Greetings, oh my friends, and welcome back to the ongoing (and possibly never-ending, if he keeps writing at this pace) rereads of Brandon Sanderson’s amazing Cosmere! Coming soon to a Thursday near you is the long-awaited Warbreaker reread, wherein we will discuss Color, Biochroma, Breath, and (dun dun dun) Nightblood. And related matters. But not today, so much. Today, we introduce.
This is going to be an interesting experiment, because Warbreaker was an interestingly-composed book. It was originally published free, chapter by chapter, on brandonsanderson.com, with “alpha-reading” done by anyone who cared to comment. Additionally, he posted detailed annotations (also chapter by chapter) on his website for everyone to read. This means that it probably had the most extensive and exhaustive alpha/beta read ever done on any novel, ever, and we have more insight into what the author intended to do than we usually get—even with a relatively transparent author like Sanderson.
On the other hand, we now know there is more information to be had. He didn’t tell us everything! For instance, the annotations don’t mention the fact that Warbreaker originated as a place for Zahel and Nightblood to be from. They originally appeared in what’s now called “The Way of Kings Prime”—the earlier version that was extensively reworked before it was published. One of the many changes was that he pulled Zahel and Nightblood out of the first volume so that he could give them their own backstory first. They reappeared, then, in Words of Radiance, after Warbreaker was out, so we could have the jaw-dropping fun of wondering how? where? when? why? what???
That connection, in large part, triggered the desire to do the Warbreaker reread, so we could look more closely at these two characters. I wanted to see what we could learn about them that would help us understand their move to Roshar.
Before proceeding further, allow me to introduce myself to any newcomers. I’m a long-time commenter (since early 2009) on Tor.com, under the username Wetlandernw: Wetlander, because I first joined in on Leigh Butler’s excellent Wheel of Time reread during a particularly soggy Seattle winter, and the “nw” suffix because when I registered someone had already taken the username Wetlander (though he’d never used it, and still hasn’t to the best of my knowledge). Through a series of many unexpected events, I had the privilege of joining Brandon’s team of beta-readers in 2013, just in time to work on Words of Radiance. Since then, I’ve done alpha-, beta-, and gamma-reading on many of his new books and stories, and every time, I marvel again at the versatility and imagination of my favorite living author.
As if that weren’t enough, Tor.com has given me the honor of introducing several of his books here, and I recently completed the reread of Words of Radiance. Begun as a partnership with Carl Engle-Laird, it was a marvelous way to enter these waters, and I will always owe Carl a tremendous debt. (I still miss his humor and insight on the rereads, but he has other work to be doing now, which benefits us all by introducing new authors, so… I guess… Okay, fine. We love you, Carl!) Now that we’ve finished WoR, and while we’re still waiting for Oathbringer, this seemed like a perfect time to do a shorter work, and Tor.com has allowed me the fun of tackling Warbreaker.
On a personal note, I grew up in Montana and graduated back in the dark ages with a major in Chemical Engineering and minors in Chemistry and English Literature. Even though I’m roughly as old as the hills, I now find myself in possession of two lovable and crazy-making teenagers, and a loving—and very patient—husband who tolerates my fan-girling quite well. My daughter and I like to do cosplay for book signings and things, and she was recently allowed to participate in the gamma-read of The Dark Talent, which was totally wild for a 13-year-old. (“Target audience” much?) My 15-year-old son is one of the reasons I love characters like Renarin and Steris so much; he has Down Syndrome (with all its frequently-occurring obsessive-compulsive behaviors), and Brandon’s effort to not only include but understand people with disabilities warms my heart. We live in the Seattle area, where the hills really are the greenest greens, and the skies are indeed a lovely blue… when they aren’t grey. (Indian summer FTW!! It’s been gorgeous the last couple of weeks!)
Back to Warbreaker.
The structure of the reread will be much the same as past efforts, tailored to the subject. Riffing off the Words of Radiance reread, which riffed off other rereads & rewatches, we’ll use the “recurring unit” approach again. As with WoR, there are many units, and not every unit will be applicable to every chapter. You can expect to see something like this:
Point of View: (character)
Timing: (relative to the previous chapter(s))
Take a Deep Breath: This will be a hopefully-brief recap, much like the IN WHICH opener of the Words of Radiance reread—and I really do want to keep it that succinct. Most of these chapters aren’t long, and you’ll really want to read them if you possibly can. I can’t, and really don’t want to, cover every detail of every chapter, but in order for you to point out the things I left out, you need to … well, reread it.
Breathtaking: Also known as the Quote of the Week, this will be the thing I think most needs to be quoted verbatim for some reason or other. Or no reason at all. You know how it is.
Local Color: One of the unique things about Warbreaker is the sheer volume of authorial insight we’ve been given via Sanderson’s annotations, and we’ll take advantage of that. This unit will provide a recap, with quotations as appropriate, of his notes on each chapter as we go. I have no idea how this will work out, since I’ve never done this before. Watch me learn? Wooo…
Snow White and Rose Red: The Idrian Royal family, particularly Siri and Vivenna, are central characters in the story, so they get their own unit. (At least for now.) I’ll be focusing especially on the development of their characters, with emphasis on the differences in the ways the sisters change throughout the book.
As I Live and Breathe: With Biochroma as the magic-driver on Nalthis, this unit will deal with active magics as we see them happening. Primarily, of course, this will be people using (or attempting to use) Breath to do what they need. Hopefully, it will also reflect a growing understanding of how Investiture works under Endowment’s influence.
Clashing Colors: While the action of the book takes place in Idris and Hallandren, there are other cultures woven through the book, some with greater impact than others. I’d like to focus in on unique aspects of these varied cultures, and the relationships between them. This will involve the current threats of war and the real or anticipated effects of said war.
In Living Color: Obviously, the Returned need a unit of their own. This includes a lot of major players, so it’s quite possible that after while I’ll decide it needs to be broken out. For now, though, this will be home for all the Returned in the Court of the Gods, as well as the Five Scholars. Initially, this will also take in the priests and servants of the gods, except when they belong in Clashing Colors… but I’m not quite sure how this will work out.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to Me!): I’m not entirely sure this one justified, but I’m doing it anyway. This is the unit for permanently-Awakened objects… like Nightblood, the Lifeless, etc. There are a bunch of them, and worth pointing out, but I honestly won’t know until we get going just how much there will be to say about them.
Background Color: This is another one which I’m unsure of the value, but I’m including it for now. This will be discussions of ancient history, such as the Manywar. It may be that the past actions of the Five Scholars will be included here, or they might just stay in In Living Color. There’s some overlap, clearly; we’ll see how it plays out.
Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall: Borrowed from Zahel in Words of Radiance, this is the old “Just Sayin’” unit. How much exercise it will get, I don’t know—I don’t recall a lot of world-specific idioms, but then, I didn’t memorize the book. (I almost called this one “Colorful Metaphors” in a shout-out to Star Trek IV, but decided to stay in-Cosmere instead.)
Exhale: The former Commentary is (for now) moved to the end, where it will collect all the things I need to talk about that don’t fit anywhere else. It will be interesting to see whether it remains the longest section, or gets shortened because I’ve got so many other places to put things.
You’ll notice that there isn’t currently a specific unit for Worldhoppers, nor for Cosmere-level implications of the things we’re reading. These and, I’m sure, many other things will be stuffed into the Exhale unit, unless there seems to be so much of something that it deserves its own unit. But I don’t think so. Anyway, that’s how it’s shaking out at the moment. As always, the structure is pretty much carved in Jell-O, so feel free to provide comments and suggestions if you see ways it could be improved!
One more thing… Warbreaker is not nearly so replete with artwork as was Words of Radiance. So not-replete, in fact, that the only artwork involved is the exceptionally lovely cover painting, by Dan Dos Santos, and the map of T’Telir, by Shawn Boyles. There is, however, some very fine—and some very fun—fan art out there. On occasion, when I find something I like and can get permission to use it, I hope to include some of that here. If you find something appropriate, by all means share it!
Last disclaimer: I have not (yet) gone through all the available versions of Warbreaker to identify characters or events which were cut before the final version. I hope to do some of that, at least, as we go, but it would be great if y’all want to pitch in on that effort.
Well, ready or not, here it comes!
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and fantasy fan excited by rumors that the Oathbringer beta read may be starting in the near future. This will cause her to over-compartmentalize her brain to keep from leaking spoilers on the reread and may result in bizarre personality disorders. You’ve been warned. If you Facebook, you can join her in the Tor-Sanderson-rereader-specific group known as the Storm Cellar; since it’s a closed group, you have to ask to join. Identify yourself as a Tor friend, and Deana or Alice will add you!