Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Siri travelled toward Hallandren while Vivenna stewed about her wasted life. This week, we leave the Idrians in their respective muddles, and go to meet Lightsong in the Court of Gods.
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: Lightsong the Bold
Setting: Lightsong’s Palace in the Court of Gods
Timing: Uncertain: the day Siri arrives in T’Telir
Take a Deep Breath
In Chapter 3, Lightsong awakes in his palace, weak and feeling restless from his dreams. While servants dress him, he teases his high priest by being annoyingly flippant. Reluctantly, he relates his dream to the priest, Llarimar, who carefully records it to be examined for anything significant.
Lightsong and Llarimar make their way to the center of the palace, where a little girl waits for them. Though afraid and crying, she plays her part perfectly, transferring her Breath to Lightsong. As he receives it, he is renewed and invigorated, supplied to live another week; as she releases it, she grows dull, color fading slightly from skin and hair, the twinkle gone from her eyes. Lightsong, feeling guilty about his need for her Breath, moves on willingly to the Offerings, feeling that he needs to give something back to the people.
He views a series of paintings and poems, taking this task seriously, trying to be both generous and honest as he reviews them. The final offering, a painting, reminds him of the dream he’d recounted to Llarimar earlier. He prepares to move on to his final task, that of hearing petitions, but Llarimar reminds him that there will be no petitions today: the new queen is arriving. As the Lifeless armies must be arrayed to meet her, Lightsong gives his priest a one-day Command phrase for them.
Before Llarimar leaves, Lightsong asks about his pre-Returned life; he remembers a face, and believes it may have been his wife.
In the center of the room was a child.
Why does it always have to be a child? Lightsong thought.
I think this is where I begin to like Lightsong. This, and the following scene, seem so sad to me. He does what he has to do, what he’s expected to do, what the child’s family has been paid to allow him to do… but it distresses him that in order for him to live, someone else has to give up their Breath.
In Living Color
This week, we enter the Court (as opposed to the dungeons) of Gods to see what it’s like to be a Returned in Hallandren. It turns out to be a weird mixture of privilege and duty. I’m not saying it’s weird for a position to mix the two; just that this particular mixture strikes me as weird and just a bit creepy.
On the one hand, these gods demand a lot from their people: one Breath per week per god—and at 25 Breaths per week, that has to rack up in terms of depleting the population of Breath. (At least they are paid well for their sacrifice, so I guess there’s that.) On the other hand, there’s an expectation of the gods: each will, at some point, give his or her Divine Breath (and life) to heal and save one person. In between, somewhere, are the offerings: people create or commission artwork to offer the gods, hoping for a blessing and an augury in return. Somehow, the priests are supposed to be able to interpret the god’s reaction to the offering, so that the giver knows whether their plans are good or bad. Oh, and a god’s dreams are supposed to reveal the future, which seems to be the key reason for keeping them around in the first place.
Speaking of priests, what a job they have. Interpreting the dreams and reactions of a Returned so that it theoretically means something… Well, as with most religions, there can be truth, and there can be abuse. In this specific religion, we don’t know (do we?) whether Returned truly do see something of the future, or not; that makes it hard to say whether there’s any in-world validity to the idea.
We’ll get to some of the less trustworthy priests eventually, but for now we’re just looking at Llarimar. Of course my view of him is colored by later revelations, but I have to believe that he is one who at least cares about his task. In a way, this makes me want to smack Lightsong for childishly deciding to dub him “Scoot” and insist on calling him that. It also makes me admire Llarimar more: he’s completely undisturbed by any personal humiliations, but he firmly disapproves any time Lightsong is dismissive of the dignity or obligations of being a god.
Which brings us back to Lightsong. Talk about Impostor Syndrome! Lightsong is revered as one of the gods, and he doesn’t believe in his own divinity. He even tries to make sure no one else takes him seriously, including his priests and servants, but on the whole, they don’t seem to buy it.
This may be the first time I’m deeply, profoundly grateful for not listening to audiobooks a lot. If my first introduction to Lightsong the Bold was the surfer-dude approach, and if that voice is used for his inner thoughts as well as his speech, I’d have a very different perspective on him; worse, that perspective would have been shaped by someone other than the author.
Here’s the thing: as I read this chapter, there’s a sharp contrast between Lightsong’s behavior and his thinking, which is what makes him an interesting character. That contrast gets sharper and sharper throughout the book, until he ultimately brings his behavior in line with his thinking… which I think would be very difficult to pull off with the “surfer dude” persona in his head.
As I Live and Breathe
I wasn’t quite sure if the transfer of Breath constitutes “active magic” or not, but I think it has to. Endowment has, for whatever reason, set it up so that when some people die, they Return with an enormous “Divine Breath,” but they can only transfer that Breath once. And in order to live long enough to decide how best to use that Breath, they need someone else to give them a normal Breath every week. Or so it would seem.
This raises all sorts of questions:
Why did Endowment give them such an enormous Breath? Is that much Investiture necessary to shove them back from the Cognitive to the Physical realm? What did she originally intend for them to do when they Returned? Transfer the breath immediately, and then die? Reveal or do something quickly, and then die? Stick around for a long time to decide what needs to be done, meanwhile consuming Breaths from those around them? (It bugs me not to know the purpose behind the general application.)
Can Endowment see the future very well? If so, does the Divine Breath confer that ability on the Returned as well, or is this mere superstition?
Oh, the questions.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
We learn just a little about the Lifeless in this chapter. They require Command phrases for anyone to get them to do anything, and Lightsong is one of the four gods who hold Lifeless Commands. Also, there are different levels of Command phrases: the one in this chapter is limited to a one-day duration, and it only allows the user to control the Lifeless in non-combat situations. Good stuff to know. Also also, I’m going to quote because it’s funny:
“Your Grace,” Llarimar said. “We will need a Lifeless Command in order to arrange our troops on the field outside the city to welcome the queen.”
Lightsong raised an eyebrow. “We plan to attack her?”
Llarimar gave him a stern look.
So typical of their relationship.
This week’s annotations touch on the similarities between Elantris and Warbreaker; Lightsong’s origins; the character of Llarimar and the origin of his nickname; and the reason it’s always a child.
On Lightsong, who was intended to be “glib and verbally dexterous without coming across as a jerk,” I thought this was interesting:
So, think of Lightsong as playing a part. When he opens his mouth, he’s usually looking for something flashy to say to distract himself from the problems he feels inside. I think the dichotomy came across very well in the book, as evidenced by how many readers seem to find him as their favorite in the novel.
My experience is that people tend to either love him or hate him, but I’m always a little surprised at how many people dislike him based on the audiobook portrayal. I wonder if perhaps “surfer-dude” links to “jerk” more than one might expect.
I do like learning why it’s always a child, which I didn’t actually expect to be told. Apparently the older a person gets, the less vibrant their Breath is. The Hallandren people, being devout, bring their gods the best—a child old enough to understand, but young enough to have the finest Breath. I always wondered why they didn’t receive Breath from older people, rather than making children Drabs for a whole lifetime; now I know.
Other oddments to be noted include the way the palaces are built for the gods, who tend to be oversized—making the priests and servants look out of place in a structure too large for them. Not terribly significant, just… amusing.
Somewhere recently, the subject of colorblindness came up, and whoever-it-was was talking about that being a bit of a curse if you were on Nalthis. While I didn’t get into the conversation, I remember thinking that it shouldn’t matter. If you weren’t an Awakener, you didn’t deal with the magic anyway, and if you were, you didn’t need to tell what color something was to use it. However…
The Hallandren artisan’s script was a specialized system of writing that wasn’t based on form, but on color. Each colored dot represented a different sound in Hallandren’s language. Combined with some double dots—one of each color—it created an alphabet that was a nightmare for the colorblind.
Few people in Hallandren would admit to having that particular ailment. At least, that was what Lightsong had heard.
So if nothing else, it’s a social stigma. There you go.
There’s also one notable moment of foreshadowing, and it’s very interesting (to me, anyway):
“Was there anything else to the dream, Your Grace?” Llarimar asked, looking up from his book.
“You were there, Scoot.”
Llarimar paused, paling just slightly. “I… was?”
Lightsong nodded. “You apologized for bothering me all the time and keeping me from my debauchery. Then you brought me a big bottle of wine and did a dance. It was really quite remarkable.”
Llarimar regarded him with a flat stare.
Hold that thought for… most of the rest of the book. Poor Llarimar; Lightsong hit a nerve there.
You may (or may not) notice that I’ve rearranged the unit order this week. I’m trying things out, to see what works best, so this week the annotations are at the end. What do you think? Meanwhile, that’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 4 (and annotations) and Chapter 5 (annotations) in which Siri arrives at the Court and creates complications for Vasher.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. She hopes you enjoyed yesterday’s dream-casting extravaganza for The Way of Kings.