Warbreaker, together with Elantris, live in the shadows of their bigger cosmere brothers, Stormlight Archive and Mistborn. Quite unfair, at least for Warbreaker1.
Its scope isn’t as big as Stormlight or even Mistborn. 90% of the story happens in a single city, T’Telir, the capital of kingdom of Halladren. People of Halladren worship Returned - a kind of ressurected humans with a single, super powerful BioChromatic Breath, a form of Investiture present on Nalthis, their homeworld.
Magic systems are central to all of Brandon’s works. They are sources of extraordinary power and people fight in wars over them. Warbreaker introduces BioChroma, a magic system focused on using colors and BioChromatic Breaths to Awake (animate) objects. Initially I thought that the whole idea is rather weak, but after finishing the book I find it fascinating.
It felt static at first: to successfully use its powers, Awakener has to issue a verbal Command2, visualize how this Command should be executed and draw a color from an object he has a physically contact with. It’s complicated process, easy to interrupt and seemingly rather slow and dull, at least when compared to Allomancy or some forms of Surgebinding. But Allomancy can be slow and boring as well. It isn’t because its central figures are master Allomancers (Kelsier, Vin). The same applies to BioChroma: its reception changes radically when master Awakener, Vasher, enters the stage.
It is insanely powerful and gives almost godlike powers to the masses4, to the point that it feels unfair for the other magical systems. Creating automatic, AI-like objects which automatically defend you? Check. Not aging at all, merely as a side effect of having 2000 Breaths? Check. Creating an army of undead who preserve their skills from their former lifes? Check, check and check! So many possibilities.
Warbraker has some of the most memorable characters in all cosmere novels. Sure, they’re not I-just-want-to-die-Kaladin, but being featured only in one book3, it is remarkable how well thought and written they are. Even antagonists, with their black sense of humor, are wonderful. They feel real and alive. Although Siri’s and Vivenna’s initial naivety is a little exaggerated, but I got used to it and now consider such exaggerations as a part of Brandon’s writing style. Being naïve and totally unprepared for the upcoming events is a mandatory feat for his main characters.
Mocking a woman is like drinking too much wine. It may be fun for a short time, but the hangover is hell.
– Brandon Sanderson, Warbreaker
For someone uninitiated to cosmere, Warbreaker is a great introduction. It’s very light on cosmere mythology (I think that Nalthis’ Shard, Edgli5, is only mentioned in the name of flowers which grow in Halladren). The story is well developed, the pace is perfect, the climax is most satisfying. Overall, it simply shows the magnificent style of Brandon Sanderson’s storytelling.
Highly recommended position!
Elantris is the first published book by Brandon Sanderson and you can really tell it. He developed a lot, as a writer, since that time. ↩
Not entirely true, because near the end we learn that once you achieve 10th Heightening (collect over 50000 Breaths), you can give Commands mentally. ↩
Not entirely true, because at least some of them later become wordhoppers and we meet them on Roshar, although under other names. They are secondary characters in Stormlight Archive though. ↩
You only need a certain number of breaths and everyone on Nalthis is born with one. ↩
Edgli is the name of the Vessel for Endowment. ↩