Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, we met the Idrian royal family, learned of treaties and conflicts, and witnessed the critical decision to send Siri in Vivenna’s place. This week, the sisters express their dissatisfaction with the exchange in no uncertain terms, and another plot-critical decision is reached.
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, Vivenna (x2)
Setting: The Road to Hallandren, Bevalis & environs
Timing: Two days through one week later
Take a Deep Breath
Chapter 2 opens as Siri rides, frightened and alone, in the kingdom’s finest carriage, with an “ostentatious” honor guard of twenty soldiers plus a few servants, on her way to marry the God King of Hallandren. Completely unprepared for the task she faces, she vacillates between loneliness for the family she may never see again, and terror of the monster she will soon face.
Vivenna speaks with her father, trying to dissuade him from the path he has chosen for his daughters. Outwardly controlled, she seethes inwardly over her wasted preparation and the unfamiliar sensation of uselessness. By means of the conversation, however, she becomes aware of his fear for the kingdom, which will almost certainly be destroyed when war inevitably comes.
Siri throws a tantrum in the general direction of the nearest hapless soldier, trying to stave off fear and loneliness. She cannot understand why her father sent her instead of Vivenna, but finally allows herself to be distracted by Hallandren’s abundance of color—flowers, weeds, animals, everything is bursting with alien and beautiful color. Suddenly, she realizes that the soldiers are just as terrified of this crazy place as she is, and resolves to send them back to Idris as soon as she can.
Vivenna helps Fafen with her work, but is frustrated by her sister’s failure to understand the personal and political concerns which trouble Vivenna so. Despite maintaining her appearance of calm control, she worries over Siri as much as she worries over her own lack of purpose. As they return to the village, she begins to form a highly improper plan to help the one person who still needs her.
Austre… Vivenna thought with shock. He doesn’t believe that. He thinks he’s sent her to her death.
“I know what you are thinking,” her father said, drawing her attention back to his eyes. So solemn. “How could I choose one over the other? How could I send Siri to die and leave you here to live? I didn’t do it based on personal preference, no matter what people may think. I did what will be best for Idris when this war comes.”
When this war comes. Vivenna looked up, meeting his eyes. “I was going to stop the war, Father. I was to be the God King’s bride! I was going to speak with him, persuade him. I’ve been trained with the political knowledge, the understanding of customs, the—”
“Stop the war?” her father asked, cutting in. Only then did Vivenna realize how brash she must have sounded. She looked away.
“Vivenna, child,” her father said. “There is no stopping this war. Only the promise of a daughter of the royal line kept them away this long, and sending Siri may buy us time….”
This is a deeply conflicted man. King and father though he is, he’s still just a man, just human, and he’s in the worst catch-22 ever. Trying hard to be calm and wise and all, he’s terribly afraid that whoever he sent to fulfill the treaty would go to die. But he’s also afraid of what will to happen to his people when the treaty is fulfilled, and he was more afraid of what would happen to his people if he didn’t fulfill the treaty. As frustrated as Vivenna is about her wasted preparations, Dedelin doesn’t honestly believe she could have done anything anyway, other than bear a child to the God King.
This week’s annotations cover various aspects of the three sisters and their father, as well as some writing techniques. I highly recommend reading them, because I’m determined not to just copy and paste the whole thing here—which is what would happen if I tried to talk about all the really good stuff.
First, there’s the tone shift mentioned last week—“from lazy highland romping to frustration and terror.” Brandon even reveals that he’d considered bringing Mab along as a lady’s maid for Siri, but decided that it was more dramatic to send Siri off all alone. (Can you believe this guy? He deprives the poor girl of Mab’s excellent company, just for the sake of making her plight more emotional!)
The tone shift is highlighted by the character shifts. Switching between Siri and Vivenna gives us a birds-eye view of the beginnings of change: Siri grows, ever so slightly, from a thoroughly emotional reaction to more serious consideration and a thoughtful decision. Vivenna goes from perfectly controlled and rational, through frustration and finally to an impetuous decision. These shifts will carry through the book as their personal character arcs, and are a slow-motion version of one of Brandon’s favorite techniques: Reversal.
If you’ve read other annotations of mine, you’ll probably know that I love twists—but I love them only in that I love to make them work. A good twist has to be rational and unexpected at the same time. Pulling off that balance is one of the great pleasures in writing.
Personally, I think he does a great job of making his plot twists both “rational and unexpected”—the kind that take you by surprise, but then when you look back, the foreshadowing was there. Sometimes it’s like this one, with hints of character growth that will make their later actions believable. Sometimes it’s more abrupt, and you realize only after the fact that he was dropping seeds all along. Like I said, I think he does it well, though there are other folks who may disagree.
The annotations provide interesting insights on the family’s backstory. Dedelin’s wife died “over a decade ago”—meaning Siri was likely between 3 and 6 years old—in a riding accident. Siri doesn’t remember it, but of course her father and Vivenna do. Vivenna is much more like their mother than Siri, in part because her formative years were shaped by her mother’s supervision and training, but apparently Siri inherited their mother’s love for riding. The combination serves to make Dedelin actually love Vivenna more than Siri—not intentionally, and not even consciously, but it’s true anyway. Vivenna reminds him of his wife, and Siri reminds him of his wife’s death. It does make sense.
The conversation between Fafen and Vivenna gives a little background on Idrian culture, which is expanded in the annotations. (Yay for putting the info-dump in the annotations instead of the story! It could have been worked in, but only by expanding these Idrian-highlands chapters, which really wouldn’t contribute to the flow of the novel in a positive way.) Anyway, Idrians have a wonderful concept of service, as evidenced by the role of monks in society. They basically do whatever needs to be done. If someone is injured, a monk takes their place until they are healed. If a father dies without enough of an estate to care for his family, a monk will take his place at work, with all the wages going to the family just as it would have if the man had lived. The monks don’t own anything, and their necessities are provided by the people (presumably through taxes or tithes, though we’re not told). It’s not a perfect system, since there will always be those who will be lazy without the motivation of necessity or gain, but it works pretty well in a sober-minded culture like Idris.
Last note, which you should have noticed while you were reading:
We have a nice moment in this chapter rotating around a single word. Siri begins the chapter thinking about how she was supposed to be useless, and how she wishes that she still were. Then Vivenna ends her section thinking about how she’s become useless. That terrifies her.
Snow White and Rose Red
Welp. One problem with these annotations: most of the stuff I noticed in my reread as being Things to Talk About are things Brandon talks about in the annotations. The character shifts for Siri and Vivenna are the most notable, of course, and he pretty much covered it. But I’m still going to point out a few things, because I can.
Siri’s attempt to understand her father’s motivations only brings forth two ideas, neither of which is believable. One, he got tired of her behavior; two, he thought she could do the job better than Vivenna. The first she rejects as farfetched, because sending her to represent the kingdom in the court of a threatening rival as a form of punishment would be a self-defeating maneuver. “Here, to smooth things over, I’m sending you my problem child. Maybe she can annoy you all to death.” Not. The second is, from Siri’s perspective, completely laughable. “Nobody did anything better than Vivenna.” And yet there are ways in which Siri really is much more suited to the task—not ways that would be valued by Idris, but real nonetheless. Siri is capable of finding Hallandren fascinating and delightful, in ways Vivenna simply can’t—or at least, not yet. In a normal situation, the one who can adapt and enjoy might be a much better ambassador than the one who is inflexibly self-controlled and repelled by the new culture.
Okay, it’s not a normal situation, and someone is bound to try to take advantage of Siri’s naiveté; but then, someone would find a way to take advantage of Vivenna’s disdain and assumptions, too.
One thing Brandon didn’t mention in the annotation was the birth-order stereotypes. While these aren’t, of course, 100% applicable, most of us can see in our own families the tendencies that lead to the types (assuming you aren’t an only child). In many ways, Siri is the archetype of The Youngest Child.
Vivenna is even more The Eldest Child. She’s not actually perfect, but she seems so—especially to younger siblings who didn’t observe her learning process, and who can’t help but feel their own immature behavior contrasts poorly with her visible self-control and maturity. Even in her frustration, her Eldest Child leadership mentality makes her feel responsible for Siri.
The thing that (on a reread) makes me most empathize with Vivenna is her reaction to having her life’s work so readily tossed aside by her father. She’s spent her life learning everything she could about Hallandren, court protocol, politics, traditions, and self-control,—all in preparation for the day when she would marry the God King, and would have an opportunity to not only make a sacrifice for her people, but perhaps do more. Perhaps, as his wife, she could persuade both Susebron and his court to make further treaties which would be good for both kingdoms. It was her entire purpose in life.
While we know that there are undercurrents which would make that unlikely, neither she nor Dedelin know about them. Why, then, was Dedelin so willing to throw away that possibility? Presumably, in facilitating her studies and training, he had at least given her the impression that she was preparing for something that could make a difference beyond bearing a child. Was he just humoring her all along? Did something happen recently to change his mind about the efficacy of her training? Or is it just that when it came right down to the day, he couldn’t bring himself to risk her?
This bothers me. Though not, I suppose, as much as it bothers Vivenna…
And in true Middle Child tradition, Fafen gets left to the end. She’s described as “the middle sister in almost every way— midway between Siri and Vivenna in height, less proper than Vivenna, yet hardly as careless as Siri.” She took all the lessons on Hallandren, in case Vivenna died before the wedding; she’s the back-up plan. Interestingly (and I don’t know how this fits with the Middle Child type, but it certainly fits the middle children in my family), she picked her own path from the acceptable alternatives, and follows it without worrying about the rest of the world.
Oops. Forgot one. Ridger is mentioned—Vivenna doesn’t see how it’s appropriate to throw away his training so she can have his place as heir to throne, just because her place as bride of the God King has been given away. We never do learn much of anything about Ridger, do we? He’s just a placeholder for heir apparent, and has nothing to do with the story itself.
Wrt: the Royal Locks, we have “so white that it seemed to shine” when Siri curls up in terror, and later “a pensive brown” when she starts getting thoughtful. Vivenna’s, of course, remains black throughout.
One more little hint, preparing the way for later revelations: Idris and Hallandren had been one nation until the Manywar. As such, no one had ever gotten around to drawing a distinct border in the relatively uninhabited lands between the two centers of power. It doesn’t really matter.
Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall
“Austre!” and “Oh, Austre, God of Colors” is supplemented by “for Color’s sake” this week. Nothing exciting there, I guess.
A few more random comments: There’s a timeline continuity issue, if you want to be picky. Chapter 1 talked about Dedelin becoming king and arranging this treaty “twenty years ago,” and we know Vivenna just turned 22. Chapter 2 makes it sound like the treaty was crafted before Vivenna’s birth, implying that the kingdom had celebrated her birth in context of a means to fulfill the treaty. It can be got around by looking at things a different way and squinting slightly, but it stuck out to me.
The other two comments probably should be in “Snow White and Rose Red” but they didn’t fit. So. One was merely a need to remark on the Idrian idea of ostentation: the kingdom’s nicest carriage, twenty soldiers, a steward, and several serving boys. Gee wow. It certainly serves to show just how naïve she is, and highlights the shock she’s going to feel when she arrives in T’Telir and gets real ostentation shoved in her face.
The other was something I can’t quite figure out how to say.
If I feel this anxious, she realized, those guards must feel more so. She wasn’t the only one who had been sent away from family and friends. When would these men be allowed to return? Suddenly, she felt even more guilty for subjecting the young soldier to her outburst.
I’m not sure whether to call it arrogance or insight, but I think the latter. Despite ignoring most of her lessons, she has been raised as a princess; she has more information about Hallandren than the average citizen or soldier, she’s been taught to control her emotions, and she has a certain level of protection as a princess and emissary. The soldiers have rumor and superstition, far less training, and no guarantee of protection at all except what their skill buys them.
Of course, you could call it arrogance, assuming that because she’s Royalty, she’s somehow naturally endowed with greater courage and intelligence than a soldier. But… all in all, I don’t think that’s it.
Well, that’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover chapter 3 and its annotations, in which we meet Lightsong the Bold and are introduced to some of the peculiarities of being a god in Hallandren.
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.