I never quite imagined being able to say this, but I think I am actually close to caught up on all the currently in print Cosmere novels! I had originally hoped to get to this particular one last year, but apparently a whole lot of other people had the same idea, and I had to wait several long months for my library hold to finally come through and grant me my Sanderson fix.
Warbreaker takes place on the Shardworld of Nalthis and follows the journey of two sisters, Vivenna and Siri. The eldest daughter of the King of Idris, Vivenna has spent her entire life preparing to become the bride of the God King, the powerful and fearsome ruler of the rival nation Hallandren. When the day comes to send her away, however, her father cannot bear to do so and delivers his youngest daughter, Siri, in her place. Taken completely unaware by this change in plans, the free-spirited and often rebellious Siri must quickly come to terms with her new responsibilities and face the reality that she will be living the rest of her life (however long that may be) in a hostile land. Vivenna, in shock as well, is for the first time in her life unsure of her position and ultimately concocts a daring, if somewhat hasty, plan to rescue her sister. It soon becomes quite apparent, however, that neither of them will find what they expect in Hallendren.
While I liked the overall story a lot, I felt that this was perhaps the most uneven of all the Cosmere novels I’ve read thus far. The format of the e-book was a major factor in this feeling, as each chapter was followed by a link to the author’s extensive annotations and notes about what just happened. While interesting at first, I ultimately found these sections too distracting to keep up with and simply stopped reading them. I’m sure I missed some good tidbits, but honestly I feel like anything that important really should have found its way into the story one way or another. Relatedly, I thought the ending in particular was rather abrupt and incomplete, especially since I had long given up on the annotations by that point. I won’t spoil what happens, but between how quickly certain characters come together and the sudden and rather ambiguous resolution of the main conflict I was left somewhat unsatisfied. Finally, and while this may seem minor, but I also found it distracting that Earth creatures kept appearing throughout the story. I don’t know if this has been the case in any of the other books (it certainly is not in the Stormlight Archive), but for some reason I found it more often than not broke the mood of the story for me (amusing uses of dead squirrels aside).
That’s not to say this book was a complete miss, though. The world building was still up to Sanderson’s usual high standards and the magic system on Nalthis was equally interesting as well. I liked the concept of Breath and colors as the local forms of Investiture and thought it was really interesting that the former attribute could be transferred (endowed, if you will) from one person to another. It definitely added an interesting social dynamic to this world that is rather different from what we’ve come across elsewhere in the Cosmere.
The characters were also a definite strength of the story. For Siri and Vivenna, I really enjoyed seeing how their attitudes and perspectives changed as the story went on and they adjusted to new circumstances. In particular, I liked Siri’s gradual realization of her strengths and watching Vivenna cast off a lot of her naivety and prejudice to embrace her own newfound abilities. Moving beyond them, I also really the rest of the POV characters were excellent as well. The demigod Lightsong was a fantastic character for adding levity, though at the same time his redemption arc offered fascinating insights into the dynamics of this world. Stealing the show, however, was the duo of Vasher and his talking sword, Nightblood. Vashar fulfilled the role of the rogue, curmudgeonly do-gooder with a sordid past admirably and was an excellent contrast to Nightblood, whose gleeful and almost child-like enthusiasm about its uses was almost as unnerving as its abilities to make pure-hearted people physically ill by its presence and pushing the less noble into uncontrollable fits of aggression. Collectively this was a fascinating cast of characters that were indeed able to make up for some of the flaws in the overall telling of this story.
On that note, now is the perfect time to transition into a spoiler section where I get into some extended Cosmere stuff. If you have not yet read the Stormlight Archive books through Oathbringer yet, I strongly suggest going no further.
This was obviously an important read for piecing together the overarching Cosmere story when you realize that Vivenna (posing as Azure, High Marshall of the Kholinar Wall Guard), Vashar (posing as Zahel, a sword master in service of the Kholin family), and Nightblood are all present on Roshar while Kaladin and company are fighting against Odium’s corrupted soldiers. Now that sure does raise some questions! What is the timeline of these books? Also, it’s got to be a big deal that Szeth can so readily coexist with Nightblood, right? He seems almost as companionable with the blade as Vasher and is neither sickened by it nor pushed to uncontrollable violence by its presence. Hopefully we someday learn the story of why these characters went to Roshar and under what circumstances.
Finally, to consolidate some notes for my own reference, the resident Shard on Nalthis (not met in the story) is Endowment and the information Sanderson has let slip about her suggests that she is not only unconcerned about Odium’s actions, but has suggested to Hoid (in one of those letters) that Odium’s shattering of Dominion and Devotion on Sel (Elantris) and Ambition on Threnodite were at least in part deserved. Definitely makes me also wonder about what factions may have existed among the conspirators that shattered Adonalsium. As I’ve mentioned previously, I do have some minor frustrations that a lot my information on this part of the story comes from non-print sources, however, I am at the same time convinced that the eventual payoff of all this will be well worth the wait.