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Literature / Warbreaker

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"Not everything is what it seems."

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 worshipped 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, Vivenna, 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 a forensic accountant. We never do find out why he can juggle fruit or, for that matter, if for some reason he was actually a master of a game specific to the gods when he was alive.
  • 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 war.
  • Against My Religion: Played for Laughs. Lightsong, who is worshipped as a Physical God like the rest of the Returned in the Court, says this about taking effort, and Blushweaver momentarily takes him literally.
    Lightsong: Well I can’t get subtext either. Far too subtle for me. It takes effort to understand, and effort is—unfortunately—against my religion.
    Blushweaver: A new tenet for those who worship you?
    Lightsong: Oh, not that religion.
  • The Ageless:
    • 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.
  • All There in the Manual: That the planet is called "Nalthis" never comes up in the text.
  • Ambiguously Brown: In-universe, the Pahn Kahl are considered this. Siri only notices they're different by the brown robes they wear, and those who don't wear them often pass as Hallandren. Only people of the Third Heightening or higher generally notice their skin color. This makes it all the easier for them to infiltrate the Royal Priesthood and almost start a war.
  • Amnesiac Resonance: At one point, Lightsong realizes he has some detective skills he never learned, and concludes (correctly) that they must have been retained from his old life as a human. This gets him in trouble later, as he assumes that a former private eye would know his way around a fight, and then finds out the hard way that investigative accountants have no combat skills at all. He also learns that, among other things, he had no knowledge of pottery, could juggle and knew a lot of sailor jargon.
  • 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.
  • Animate Inanimate Object: This is basically what Awakening is.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Lampshaded when Siri feels disappointed after nothing happens on her wedding night, then realizes how ridiculous it is to feel that way.
  • Arranged Marriage: Siri and the God King Susebron. Becomes a Perfectly Arranged Marriage once he is revealed to not be the evil dictator she thought.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Blushweaver to Lightsong, about his former life: "What if you were a murderer, or a rapist? Worse, what if you had bad fashion sense?"
  • Artifact of Death: Nightblood 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.
  • Audience Surrogate: Per usual for Sanderson, the magic system is explained by an experienced user tutoring a novice. Unusually, we don't get the full Info Dump until the final quarter of the novel.
  • 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.
  • Beautiful All Along: Or at least handsome. Vasher's true form is far more majestic than the unkempt image he has of himself.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Vasher and Denth are secretly Returned who had significant parts in the Many War, 300 years ago.
  • Beginner's Luck: Maintained by Lightsong as his "strategy" for Terachin. See Achievements in Ignorance above.
  • 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.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Susebron is an incredibly gentle soul. Don't presume that to save you if you try to hurt Siri or either of their homelands when he regains the use of his powers. The high priests feared the power of the God King for good reason.
  • 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.
  • Bound and Gagged: Awakened powers make restraining people with rope or cloth very efficient. Muffling voice is imperative to keep an awakened from using their powers.
  • But I Would Really Enjoy It: Siri is told from the start that she must not risk getting pregnant by the God King. That's easy enough while she's still afraid of him, but then they start getting to know each other and turn out to have chemistry...
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: 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.
    • It's a good thing the sixth heightening provides instinctive awakening abilities.
  • 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. 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.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique:
    • Fully drawing Nightblood turns the wielder into a One-Man Army but burns through Breath faster and faster, eventually killing the wielder if they don't stop in time.
    • Vasher knows a particularly deadly trick in which he gives away his breath to a foe, then kills them while they're reeling from the sensory overload, a technique that costs incalculable wealth to use.
    • Peacegiver went to such great lengths to prevent the God Kings from using their breath out of fear for what more awakeners capable of awakening steel might create.
    • Peacegiver also kept the security phrase for Kalad's phantoms well hidden to keep them from being used offensively.
  • Dangerously Garish Environment: T'telir is a Deadly Decadent Court where the people virtually worship colour, so everything is vibrantly coloured, from the building to people's clothes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Idris has tried to exclude color from their country as a defense mechanism against Awakeners. It doesn't actually work though—while not as effective as bright colors, the black and brown they use freely can work for Awakening.
  • Dem Bones: According to Siri and Vivenna, stories about Lifeless in Idris describe them as skeletal beings. Vasher states that while animating a skeleton in this manner is theoretically possible, it is much more practical to simply animate a whole, intact corpse. The D'denir statues are revealed to be these, as they are actually skeletal Lifeless encased in stone.
  • 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, where they did think it through and got it wrong anyway. When Vasher and Shashara 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 Cosmere, 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 rot or decay when properly embalmed, which allows Hallendren to sustain a standing army of forty thousand of the things with barely the slightest impact on their luxurious economy.
    • Also Played With. While Lifeless require less logistical support than human soldiers, the amount they do require is not zero. We briefly see a storage room for the Lifeless where they are exercised, their equipment maintained, and their preservatives regularly changed out. We also see some of the security protocols for handling their passwords and issuing orders.
  • Everything's Better with Rainbows: The Tenth Heightening causes anything white to burst out with rainbows. It also makes it so that Awakening drains things to white rather than gray. This isn't a purely cosmetic effect: awakening requires color as fuel in addition to Breath, while the tenth heightening removes this restriction.
  • Evil Chancellor:
    • Bluefingers. 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 Herring Bluefingers uses to keep from being spotted.
  • Evil Counterpart: Denth, by Word of God, was written as a echo of Kelsier. Only this time, he's on the wrong side.
  • 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.
  • Fake Orgasm: Sisirinah is betrothed to the God King Susebron, and is expected to bear him a child. Alas, Susebron is a Manchild with no concept of how babies are made, so Siri keeps loudly faking orgasms while in his chambers so that the priests listening outside think she's at least trying.
  • Fallen Princess: Vivenna.
  • 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.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Religion: The religion of Austre has some strong similarities to real world Christianity.
  • 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).
  • Fish out of Water: The primary conceit of the story. Vivenna is a Princess Classic who was trained to take part in a Romance Novel; Sisirina is the Rebellious Princess suited for adventure and subterfuge. Naturally, each finds heself in the other's plotline.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Lightsong describes himself as the only god who doesn't believe in his own religion.
  • Forged by the Gods: Nightblood. While those who created him may or may not be gods per se, at the least they were/would be worshipped as such.
  • Functional Magic: BioChroma.
  • The Fundamentalist: Vivenna starts out as a mild version of this—she's not violent, but she is arrogant, judgmental, and closed-minded. Character Development helps her get over it.
  • 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.
  • Get into Jail Free: Vasher gets arrested in order to get Breath from a captured rebel.
  • Glorious Death: The Returned are worshipped as gods, but are constantly petitioned for the one true miracle they can grant — sacrificing their life to heal another. Lightsong has refused for years, instinctively knowing it's not the right time, and finally Goes Out With A Smile in the climax to heal Susebron so that Susebron can pull a Big Damn Heroes.
  • 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.
  • God-Emperor: Susebron, the God King. Although he has little actual power until the end.
  • 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. And that with great power comes great responsibility.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: Variation—the Returned gods need a Breath given to them once a week in order to survive.
  • 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.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Susebron is a genuinely good person who learned his morality from a book of children's fairy tales. Now remember just how many of those fairy tales end with the evildoers getting eaten by monsters, or losing their heads, or turned into horrible things...
  • Government Conspiracy: It's obvious from early on that one exists. It turns out to be the Pahn Kahl. Though they were hardly the only ones using conspiracy to keep secrets.
  • Guile Hero: Vasher and Denth have elements of this. See the Character page.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: The towering bodies of the gods do not change from their diet or physical activity, so many of the gods possess herculean builds and peak athletic ability despite sitting on their asses eating all days.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • The Returned are each able to perform a single healing 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.
    • A newly empowered Susebron is willing to face an army of 40,000 Lifeless soldiers head on to save Siri's homeland from destruction, even though that meant certain death. Fortunately they find another solution.
  • 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.
    • Subverted when they're revealed to be evil, and Tonk Fah is just as sociopathic as he acts
  • Hidden in Plain Sight:
    • Denth constantly told Vivenna what he was capable of, and she didn't take it seriously because he said it with a grin and likeable banter.
    • Kalad's Phantoms are the statues all over Hallendren, made Lifeless by the human bones inside.
  • Hidden Villain: Bluefingers.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Susebron and Siri.
  • Human Sacrifice:
    • Idrians have some quite exaggerated conceptions about how bad sacrificing breath to the gods in Hallandren. Losing your breath does have some negative physical and mental side effects, but not ones people would be unwilling to live with.
    • Pahn Kahl agents plan to enrage the Idrians into war against Hallandra by making it look like they murdered Siri in a Targeted Human Sacrifice.
  • Idiot Hero: Played with in interesting ways with Lightsong.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Played for laughs with Siri. Right before having sex with Susebron for the first time she notes to herself that this is a really bad idea, and she's got an unfortunate habit of following her impulses without thinking things through, and she really needs to become more sensible and responsible… some other time.
  • I Have Many Names: Vasher. Also known as Kalad The Usurper, Peacegiver The Merciful, Talaxin The Sage, and Warbreaker The Peaceful.
    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 with prior to his death and subsequent "rebirth" as a Lifeless.
  • Implacable Man: The chief advantage of the Lifeless. They aren't any stronger or more skilled than living soldiers, 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 both implacable and Nigh-Invulnerable.
  • 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.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Used constantly and lampshaded by Lightsong.
    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: Most of the court. 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.
    • Blushweaver points out to him that, despite appearances to the contrary, his decency and sense of responsibility has actually earned him a great deal of respect among the other gods. This implies they themselves may have a Hidden Heart of Gold.
  • 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.
  • King Bob the Nth: The current God King is Susebron V.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: Blushweaver, constantly. It's in her name for crying out loud.
    "When all else fails, use sexual innuendo," she said lightly.
  • Large and in Charge: The gods who rule Hallandren are a foot taller than mortal men.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The one major downside to coming back to life as a god is forgetting the entirety of your past life. Memories are lost, but not skills or talents.
  • Let's You and Him Fight:
    • Triggering this between Mooks is the main way that Nightblood is used.
    • The Big Bad's plot is to pit Idris against Hallandren in a massive war.
  • Lighter and Softer: Though the central storyline is still serious, the setting and characters are notably not as dark as in the Mistborn trilogy or even Elantris.
  • 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.
  • Living Mood Ring: The Idrian royals have hair that changes colour depending on their emotions, turning black for neutral, red for passion, embarrassment or anger, white for fear and golden-blonde for happy or content. They can control it to some extent, along with the length of their hair, which becomes a minor plot point when one of the princesses is trying to conceal her emotions.
  • Locked into Strangeness: The Royal Locks turn white to show fear. After Vivenna discovers 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 (formerly Stenimar)'s Return came to be when he saved Llarimar's daughter from a sinking ship.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Before he Returned, Lightsong was Llarimar's brother.
  • 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.
  • Machine Blood: Modern Lifeless are animated with the aid of ichor-alcohol, an artificial fluid that isn't itself supernatural but drastically reduces the Breath cost to awaken them and extends their functional lifespan. Its discovery was a major factor in the start of the Manywar.
  • Magical Sensory Effect: People who hold a large number of Breaths gain an aura that makes nearby colours more vibrant. The God-Emperor's is so powerful that it causes a strong prismatic effect, requiring him to live in a black palace for comfort.
    • This is actually even a minor plot point, as Awakening consumes color for fuel. Higher Heightenings let you drain color to white, not grey, and make white glow in rainbows. Which gives you infinite color for fuel.
  • 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.
  • Manchild: 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.
  • Marriage to a God: Siri. An arranged marriage, at that.
  • A Match Made in Stockholm: Somewhat. Siri was delivered to be the subservient captive bride of the God King under the threat of violence against herself and her homeland, and was promptly shoved into a Gilded Cage. The captor/captive dynamic is averted. Susebron is just as much a prisoner as Siri in the palace, and their relationship evolves along those grounds.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Name: Austre, the name the people of Idris give to God, evokes "austerity", which is a hallmark of their religion.
  • Minions Customized at Creation: Awakeners imbue Breath into a chosen object, along with a Command, to make it carry out that Command until the Awakener reclaims the Breath.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Blushweaver does not react well when she sees Siri and Lightsong talking at court.
    -“You don’t fool me with your false naïveté. Lightsong is a good person—one of the last ones we have left in this court. If you taint him, I will destroy you. Do you understand?” Blushweaver turned and moved away, muttering, “Find someone else’s bed to climb into, you little slut.”
    -Siri watched her go, shocked. When she finally regained her composure, she blushed furiously, then fled.
  • Mistaken for Granite: The D'denir statues.
  • Mr. Exposition: Hoid the storyteller.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Lightsong, who works hard to appear un-godlike.
  • Nay-Theist: Lightsong remarks early on that he must be the only God ever to not believe in his own religion.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Two characters mess up in a big way, when Vasher kidnaps Vivenna. Denth and Tonk Fah wrongly assume she caught on to their schemes and escaped, and tortures Parlin for information, though Tonk Fah goes too far and kills him in the process. When Vivenna returns, Denth assumes she came to rescue Parlin, only to give himself away before realizing she had no idea that they were manipulating her for their own ends. This causes Vivenna to switch sides and eventually help Vasher and help foil the Pahn Kahl conspiracy. Had Parlin survived, it would've been much easier for Denth to play dumb and try to figure out what Vivenna knows without giving himself away, and even if Tonk Fah did kill Parlin, he could've had a shot at it anyway. But by jumping to conclusions, he robbed himself of a pawn who didn't realize he was manipulating her.
  • No Place for Me There: Vivenna decides this about both of the nations involved in the book, hence the Walking the Earth choice.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Hilariously lampshaded by Denth.
    Tonk Fah: You think he'll live?
    Denth: He just fell out the third-story window, plummeting toward certain doom. Of course he'll live!
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Bluefingers, and the Pahn Kahl in general.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Not used as heavily here as in Sanderson's earlier books, but it shows up. Notably, Lightsong advises Siri to "be average"—not too cunning, but not too innocent either.
  • One-Hit Kill: Nightblood, when fully drawn, will completely obliterate its victims, soul and all, in a single strike, leaving nothing but a brief cloud of black smoke where they were standing.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted as a Red Herring: Denth's real name is revealed to be VaraTreledees, which implies a connection to the suspicious high priest Treledees, but they're entirely unrelated.
  • Over-the-Shoulder Carry: Vivenna finds herself subjected to this twice by Vasher.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The Lifeless are reanimated corpses. They don't rot if they've been properly preserved, they don't eat brains (or anything else) and they're intelligent enough to take orders. They're also given passwords so only people with authorization can use them for the military.
    • 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.Very tiny pieces of one.
    • 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.
  • Painless Death for a Price: Breath is a precious magical resource that can only be voluntarily transferred. Vasher infiltrates a dungeon just to offer the imprisoned rebel leader Vahr a quick death in exchange for his Breaths, since the Empire would be guaranteed to torture them out of Vahr eventually. They both follow through with the bargain.
  • 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 God King's tens of thousands of Breaths, gives one the ability to Awaken perfectly by pure instinct, bypassing the need to learn the phrases that will make the Awakened object do what they want. 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.
  • Pose of Supplication: Rather humiliatingly, Siri is made to adopt this pose in the nude on her wedding night.
  • Princess in Rags: Happens to Vivenna at one point.
  • Psycho for Hire: Tonk Fah. Literally, as he's a mercenary.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Nightblood comes off like this at times. Tonk Fah also has elements of this, with emphasis on the "psychopathic".
  • Rage Breaking Point: Llarimar suffered Lightsong's antics for five years, watched him try and fail at things just to see what skills he retained from his previous life. When Lightsong tries to pick a lock, Llarimar screams at him, telling him he was an accountant, not a detective or a thief.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Discovering how gentle Susebron is led Siri to believe this was the reason he did not force her into sex on their wedding night. He actually had no idea what sex was, but even if he had, he almost certainly would have been too considerate to take Siri by force.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Minor example, but Word of God confirms that Brandon's own wedding, first time, and honeymoon took place during the writing of this book. This definitely had an effect on the Siri/Susebron romance.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Vasher and Denth.
  • 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.
  • Roaring Rampage of Rescue: Susebron only has moments to reach the top floor of his palace from the dungeons, to prevent his beloved Siri from being murdered. Dozens, if not hundreds, of enemies stand in his way. They didn't stand a chance.
  • 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.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The hallmark of Idris royalty, who consider it paramount to actively serve the kingdom. Contrasted by the returned deities who are much more lethargic.
  • 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.
  • Screwball Squirrel: Turns out using squirrels as Lifeless minions, as shown by the likes of Vasher and Lightsong, can be an excellent tool for either distraction or annoying the absolute hell out of someone.
  • Screw The Rules, I Have The Possibility Of Getting Money: It's mentioned that the priests of the Iridescent Tones keeping Vahr alive and torturing him to try and make him give up his Breath, instead of just exectuting him, was in violation of Hallendren's laws regarding the sale and transfer of Breath. But his stockpile was so insanely valuable (one Breath is worth enough money to feed a good-sized family for a year, and Vahr had enough breath to reach the Fourth Heightening, meaning he had at least twelve hundred Breaths) that they couldn't simply let it be lost.
  • 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 fine on its own, 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.
  • Sheath Strike: Nightblood, in most of its fights. Even as a blunt instrument, it is more effective than it has any right to be. On top of this, it can stab its own wielder through the heart while still sheathed...and often does.
  • Shout-Out: Early in the book, Parlin acquires a green hat, described as being "like a sock, though much larger." Remind you of anyone?
  • Shrouded in Myth: Kalad and Peacegiver, to the point that people have forgotten they were the same person.
  • The Sociopath: Tonk Fah is heavily implied to be this in the novel; Word of God confirms it.
  • 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, but tons of people have empirically lived through it and continued to be happy, functional members of society afterwards.
  • 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.
    • In fairness to King Dedelin, that "easier time" involved lying to himself pretty heavily (and obviously) about the political benefits of sending the wrong princess. If he'd been more honest to himself, the guilt would have paralyzed him, and the nation would never recover in time.
  • Spare to the Throne: The oldest princess was groomed from birth to become the God King'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.
  • Standard Fantasy Setting: Played with. As one of the annotations puts it:
    Sanderson: A lot of fantasy novels like to make their setting someplace akin to rural England, and they’ll talk of distant countries that have exotic spices, dyes, and trade goods. Well, in this world, Hallandren is that place. It’s at the other end of the silk road, so to speak.
  • Stealth Sequel: Actually a stealth prequel to Words of Radiance. Vasher and Nightblood both appear in Words of Radiance, the latter being set up for a major role in the coming sequels. This raises the question of how the pair got from Nalthis, the world that Warbreaker takes place on, to Roshar, the world of The Stormlight Archive. To sum up, Sanderson wrote a prequel to the second book in a series, a year before the first book in said series had yet to be released.
    • And in Oathbringer, Vivenna shows up during the siege of Kholinar disguised as a character known as Azure, meeting and fighting alongside Kaladin. Sporting a few scars and armed with a unique shardblade, she worldhopped to Roshar to search for Vasher/Zahel and Nightblood, in the process becoming Highmarshall for the Wall Guard in Kholinar.
  • Talking Weapon: Nightblood speaks with Vasher, and is quite sweet in a horrifically bloodthirsty way.
  • Terse Talker: Parlin.
  • 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, though those tend to run away from the blade.
  • Title Drop: Vasher's real name (well, oldest known name, whether or not it's his real name is debatable) is Warbreaker the Peaceful.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Played with—Siri and Vivenna are set up as the two roles, and then Siri ends up in an Arranged Marriage dealing with social intrigue while Vivenna has to be a Rebellious Princess.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Vivenna goes through a massive one after she discovers the mercenaries' true colours.
  • Treacherous Advisor: Denth and Bluefingers.
  • Uncanny Valley: Invoked with the Lifeless. The most disturbing part of them is that they don't look dead... or alive, really.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Most of the returned/gods, due to their pampered life style but innate size and strength. Lightsong thinking he might be an exception to this turns out disastrously for him. He'd have been better off resorting to hulk smash.
  • 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.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Vivenna to Denth. Blushweaver to the Big Bad.
  • The Vamp: Blushweaver comes across like this at first—Character Development gradually moves her more into Femme Fatale. Possibly more into My Girl Is a Slut. She's flirtatious, sure, but legitimately means well for both the country and the targets of her affections.
  • Virginity Makes You Stupid: Susebron and Vivenna.
  • 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.
  • Walking the Earth: Vasher and Vivenna at the end.
  • 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.
  • What the Fu Are You Doing?: Played for Drama. Near the climax, Lightsong wonders and tests whether his Past-Life Memories include Master Swordsman skills. They don't.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After the fight in the slums, we see Jewels repairing Clod with stitching and fresh ichor alcohol. This is the last time either of them appear onscreen.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Several, at least at the beginning.
    • Susebron, whose entire experience of the world consists of a book of fairy tales his mother read him as a child.
    • Vivenna has a real tendency to view everything in terms of absolute black and white. She gets better.
    • Siri also starts out quite naive and idealistic.
  • Wrong Context Magic: Magic in Warbreaker involves commanding objects to come to life and perform a specific task. At one point Vasher gets a girl to erase her own memory with a Command.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Vivenna, pre-Character Development
  • You Killed My Father: Denth hates Vasher because Vasher killed Denth's sister.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Poor Blushweaver.

Howl of the sun. Go outside and get some fresh air. Howl of the sun.