Friday, June 19, 2009

Book Review: Warbreaker [2009]

Warbreaker is the latest effort by Brandon Sanderson, otherwise known as the Man Who is Taking Over for Robert Jordan and finishing the Wheel of Time series. Sanderson, however, is by now a pretty well-established fantasy author in his own right, beginning his career with the one-shot Elantris and winning my attention with the intriguing Mistborn trilogy. Sanderson's greatest strength is undoubtedly his ability to build fascinating and remarkably complete worlds and magic systems, and his latest is no different. Warbreaker is a hefty volume in which magic wielders use color-based BioChromatic Breath to animate objects, and one of the countries is ruled by "Returned" (those who come back to life with godlike levels of Breath, the most powerful of whom is the God King). While this may sound a little confusing based on my lame explanation, it's introduced and used in such a way that the magic system becomes completely believable, though it is never fully explained.

The book's setting is the capital city of Hallandren, a country that is, by all indications, preparing to wage war on neighboring Idris. It focuses on five characters: two royal Idrian sisters, one of whom is promised in marriage to the mysterious and threatening God King; her rebellious younger sister; the unwilling god Lightsong, who feels that indolence is his highest calling; the aforementioned God King; and the mysterious Vasher, who could be on either side of the looming conflict. Sanderson balances the viewpoints carefully, weaving a sophisticated plot between these genuinely enjoyable protagonists as he also allows their characters to mature. Warbreaker is deeply concerned with questions of faith and ethics: What does it mean to believe in a religion where you can see the gods, versus one where you can't? What if someone viewed as a god had a difficult time believing his own divinity? How far would you compromise your beliefs to save something important to you? As usual with a Sanderson book, there were things that I didn't see coming (masterful plotting is another of his strengths), and I have to give this book the highest form of praise I can: I finished it yesterday, but was still thinking about it today. I am a little reluctant to take it back to the library . . . but, on the negative side, there were a few editorial choices that bothered me, including the decision to have the chaste, pure Idrian princesses speak so openly and casually about sex. It just didn't seem to fit with their characters as introduced to the reader. Still: highly recommended. I'm sure it's going to take several years for a sequel, but I'll read it on the day it comes out.

Grade: A

Warbreaker is available for free online, in its entirety, thanks to the generosity of the author. The most recent version is the same as the edition recently published in hardcover--really. It's just a PDF of the proof.

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