My Breath Become Yours – ‘Warbreaker’ by Brandon Sanderson

I realised recently that I almost never read epic fantasy any more.  At one stage of my life it was all I ever read, but in the last five years I have picked up only a handful of ‘swords and sorcery’ books.  I blame Robert Jordan.  Since the collapse of the ‘Wheel of Time’  into an infinite loop of repetitive self-parody, I don’t like to start a series of books to which the final instalment has yet to be published.  As a result, I’ve yet to read Patrick Rothfuss, and haven’t started fantasy saga of the moment, ‘The Song of Ice and Fire’.  I don’t want to start another series where there the author dies (either creatively or literally) before his story ends.  Yet I still yearn for the excitement I felt when reading the Lord of the Rings,  The Belgariad or the Drenai series for the first time.  (Though David Gemmell remains unforgiven for dying before writing a sequel to Quest of Lost Heroes).

Whenever I go into a book shop I trawl the SF&F shelves hoping for inspiration, but it rarely strikes. I have looked at Brandon Sanderson novels on numerous occasions, but until now nothing has persuaded me to bite.  Yes, the Mistborn trilogy is complete, but it now looks like an awfully large investment of time in order to make it through to the end, proving if nothing else, that I am entirely inconsistent in my prejudices.

And then I saw ‘Warbreaker’.  Sucked in by the front-cover tag-line, ‘Magic as you’ve never seen it before.’, I read the blurb.  It describes a chromatic magic system, based on ‘breath’ that can only be collected one unit at a time, and magic wielders who draw their power by leeching the colour of objects around them.  It sounded like absolute genius.  Better still, the novel was a one off.  A surreptitious read through of the exciting and intriguing prologue left me in no doubt, ‘Warbreaker’ was a book I had to read.  A bit of digging around on the internet, shows this is one of Sanderson’s less popular novels.  All I can say is that the others must be something special, as I found Warbreaker entrancing from start to finish.

The plot centres around two kingdoms, one powerful, Halladren, the other, Idris, in decline.  Halladren has replaced Idris as the strongest power in the region, but the Idrian monarchs still hold a claim to the Halladren throne.  To make matters more interesting, the religion of Halladren is considered an abomination by the Idrians.  As the novel opens, there is to be a marriage between the daughter of the King of Idrian, and the God King of Halladren.

What’s most impressive in this book is the depth of Sanderson’s world building.  From some cursory research, I gather that the magic, religion and politics of the novel, fits in with the philosophy of Sanderson’s other works.  This definitely comes over in this book.  It occasionally feels a little clunky; too much telling, rather than showing, particularly in the early part of the novel. What I liked about it though, is that the magic system works like science.  Often in fantasy novels the magic comes complete, with the characters (and therefore the reader) rarely questioning how it works.  Here, the most powerful wielders of ‘Breath’ have had to research as they go, and much like science, their answers reveal yet more questions.   Magic effects the senses, but can also be imbued into real objects, or stored for later use.   The system described remains consistent and is well realised, better still, the novel’s characters use it in innovative ways that have unexpected consequences for the story.

But a solid world alone does not make for a good novel. It has to have a good story to back it up.  Sanderson delivers with aplomb.  There are all sorts of interesting things going on here.  Magic, obviously, but there’s political intrigue, revolutions, plots, counter-plots, murder and some good old-fashioned betrayal.  It also has some very dry humour and the greatest sword since Stormbringer.  There are some strong themes too, most notably the novel asks, how are our lives shaped by our expectations?  Terrorism and religious tolerance also come under scrutiny, as does the malleability of history.  It seems the bar has been raised high since I last read any epic fantasy.

Nearly all of Warbreaker’s characters have mixed motives, with factions playing out their hands for good and ill.  There is also a nice poke at the indolence of the ruling classes; the living gods are so far removed from the real world, they have absolutely no idea how it works.  The conversations between these living gods are full of dry wit, and are highly entertaining.

So my first foray into the world of  Brandon Sanderson was a resounding success.  ‘Warbreaker’ had me reading late into the night, returning me to my teenage years.  Since I now have goblins of my own, who are more than happy to wake me up at 6am, staying up until after 1am to finish a book is just about the highest compliment I can pay.  If ‘Warbreaker’ is not Sanderson’s best book, then I can’t wait to read the others.

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11 thoughts on “My Breath Become Yours – ‘Warbreaker’ by Brandon Sanderson

  1. “Warbreaker” was my first foray into Sanderson’s world as well, and back then, I did wonder why people don’t like it as much as his other novels. I hope you do eventually get into “Mistborn,” or better yet, “Elantris,” which is also a one-off. *wink wink*

  2. I’ve since picked up the first in the Mistborn series in a charity shop. Looking forward to reading it. Just need to find a slot in my ever increasing reading schedule!

  3. This was okay, but by Sanderson standards, it’s average. Mistborn has some minor faults but if you read the entire trilogy, you’ll see why he has such a major following online. Definitely worth the time, even if you aren’t much into epic fantasy anymore.

    1. Hi Rabindranauth, Thanks for following and all your likes! I have the first mistborn sitting on the shelf at home but I never seem to pick it. Sometimes I think I should just go back to my roots and dive in to all the epic series I’ve missed out on!

      1. No probz! I like your blog 😀 I know the feeling, I had the boxed set for months before I actually got around to reading it. Found the first book nice, and the second one trying. It was the third that completely blew my mind 🙂 That sounds like me and Star Wars! Lol, I never quite find myself motivated enough to really start reading it again. If you ever feel like it’s time to take a crack at it again, either that or The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie are arguably the two best places to start.

      2. Aargh Abercrombie! Didn’t like the blade itself. Have a real problem with ‘Grimdark’ too many boring new tropes, which are essentially just the old ones inverted. I did enjoy the Lies of Locke Lamora though. I also loved Ashok K Banker’s Ramayana retelling (forgive my making assumptions but from your name and picture, I’m hazarding a guess you might like his work)

      3. Well if grimdark’s your thing, then Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria is definitely for you. He literally writes stories that go against the trend, “classic fantasy with modern twists” is how it’s described. Bah, don’t worry about it, I’ve come across those books before but to be honest I’m very wary where it comes to Indian authors in fantasy now. I recently read one of the most popular trilogies around over there right now, the Shiva trilogy by Amish Tripathi, and I think I was scarred for life. The first book was great, but the others? He threw it all out the window. It’s going to be a while before I give any of the others a shot, lol. Tripathi’s books have been picked up by a UK publisher and all, I think if they’re not out as yet, they will be later this year.

      4. Nearly picked up the Sullivans the other day. Was put off by the generic covers. Have you read any Daniel Abraham? Keep hearing good things.
        The first 6 Ramayana books were published in the UK. I loved the blend of fantasy and mythology. I had very little exposure to the central stories which probably enhanced my enjoyment. His later stuff is over self-indulgent (and mostly self-published) There is something of a cult of Ashok and it seems to have affected output.

      5. Those books are just fun. The first one is a little bland, but as the series rolls by the just get more and more fun. I haven’t read any Abraham as yet, I’m waiting to see where the series stands at the end of this book that’s coming in August. I’ll give the Ramayana books a shot sometime, then! See if they’re for me.

  4. Crap, I meant if grimdark’s NOT your thing, then Michael J. Sullivan is an author to look at.

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