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Friday, February 26, 2010

Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson

I recently read Warbreaker (New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2009) by Brandon Sanderson. See here and here for two reviews of the book, the first by Orson Scott Card.

A previous post by me muses on the first book of a trilogy by Sanderson.

I will parallel that post, in part.

First, as in the Mistborn trilogy, Sanderson has gone to some pains to construct a new type of magic. In this book, the magic is related to color. It is also related to Breath, which is some sort of attribute that each person has. (Their soul? Their spirit? Something else? I'm not sure.) People can voluntarily give their Breath to another person, and, in the process, lose their own, after which they become drab, or colorless. On the other hand, a person with breaths from several people can impart some or all of that breath to inanimate objects, such as ropes or scarves, and then these objects will respond to commands, such as to tie someone up, or to pull the person practicing magic to a height. The breath placed in inanimate objects can be reclaimed. Orson Scott Card wrote that "it seemed as if Sanderson was flailing around trying to come up with another cool new never-before-seen magic system." That had been my impression, but there's no serious harm in doing that, and, as Card wrote on, Warbreaker is a good story.

The magic was complex, and hard to understand, even though Sanderson provides an appendix on the relationship between breaths and powers. There was more magic than that. A few dead people, the Returned, are reborn (re-created? reincarnated?) as gods -- they have special powers, and bodies that are, essentially, perfect. Some other dead people, the Lifeless, are used as soldiers, or slaves. They don't seem to have self-awareness, but can obey commands. Sanderson seems to violate the second law of thermodynamics here -- the Lifeless don't eat, but apparently may serve as slaves for years. No special energy source is mentioned.

There are also kings, queens, and royal families, and a super-Returned, the god-king. There are references to a devastating war, fought a few centuries ago, and to the leading characters in that war, who apparently had special powers, ability, and knowledge.

As I wrote about the first book of the Mistborn trilogy, "there are interesting characters in the book. These characters have feelings, and flaws, and most of them are trying to do good." One flaw I found is that several of the characters seemed to sound alike.

There's plenty of action, and some romance, in the book. It's a real page-turner. But it has its flaws.

Thirdly, and as usual, I wish to muse about religious aspects of Warbreaker, giving away as little of the plot as I can in the process. One such aspect has already been referred to -- in the country where most of the action takes place, there are a couple of dozen or so gods, or goddesses, the Returned, in the book. They are not, as Lifesong, one of the main characters, and a god, keeps insisting, immortal, and don't have omniscience, either. They can only grant one petition for healing, and, if they do so, give up their own reincarnated lives in the process. There are priests or priestesses for each of the gods. These priests carry out every wish of their gods, or goddesses. But the gods are insulated from the real world, pampered amazingly, but trapped, as it were, in part of the palace.

Lightsong is as close to a Christ-figure as Sanderson comes:
"Lightsong gave his life to heal me," the God King said. "He somehow knew that my tongue had been removed."
"The returned can heal one person," the priest said, looking down at his god. "It's their duty to decide who and when. They come back for this purpose, some say. To give life to one person who needs it." (574)

There is another god, more of a creator type, in a smaller country next to Hallandren, the main one. 

All in all, a good read. Thanks for reading this!

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