Warbreaker has all of the themes that have been played throughout author Brandon Sanderson’s other fantasy novels: epic fantasy, unconventional magic systems defined in almost scientific terms, an empire or nation on the edge of collapse, war and/or planetary destruction, and heroes(usually female) that are thrust into saving a man, nation, and world. Oh, and love, too; the heroine always fall in love with the most unlikely of persons.
In Warbreaker, Siri, the youngest daughter of the king , is to marry the semi-immortal God-King of the rival kingdom, Hallendren, in order to stave off war, and certain annihilation, for their people. Siri’s sister, Vivienna, eldest daughter of the king and long-expected to have been the one sent as the bride, is left behind, but soon follows on a rescue mission. Susebron, the deified king and God to the Hallendren, faces his own challenges from the very priests that worship him and the lower gods that surround him. And among the people of Hallendren travels a dangerous and mysterious stranger carrying a sword, secrets, and a mysterious purpose.
Sanderson specializes in creating page turners, and Warbreaker is no exception. He is careful to leave hints and foreshadowing along the way, and a careful reader should be able to figure out who is who and what is happening before the last pages are read. The story is creative, as are the characters. The setting and background develop with a care that breathes and moves with life.
Unlike a lot of fantasy novels, Warbreaker manages to address issues not unfamiliar to the real world. The reader encounters prejudice, persecution, and poverty, as well as the line dividing the wealthy from the poor, rulers from the ruled. The issues are woven into the story, however, avoiding the complaints that have often beset the Star Trek franchise previous to the most recent movie.
All praise for Sanderson’s creative and engaging story aside, his best work is still to come. Stephen King once wrote that every draft should be cut down ten percent before it can be counted a finished work. It’s a rule that Sanderson could, and should, apply. Instead of showing us what the characters are learning or how they are changing, Sanderson weighs down his novel, and novels, with excess character explanation that is neither in dialogue or action. Some of this is obviously acceptable, though almost never necessary, but Sanderson seems to cross the line from necessary to luxury. Paragraph after paragraph could be replaced by a single meaningful scene or interaction with another character. Sanderson’s novels weigh in at over 400 or 500 pages; I would not complain if he paired them down.
Which leads me to another critique: show versus tell. I like Sanderson’s writing, I like his plots, and I like the creativity with which he builds his worlds, but I could use less of the explanation narrative. Show us, don’t tell us, that Vivienna is giving up her prejudices. Show us, don’t tell us, that Lightsong is becoming “the Bold.” It is true that Sanderson knows this rule, because I have seen him apply it; but his desire to make sure the reader gets what he wants them to get seems to drive him to put more in than he needs. In the end, it diminishes the impact of the “show” because there is so much “tell.”
For this reason, I had a hard time deciding to rate the book with four or three stars. In the end, I decided that I liked the book and, although it stands alone as a story, I wanted to know what would happen to the characters next. Sanderson has obviously left the door open to future stories and novels about the characters, and I hope he will continue to write those stories. He seems to like the novel format, but the story in Warbreaker would lend itself to spin-offs in novella or short story format. There have also been rumors and speculation that all of Sanderson’s novels tie into the same universe, which lends itself to endless tie-ins.
- Sex: Typically, clean Sanderson.
- Violence: Some, but nothing graphic.
- Language: None.
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