychopathic".
Rage Breaking Point: After suffering Lightsong's antics for five years and seeing him try and fail at many things just in the attempt to see if his previous life had remembered them, Llarimar screams at Lightsong when he tries to pick a lock, even saying that he is a scribe, not any other skills.
Rebellious Princess: Siri is a free spirit living in a very conservative culture, though she's able to get away with being somewhat rebellious because she's the youngest of four children and thus not very important in the grand scheme of things. Ironically, this independence is what helps her adjust to Hallandren, and she comments in the narrative that Vivenna, who was trained to go, would have been hindered by that very training.
Of course, Vivenna similarly comments that she is much better suited for Hallandren than poor Siri. This book is full of characters misjudging each other, and contains several occurrences of the literary equivalent of a description cut.
Vivenna herself is a subversion—even when she does go against her father's wishes, it's only out of what she sees as her royal duty.
Rousseau Was Right: Pretty much every character in the story has good (or at least sympathetic) motivations for their actions. In the end, the only truly evil person in the novel is Tonk Fah who is ultimately just The Dragon's hired help.
Sarcastic Confession: Denth and Tonk Fah pull this several times with regards to the ruthlessness and sociopathy of mercenaries, but the truth doesn't get realized until it's too late.
Sequel Hook: in the epilogue, Vasher tells Vivenna that Yesteel, another of his and Denth's old colleagues, has resurfaced with improved Lifeless, which he's sold to an ambitious warlord. They then head off to investigate together.Word of God is that Warbreaker was always intended to be a two-book series, but the release of volume two, Nightblood, was delayed by working on the final three volumes of The Wheel of Time. As Warbreaker stands on its own fine, however, this wasn't a serious issue. On his blog, Sanderson revealed that he felt it would be better to get his extremely ambitious Stormlight Archive series established before the release of what he admits will be a tonally different follow-up to the first book.
Saved for the Sequel: Many of the developments and some pieces of the magic of BioChroma are being saved for this upcoming book "when he gets around to writing it".
Shapeshifter Baggage: Averted. Siri can make her hair grow from short to very long in a matter of moments, but it makes her very, very hungry.
Soul Power: The Idrians believe Breath is a person's soul, and thus hold Awakening to be the worst sort of heresy. The people of Hallandren are less convinced of this, and don't revile Awakeners or believe losing one's Breath is so terrible, as long as they're paid well for it (or do it for a good cause, like sustaining the Returned). They are both somewhat right and wrong- according to Word of God giving away your soul is quite unpleasant, giving you worse health and depression, though it's not as bad as the Idrians say.
Spanner in the Works: Almost everyone at the Court of Gods was prepared for Idris to sent Princess Vivenna to marry/be the hostage of the God King. When the King of Idris exploits a loophole in the contract to send Princess Siri instead, they're all convinced that she must be part of an elaborate plot against them and are thrown into a frenzy trying to adjust their webs of schemes. But actually, the king just doesn't love Siri as much as he loves Vivenna and figures he'll have an easier time sending her to be raped and killed instead.
Spare To The Throne: The oldest princess was groomed from birth to become the God-Emperor's wife. The second oldest princess was the "spare," trained in case something happened to her sister. Their father sent the youngest princess instead, mostly because she was a wild card that no one had ever bothered to spy on. Word of God and a bit of his narration also indicate that despite being basically a decent man, the King really didn't love Siri as much as he loved the others, so found it less painful to sacrifice her.
Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Nightblood's powers make him more useful as a grenade than a sword. He possesses the power to tempt people with impure souls, and gets them all to kill each other. It doesn't always work because he can't do anything to sinless men.
Title Drop: Vasher's real name (well, oldest known name, whether or not it's his real name is debatable) is Warbreaker the Peaceful.
Uncanny Valley: Invoked with the Lifeless. The most disturbing part of them is that they don't look dead... or alive, really.
The Unfavorite: Word of God confirms that, as much as he may rationalize to himself otherwise, King Dedelin does in fact love Vivenna more than Siri, and that most of the political and tactical reasons he gives for sending off Siri instead of Vivenna are largely efforts to delude himself. This is also hinted at in the narrative.
Voluntary Shapeshifting: All of the Returned can do this, though most don't know it (hence subconsciously shapeshifting into idealized versions of what they looked like as humans, but not showing the ability any other way). Vasher and Denth do more with it, taking the appearance of a scruffy vagrant and a sellsword respectively, even though they're actually Returned. Word of God is that Siri and Vivenna, who have Returned blood in them, could potentially learn to do this, but at the moment are limited to their hair.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: Susebron's priests truly do care about him. But their sacred vow to protect the God King's BioChroma gift from abuse means some terrible things are done to him. All in the name of keeping it safe.
Also Bluefingers and his conspiracy. All they want is independence and freedom from opression for their homeland—and they're willing to start a world war if that's what it takes to make that happen.