“My life to yours. My breath become yours.”
Warbreaker is an excellent early fantasy novel by Brandon Sanderson, combining the best of the author’s worldbuilding, character development, and accessible writing style.
The world that Sanderson has created is beautiful and full of lush, colorful imagery. It reminds me of a tropical paradise that you might visit on holiday. This is the type of world that is simply enjoyable to read about.
The color motif is the cornerstone of the magic system, which is based on the concept of BioChromatic breath, i.e., the lifegiving breath that enhances one’s senses and perception of color, sound, etc. With enough breath, even the colors around a person become more saturated and vibrant. With proper training, breath can be used to animate objects and bring people back from the dead, either with or without sentience (called the Returned or the Lifeless, respectively). Whereas the Returned are treated as gods, the Lifeless are essentially zombie soldiers who will follow the orders of those controlling them.
The connections among magic, history, religion, and politics are all very well developed in Warbreaker. Even the gods themselves do not understand their own history or theology, which creates a lot of interesting tension with each other, with their priests, and with the neighboring kingdoms.
Beyond the excellent worldbuilding and magic system, Warbreaker is primarily a character-driven novel. The main characters, Siri and Vivenna, are two sisters who are the youngest and oldest princesses from the neighboring kingdom. Since her birth, the elder Vivenna has been promised as a bride to the God King. All her life has served as preparation to become the God King’s bride. However, when the time comes, her father sends the rambunctious and thoroughly unprepared Siri in her place. Vivenna then sets on a quest to rescue her younger sister from the notorious God King.
Other primary characters include Lightsong, a Returned god who doubts his own divinity and is searching to understand his past before he became Returned. Vasher is a mysterious and powerful figure who wields the sentient sword, Nightblood, whose sole goal is to “destroy evil.” And, of course, there is the God King himself, who is not at all what he seems.
The plot is full of major twists and turns. As soon as we think that we understand a character’s motivation and goals, Sanderson throws a huge twist our way. The twists accelerate in the last part of the book, as Sanderson treats us with his famous “Sanderwave,” where all the various plot lines come together in rapid and magnificent fashion and characters’ true motivations are finally revealed.
There are plenty of great Cosmere connections here, especially related to the Nightblood sword, which is also wielded by Szeth in the Stormlight Archive. Nightblood is on a monomaniacal quest to “destroy evil,” but it doesn’t actually understand what “evil” means. Hoid (i.e., Wit) also appears in Warbreaker, although here he is basically a dispensary of information without his characteristic biting wit from the Stormlight Archive. Finally, there is clearly some connection between Stormlight and BioChromatic breath, which I hope will be explored by Sanderson in future books.
Although sequels are planned, Warbreaker works great as a standalone fantasy novel, striking just the right balance between complexity and accessibility. At its core, Warbreaker is a beautiful, character-driven novel that most fantasy fans will enjoy.