Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, we met a grumpy old man with a bizarrely cheerful sword. This week, we meet the Idrian royal family, and are introduced to the political tensions which will drive much of the plot.
This reread will contain spoilers for all of Warbreaker and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. This is particularly likely to include Words of Radiance, due to certain crossover characters. The index for this reread can be found here.
Click on through to join the discussion!
Point of View: Siri, Dedelin
Setting: Bevalis, capital of Idris
Timing: Day 1
Take a Deep Breath
In Chapter 1, Siri returns home from a walk in the hills, comfortable in her status as the unimportant youngest princess. Bevalis is a humble city, more like a village, with muddy streets, thatched roofs, and everything in shades of tan and grey. She teases a few children with the gift of several colorful flowers, then enters the palace kitchens where old Mab is cooking. Siri teases her too, and begins to help with the meal preparations, but on learning that her father is in a meeting with his top general, she decides to go for a ride. After all, the punishment for her truancy will be the same either way—she’ll be sent to the kitchen to help Mab—and her father doesn’t know she enjoys it.
Meanwhile, Dedelin meets with Yarda, his general and chief advisor. He has received a letter from Hallandren, reminding him that it is time to fulfill the terms of the treaty which has, so far, kept them from war. Vivenna, the eldest, has now turned twenty-two, and it is time to send her to be the God-King’s wife. He dreads sending her, fearing she will be used as a hostage, but Idris is ill prepared to fight an invading Hallandren force at this point. Though Dedelin is reluctant, Yarda is firm that they need the time the marriage will buy them. Vivenna herself, perfectly in control as always, is ready to go and suggests that she leave before Siri returns; however, just then Siri returns from her ride, behaving in all the ways inappropriate to an Idrian princess, and Dedelin makes up his mind: Siri, not Vivenna, will marry the God-King.
General Yarda shook his head. “War is coming, Your Majesty. I feel it in the winds and read it in the reports of our spies. Hallandren still considers us rebels, and our passes to the north are too tempting. They will attack.”
“Then I shouldn’t send her,” Dedelin said, looking back out his window. The courtyard bustled with people in furs and cloaks coming to market.
“We can’t stop the war, Your Majesty,” Yarda said. “But… we can slow it.”
Dedelin turned back.
Yarda stepped forward, speaking softly. “This is not a good time. Our troops still haven’t recovered from those Vendis raids last fall, and with the fires in the granary this winter…” Yarda shook his head. “We cannot afford to get into a defensive war in the summer. Our best ally against the Hallandren are the snows. We can’t let this conflict occur on their terms. If we do, we are dead.”
This is, in essence, the set-up for the entire novel. This is why all the things are done—at least, as far as we know until almost the end of the book.
Annotations this week concern tone, character origins, ramblemen, Idrian beliefs, Mab the cook, and the scene between Dedelin & Yarda.
Brandon notes that his agent disliked the tone shifts between the Prologue and Chapter 1, and also throughout the book. It goes from dark (Vasher) to whimsical/romantic (Siri) to glib/comedic (Lightsong) to unpredictable (Vivenna). Brandon kept the dramatic shifts anyway, because he likes it and because it suits the vibrancy and contrast of a color-centric world.
The origins of Vivenna and Siri are found in an unfinished novel called Mythwalker—the only book Brandon never finished writing. It was boring, he says, centered on a standard fantasy trope of the peasant boy who finds himself caught up in things too big for him and inheriting a powerful magic. You can see for yourself whether you find it boring; it’s all on his website. He did, however, find that his alpha readers liked the subplot of cousins who accidentally traded places so the wrong one ended up marrying the emperor. Trope or not, this one clicked because of the characters; eventually he decided to use their story for Warbreaker. The annotations include interesting reflections on when and how to blend originality with archetypes.
Ramblemen receive mere mentions in the book, and apparently many readers thought they ought to be more. The response is that sometimes, you use an evocative concept to hint at the greater world, and you don’t have to—or even want to—develop it into any more.
If you notice that some Idrians beliefs about Awakening don’t seem to match what we have or will observe in practice, this is intentional. Through fear, tradition, and misinformation, the Idrians have weird ideas about magic. Their drabness isn’t the safeguard they think—there’s still plenty of color that could be used for Awakening. Even if they knew, though, they probably wouldn’t change, if only for the sake of contrast with Hallandren.
Mab the cook has A Backstory—which is why she knows more than a cook should. You really ought to go read the annotation in full; she has experience with Hallandren, both good and bad. Courtesan, Drab, Madam, Cook, she’s pretty much run the gamut.
The final annotation is mostly Brandon explaining the continuing debate he has with himself over whether the scene between Dedelin and Yarda is too long or too short. He wanted it to be long enough to give the reader a sense of the desperation that would induce a good man to make the decision Dedelin makes; on the other hand, he didn’t want it to make Dedelin seem like a more major character than he’s ever going to be. These are fine lines to walk.
Snow White and Rose Red
Our first look at the Idrian Royal family comes from the “unimportant” youngest princess, Siri, who enjoys being the redundant one. She’s the one without a destiny determined by her place. Vivenna is to be the God-King’s wife, Ridger is to inherit the throne of Idris, Fafen is the family’s requisite monk, and Siri just gets to be Siri—troublesome and irresponsible, but never seriously so. Dedelin, the King, frequently finds her irritating, but he’s also not inclined to make it an issue. She is, after all, the redundant one.
Bevalis, capital of Idris, draws an odd mixture of emotion from Siri. She likes the homey feeling of this place that’s barely more than a village, a place where she knows everyone and can just be herself. On the other hand, she loves color, and the Idrians have done everything they can to diminish color, along with anything else that would stand out. In Idris, standing out—drawing attention to yourself—is the worst social (or perhaps religious) crime in existence. Even the palace only stands out by its size; it’s a low, single-story building, but it has to be large to encompass the meeting hall and to function as the administrative center of the kingdom.
The contrast between Siri and Vivenna is as stark here as it’s ever going to get. Here, at home in Bevalis, they are exactly what they’ve always practiced to become: Vivenna is calm, careful, composed, and controlled; Siri is bubbly, spontaneous, irrepressible, and emotional. I find it interesting—and perfectly human—that in their home environment, they reflect very contrasting characters, but later, in a challenging and uncomfortable place, they will each become much more like the other—or like the other’s habitual behavior, anyway. We’ll be watching this development.
One of the delights of Warbreaker is the Royal Locks, which portray the differences in the sisters’ character beyond merely words and actions. Vivenna, the controlled one, keeps her hair a perfect black; apparently this is the color which reflects no emotion, and she is able to govern her hair and her emotions so that no one can tell what she really feels. By contrast, Siri at her most disciplined can barely manage a dull brown. Left alone, her hair goes from joyful blond, to a slightly embarrassed (or is it angry? or both?) red tinge, to fearful whitening, back to excited blond, to exhilarated deep blond and finally to a flame-colored red, emotion unknown. Dedelin, for what it’s worth, mostly keeps his hair black, except when he is angry and frustrated with Siri; then a few locks bleed from black to red.
It’s delightful to read, but it would be a right pain to live with—as bad as having spren around, showing everyone when you’re afraid or embarrassed.
As quoted above, Idris is on the verge of a war they will inevitably lose. Hallandren is larger, better equipped, and has magic; if they invade, they will win. Dedelin has spent his entire 20-year reign focused on keeping this war from happening, starting with the treaty he now has to fulfill or forfeit. The frustrating thing is that even with the treaty in place, he can see that war—and defeat—is unavoidable. Twenty years ago, he promised his then two-year-old daughter to be the Hallandren God-King’s wife when she turned 22. It only worked because the old royal line of Hallandren had long ago fled and become the royal line of Idris; the marriage would return true royal blood—as evidenced by the Royal Locks—to Hallandren.
In the intervening years, the treaty has helped to keep the war at bay, but only helped; much additional work has gone into placating the enemy. The Pahn Kahl rebellion had afforded some hope that attention would turn away from Idris, but that failed at a time, and in a way, that left Hallandren even more wary of enemies. Dedelin has lived with the knowledge that Hallandren could abandon the treaty and invade any time they wanted. He also knows that once the treaty is fulfilled, all bets are off; his daughter will at best become a hostage for any demands the Hallandren choose to make. His choice is to forfeit the treaty, which will surely appear to invite war, or to fulfill the treaty, placing his daughter in the hands of the enemy.
Yarda offers hopes of alliance with other nations, and perhaps a resurgence of Vahr’s broken rebellion, if he only has enough time. Dedelin knows perfectly well, I think, that these hopes are tenuous at best, and yet he must take any chance given him to protect his people. Whatever wisdom he may or may not have, Dedelin and his family take responsibility for their kingdom very seriously; they will do whatever it takes to keep their people safe and free.
There are two vague references to the Manywar: one, that Tedradel has hated Hallandren since that time, and two, that the royal family fled to the Idris highlands at the climax of the Manywar. While this tells us very little, it provides an anchor for what’s to come.
Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall
We get just a few Idrian idioms this week. “Austre help me…” “For Austre’s sake!” “Lord God of Colors.” Appropriate, for a very devout people, that their exclamations center around Austre, God of Colors.
There are just a few random notes to review, and some thoughts on Dedelin’s decision.
Random note one: I find it amusing that the Idrians worship Austre, God of Colors—but they avoid color like plague. As per the annotations, part of this is a misguided attempt to make it hard for Awakeners to function here. A greater part, though, seems to be a strong objection to pride, arrogance, or attention-seeking. I’m… not sure what I think of this. It sounds pretty good when you put it like that, but in practice it looks much less admirable. There seems to be no room for any kind of beauty except Dedelin’s “beauty in simplicity.”
Random note two: This may come up in the annotations eventually, but I’m going to point it out right here. We know that Brandon likes to play with naming conventions, and most of his worlds have two or three “styles” of names. (E.g., in the Stormlight Archive, there’s one convention resulting in names like Kaladin, Adolin, and Dalinar, which is based on a primary name and a suffix; there’s another based on symmetry, which results in names like Shallan and Ialai.) In Warbreaker, the most noticeable effect, whatever its root, is the repeated consonant at the beginning of a name. Sisirinah, Vivenna, Dedelin, etc. In those cases, the repeated consonants are separated by an unstressed vowel. We will soon see some similar names where the consonants are instead separated by an apostrophe, such as T’telir . I’ll actually deal with this more later, when we meet another character with this name construction, but for now I’ll merely point it out.
Random note three: So far, there is very little individual description, other than rebellious royal hair. I think that made Yarda’s description stand out a little:
The burly man stood waiting, his hands clasped behind his back, his thick beard tied in three places.
Again, it’s not an important thing, but I really like noticing the little details like the beard.
Finally, a few thoughts on Dedelin’s decision at the end of the chapter. I can respect the self-awareness that says, “Vivenna means so much to me that I would never be able to stand against someone who held her hostage. I realize that I would forsake all my responsibilities and commitments just to keep her safe.” And I can respect the determination that as king, he has to be king first and father second; he must place the security of his people first, and so he dare not risk putting himself in a position where he knows he would choose his daughter’s safety over the lives of his people. At the same, time… “Vivenna, you will not go to wed the tyrant god of our enemies. I’m sending Siri in your place.” That just freaks me out. “I love my eldest daughter too much to risk allowing her to be a hostage. Here, take my youngest; she’s expendable.”
That’s probably deeply unfair to Dedelin, but seriously, it creeps me out. It just seems so wrong—especially since it seems to be made on the spur of the moment and without asking either of the girls how they feel about it. There are aspects of his thought process I can admire, but the end result just bothers me.
Of course, without it, there wouldn’t be much of a story. So there’s that.
Okay, that’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 2 and its annotations, in which Siri rides toward Hallandren and Vivenna tries to figure out what her place in life is, now that she has been made redundant.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. 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 one of the moderators will add you.