Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, we met Lightsong and got our introduction to the Court of Gods. This week, Siri arrives in Hallandren, evoking consternation, frustration, and interest on the part of our POV characters.
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
Timing: Same day
Take a Deep Breath
Chapter 4 opens as Siri’s entourage approaches T’Telir, causing her to revise her definition of ostentation. She is met by an array of forty thousand Lifeless, cavalry draped in golden cloth, and a priest in brilliant and complex robes, all of which combine to intimidate and nearly overwhelm her. Proceeding into the city, she realizes that her expectation of T’telir had been unfairly colored by the stories, traditions, and fears of her people. She even begins to wonder if her father really had, perhaps, realized that she would fit into Hallandren in a way Vivenna never would. While encouraging in a way, it is also unsettling to consider that the fate of her people might lie with her.
Meanwhile, her carriage continues up the road, finally entering the Court of Gods. There, people wearing clothing colored to match the various palaces kneel as she enters, while others watch from the balconies of those palaces. Dominating the others is an enormous black pyramidal structure, where her carriage comes to a stop. The overwhelming priest loftily informs her that she will be prepared and taken to her husband; no ceremony or other formalities will be needed or allowed, and she is warned that her people’s fate may indeed rest on her pleasing the God King.
“We have arrived, Vessel,” the man said. “As soon as we enter the building, you will be prepared and taken to your husband.”
“Husband?” Siri asked uncomfortably. “Won’t there be a wedding ceremony?”
The priest smirked. “The God King does not need ceremonial justification. You became his wife the moment he desired it.”
Siri shivered. “I was just hoping that maybe I could see him, before, you know…”
The priest shot her a harsh look. “The God King does not perform for your whims, woman. You are blessed above all others, for you will be allowed to touch him—if only at his discretion. Do not pretend that you are anything other than you are. You have come because he desires it, and you will obey. Otherwise, you will be put aside and another will be chosen in your place—which, I think, might bode unfavorably for your rebel friends in the highlands.”
I don’t know if this is what Brandon intended, but that smirk and the harshness made me instantly loathe Treledees. This loathing lasted for the majority of the book, and still lingers. Someday, I may make an effort to see the situation through his eyes, but I’m not confident I’ll be able to find his behavior in any way justified.
Snow White and Rose Red
Did you know that this chapter, when Treledees greets her, is the only time Siri’s full name is ever spelled out? Sisirinah.
It is noteworthy that Siri comes to the same conclusion that we talked about earlier—that her fascination with color makes her a much more suitable queen than Vivenna would have been. This is a city that, without the stress of the treaty, Siri could easily come to love; in my opinion, it’s quite likely that if things were handled right, the people would readily come to love her, too. Perhaps they will, in a sequel.
I find it… distressing, I guess, that this aspect of his daughters’ characters never seemed to occur to Dedelin. We think of it, they think of it, but he apparently doesn’t. The question is whether Brandon deliberately had him not think of it, or just… didn’t put that in.
I’m glad we get to see T’telir first through Siri’s eyes, though. Her mental descriptions are delightful—coming, as they do, from someone with a natural eye for color and artistry but whose background is deliberately devoid of both. Fortunately, Idris seems to have had at least an appreciation for craftsmanship which, combined with her subversive enjoyment of color, gives her a sense of the possibility of beauty even in something she expected to find abhorrent.
Well, yes. This scene sharply contrasts the cultural differences between Idris and Hallandren—and even more starkly, the difference between Bevalis and T’telir. Where Bevalis was all whitewashed or painted in shades of brown and grey, T’telir is painted in every shade of every color the dyes will make. In Bevalis, the buildings were mostly thatched cottages, and even the palace was a single-story with a wooden roof. T’telir is packed with ornate buildings, each of which “seemed as if it wanted to grab her attention and shake her about by her eyes.” Bevalis didn’t even have flowers planted around the houses; T’telir has open malls, gardens, and palm trees everywhere. Even the city walls appear to be more artistic than functional.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
Last week, Lightsong gave Llarimar minor control over his quarter of the Lifeless, and this week we get to see them:
Under their colorful uniforms, the Hallandren troops were a dull grey. Their eyes, their skin, even their hair: all had been drained completely of color, leaving behind a monochrome.
Those can’t be Lifeless! she thought. They look like men!
She’d imagined Lifeless as skeletal creatures, the flesh rotting and falling from the bones. They were, after all, men who had died, then been brought back to life as mindless soldiers. But these that she passed looked so human. There was nothing to distinguish them save for their lack of color and the stiff expressions on their faces. That, and the fact that they stood unnaturally motionless. No shuffling, no breathing, no quivers of muscle or limb. Even their eyes were still. They seemed like statues, particularly considering their grey skin.
She has to forcibly remind herself that there is a difference between Lifeless and Returned, and that both are different from Drabs. It’s only reasonable; she’s never seen any of the three in her entire life.
Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall
Chapter 4 limits itself to repeated variations of “Austre, Lord of Colors.”
The annotations for Chapter 4 address naming (with the repetitive consonant at the beginning), the delay in seeing T’telir (it’s the fourth chapter before we get to where the action will be), Hawaii (the torment of having to visit Hawaii to do research on describing the atmosphere of T’telir), the use of Undead (neither rotting zombies nor goth vampires), and miscellaneous notes (including the name of the planet, various ways Returned are treated around the world, and the reason a lot of places have two names).
I’m going to talk a little more about the naming, partly because I like it and partly because it came up in the comments last week. Brandon says,
I’ve long toyed with using double consonants as a naming structure. I played with a lot of different ways of writing theses. I could either use the letters doubled up, with no break (Ttelir). I could slip a vowel in the middle and hope people pronounced it as a schwa sound (Tetelir). Or I could use the fantasy standard of an apostrophe (T’telir).
In the end, I decided to go with all three. I felt that writing all the names after one of the ways would look repetitive and annoying. By using all three, I could have variety, yet also have a theme. So, you have doubles in names like Llarimar. You have inserted vowels like in Vivenna. And you have apostrophes like in T’Telir.
So last week, someone mentioned that they were bugged by the audiobook reader saying “Lularimar.” I’m used to the name Lloyd, so without even thinking, I pronounced a single L, while others used the Welsh pronunciation. Now we know: the audiobook reader got instruction from Brandon on this. Both Lls are pronounced, with the schwa between.
The same pronunciation scheme applies to Dedelin, Vivenna, Sisirinah, and some others (I’ll probably note them when they come along) but the one that I had to consciously change was Susebron. Oddly enough, I had figured it out from Siri’s nickname for him before I learned about the doubled-consonant thing. She (eventually) calls him Seb—which didn’t at all make sense with the way I was pronouncing his name: SOO-suh-bron. With some work, I changed my mental pronunciation to suh-SEB-ron, which works much better to become Seb… and then someone pointed out this statement. Not quite sure if I felt vindicated for working it out, or stupid for not having read the annotations!
Point of View: Vasher; Lightsong
Setting: Court of Gods; a restaurant in T’Telir
Timing: Concurrent with and just after Chapter 4
Take a Deep Breath
Chapter 5 opens with Vasher on the wall, observing Siri’s entrance to the Court of Gods, somewhat surprised that Idris actually sent a princess, even if it was the wrong one. He tries to frame it as personal inconvenience and politics, but there’s at least a hint that he finds the sacrifice of a young girl distasteful. He Awakens a banner to lower him from the wall to the ground outside the Court, and proceeds to a restaurant where he has arranged to meet a priest.
Under pressure, the priest Bebid tells Vasher that there is something very serious going on underneath the usual court politics, and it involves a faction pushing to attack Idris. Vasher shrugs it off, and the priest clarifies just what a stupid idea it would be to start this war. They turn briefly to the subject of Vahr’s rebels in the city, but Bebid dismisses them as unimportant and unrelated. Vasher requires a way to contact the Court factions which are pushing for war, but the priest doesn’t have the kind of connections to set that up. He suggests that Vasher try one of Mercystar’s priests, or perhaps Bluefingers, the head of the scribes. Having gotten all he can, Vasher leaves, stopping in a nearby alley to retrieve Nightblood from the dead thief who had stolen him.
Meanwhile, Lightsong sits on his patio, drinking wine and considering the ramifications of Siri’s arrival instead of Vivenna. He is distracted by a breeze which suddenly brings back a clear memory of his previous night’s dream: fire, battle, a sea reflecting the red of the burning city, a burning ship. Llarimar, still focused on the God King’s palace where Siri has disappeared, brings Lightsong’s thoughts back to the threats of war and the question of Idrian “rebels.”
That priest—you spent all those words on him, then you just let him go. It’s not really how I would have handled the situation.
Yes, I know, Vasher said. Your way would have involved making several more corpses.
Well, I am a sword, Nightblood said with a mental huff. Might as well stick to what you’re good at…
Might as well…
In Living Color
Our two most prominent Returned share a chapter today. Vasher is still in T’telir, poking around in the affairs of the gods, and still interested in the rebellion Vahr was leading. As of yet, we don’t know his purpose; he’s certainly not about to tell his secrets to the priest he’s blackmailing for information.
Lightsong appears to have spent the intervening time doing all he could to forget about the little girl whose Breath is keeping him alive this week. Despite his best attempts, however, he can’t help taking an interest in the real affairs of Hallandren; there has to be a reason he Returned, and it bugs him not to know what it is. It also bugs him to know that his dreams are considered Significant, but the one he suddenly remembers in vivid detail is clearly portentous.
Interesting. The more I consider Lightsong in the process of writing this stuff, the more I appreciate his dilemma, and the more I like him.
As I Live and Breathe
Vasher’s obvious use of Awakening a banner to lower himself from the wall of the Court seems bizarre, but apparently no one bothers to worry about someone getting in. It’s certainly a sign of his changed status—from a mere fifty Breaths to the multiple hundreds he now holds—that he scarcely thinks about using several hundred to Awaken something not even vaguely man-shaped. Of course, he’ll reclaim them almost immediately, but it’s still a huge expenditure. (Interestingly, this time there’s no mention of a Color source.) There’s something else very odd, which I’d never thought about before:
As always, the Awakening tried to imitate the form of a human—looking closely at the twistings and undulations of the fabric, Vasher could see outlines of muscles and even veins.
I wonder why it does that. Does the same thing happen later? We’ll have to watch for it.
Last week, with Lightsong’s “feast,” there was obviously some discussion about the market for Breath. With that in mind, this was… fascinating:
He had enough of a Breath aura to indicate that he’d reached the first Heightening. It was where most people—those who could afford to buy Breath—stopped. That much Breath would extend their lifespan by a good decade or so and give them an increased life sense. It would also let them see Breath auras and distinguish other Awakeners, and—in a pinch—let them do a little Awakening themselves. A decent trade for spending enough money to feed a peasant family for fifty years.
Apparently, the price for one Breath is roughly equivalent to a full year’s food for a peasant family. Assuming the gods pay the going rate, it’s no wonder people are willing to sell a Breath to a god. They get to do their religious duty, and they get a good chunk of a year’s wages on top of it. Given that Breath can be bought and sold fairly readily, it becomes likely that some of the Breath on the market probably is several generations old!
Tektees food was the restaurant’s specialty—the Hallandren liked foreign spices as much as they liked odd colors.
One of the many cultures on Nalthis, all we ever learn about Tektees is that one of their traditional foods is a highly spiced rice dish.
Bebid, priest of Brightvision the True, sheds another bit of light on the question of war and what it could mean:
The Idrians have allies from across the mountains and the sympathies of dozens of kingdoms. What some are calling a ‘simple quelling of rebel factions’ could easily spin into another Manywar.
As always when war is in question, there are those who will spin it as a simple, quick “police action” and those who will see the farther-reaching effects it’s likely to have. We need more of the latter, I think.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
Some people shied away from the sword immediately. Others watched it, eyes lingering far too long. Perhaps it was time to stuff Nightblood back in the pack.
Oh, no you don’t, Nightblood said. Don’t even start thinking about that. I’ve been locked away for too long.
What does it matter to you? Vasher thought.
I need fresh air, Nightblood said. And sunlight.
You’re a sword, Vasher thought, not a palm tree.
Nightblood fell silent. He was smart enough to realize that he was not a person, but he didn’t like being confronted with that fact. It tended to put him in a sullen mood. That suited Vasher just fine.
Oh, Nightblood. You’re weird, you know that? There are ways he makes me laugh, but the amount of Breath it took to create him, and the amount it takes to keep him going… it really is creepy. It makes me feel sorry for Vasher, who can’t destroy Nightblood but has to keep him, being responsible for his existence. I sometimes wonder why Vasher doesn’t find someplace to lock him up securely and just leave him there, but I suspect that may not be possible.
Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall
To the assortment of Color references, we can now add Bebid’s curse: “Kalad’s Phantoms!” Ironic, of course, addressed as it is to Vasher, who knows far too much about those phantoms… but we’ll forgive Bebid, since he doesn’t know what he’s saying.
Chapter 5 annotations cover the subject of Vasher (briefly), Nightblood (just a note on magic swords in fantasy), restaurants and blackmailable priests, Lightsong’s dream (moving the foreshadowing to an earlier point in the book than originally planned), and Lightsong’s snark (some concern that too much humor would undermine the sense of internal conflict). Interesting stuff, but nothing I feel particularly compelled to discuss.
Well, I have concluded that two chapters is too much—at least, two chapters this long. Sorry, hope you all managed to wade through it. But I’m still glad I did them together, because there is a common theme running through the subtext:
Some people do really stupid things out of fear; some people use fear as a cover to do or say horrible things they wouldn’t otherwise have an excuse for doing; some people know how to manipulate the fears of others to make them do things they would otherwise never consider. My current facebook feed provides ample evidence of all three.
Siri’s expectations of T’telir reflect the fears of the Idrians: she was expecting walls made of skulls, with horrible clashing colors splattered everywhere. Whether through tradition, superstition, hatred, or fear, Hallandren has been painted as ugly, vile, obscene, inhuman. What she actually finds is a very different mixture: the Lifeless are “inhuman” in one sense, but they are much more human than she expected. As for the city, in contrast to her expectation she finds beauty, enthusiasm, cheerfulness, and vibrancy.
On a more sober note, Bebid sees a different kind of fear in a different place:
“The Idrians aren’t foolish enough to raise their tariffs too high. This isn’t about money. It’s about fear. People in the court talk about what might happen if the Idrians cut off the passes or what may happen if the Idrians let enemies slip through and besiege T’Telir. If this were about money, we’d never go to war. Hallandren thrives on its dye and textiles trade. You think that business would boom in war? We’d be lucky not to suffer a full economic collapse.”
The people he’s hearing are probably, mostly, genuinely fearful about these things; even though their fears could be dispelled with a little research and a little logic, they are genuinely afraid. There are also those, as we’ll learn soon, who are manipulating and nourishing those fears, maneuvering the kingdom into a war from which they personally expect to profit.
Lightsong hasn’t quite worked that much out yet, but he’s getting close. He’s figured out that the Idrians don’t actually want Hallandren, no longer consider it their home, and really no longer need Hallandren. It won’t be long until he realizes that someone is creating and feeding a whole set of paranoias regarding Idris, driving Hallandren to attack, spawning a war that will do them no good and will solve nothing.
People do stupid things when they’re afraid of someone or something they don’t understand, and the more afraid they are, the more they spiral into unreasoning hatred and alienation. At least on Nalthis, Idris and Hallandren have the slight excuse of distance and past enmity making everyone wary of the other side. We, who have instant communication at our fingertips, should have far less justification for the name-calling, accusations, and fears; we have no excuse for failing to seek actual understanding of another person’s decision or position. And yet… all the media is deluged with people pointing fingers, blaming this group or that, making assumptions as to why “the other side” made their choices, even playing the stupid “if you didn’t vote for MY candidate you’re a !$@#@ idiot” game, unfriending, blocking, and generally behaving like spoiled toddlers who have either gotten or been denied some special treat.
I guess it’s easier to claim fear and point fingers than to reach out and try to understand an individual who disagrees with you, but it’s certainly not better, or wiser, or more constructive.
Well, that’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 6 and its annotations, in which Siri is prepared for her wedding night and instructed on protocol. Oy.
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.