Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Siri wandered the palace, wondering what to do with herself. This week, Vivenna enters T’Telir, responding to it much differently than Siri had.
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: Vivenna
Setting: The Streets of T’Telir
Timing: The same day?
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna observes the city of T’Telir with deep distaste, disguised as an elderly woman while she awaits Parlin’s return from the marketplace. Around her, the people, the animals, and even the statues all appear to be dressed or draped in bright colors; the style and brilliance of everything she sees offends her Idrian sensibilities. Parlin finally returns; he, too, is ill at ease in this strange city, but reports that there are many Idrians here.
Still mentally reviewing her lessons in economics and politics, Vivenna and Parlin make their way through the marketplace to a restaurant where they expect to meet Lemex, her father’s chief spy in T’Telir. By the time they are seated, Vivenna has so nearly lost her self-control that her hair has lightened significantly; Parlin is so uncomfortable that he needs to go back outside to recover.
As Vivenna considers her plans to rescue Siri, a man—clearly not Lemex—sits down at her table and begins talking to her. Another man, a colorful bird perched on the cudgel strapped to his back, sits down on the other side of her. The first man introduces himself as Denth and his companion as Tonk Fah, and explains that they are here to kill her.
… She’d memorized maps, but they hadn’t prepared her for the sight, sound, scent, and colors of the city on market day. Even the livestock wore bright ribbons. Vivenna stood at the side of the road, stooped beside a building draped in flapping streamers. In front of her, a herdsman drove a small flock of sheep toward the market square. They had each been dyed a different color. Won’t that ruin the wool? Vivenna thought sourly. The different colors on the animals clashed so terribly that she had to look away.
Poor Siri, she thought. Caught up in all of this, locked in the Court of Gods, probably so overwhelmed that she can barely think. Vivenna had been trained to deal with the terrors of Hallandren. Though the colors sickened her, she had the fortitude to withstand them. How would little Siri manage?
Well, there’s the difference between our two princesses. I’ll just leave that there for now, and come back to it in a few minutes.
Brandon’s annotations for Chapter 9 center on why Vivenna needs to be such a stick-in-the-mud, the contrast between the sisters, and Parlin’s lack of distinction as a character, despite a complete rewrite. I have to agree with his final paragraph on Parlin:
Reading through the book again, I still feel that Parlin just isn’t enough of a character. With the mercenaries there to dominate the scene, Parlin gets lost.
He really does, too. I can never quite tell if he’s an admirable guard, or a foolish hick, or some of each. There are times he really looks competent, thoughtful, and helpful. Then there are times he just looks… stupid, unaware that he’s out of his depth, and useless. If there were one character in Warbreaker that I’d love to see rewritten, I think it would be Parlin.
Snow White and Rose Red
A few chapters back, we saw Siri’s first response to T’Telir; now we see Vivenna’s. Both sisters feel overwhelmed, and both find their reaction shaped by their training and beliefs—which, as we readers know, are full of misinformation and misunderstanding. Both are fearful, and both bring to mind the daunting stories they’ve been told of this alien place. Laced through the fear, however, are the profound differences in their personalities.
Siri’s fear was mitigated by the fascination born of her typical impulsive eagerness and her delight in color. In order to control her fear, she deliberately focused on what she saw, noting the ways in which her observation belied what she’d been told.
Vivenna’s fear is compounded by revulsion. Everything she sees merely confirms her expectations, and the only way she reins in her fear is through the diligent practice of outward self-control. She spent her whole life preparing to come to this city, and part of that preparation was developing an iron discipline of her visible responses—a skill that would obviously be vital for someone whose hair color is liable to give away any weakness.
Sadly, that preparation appears not to have been aimed at becoming a queen who could bridge the gap between two mistrustful nations. It was all, every last bit, aimed at surviving in enemy territory. Had things gone as planned, Hallandren would never have been her home; it would always have been her place of exile and captivity, consoled only by a forlorn hope that her influence would reduce the damage to Idris when the inevitable war arrived. All in all, it seems that Siri’s lesson-avoidance techniques were better preparation than all of Vivenna’s careful study.
Where Siri kept seeing things to like, and had to be prompted to fear again by hordes of Lifeless and overbearing priests, Vivenna finds nothing to like at all. She despises the color, the style, the smell, the crowd… pretty much everything is abhorrent to her. Including, of course, the food. Ironically, while Vivenna worries about how poor Siri could possibly manage to deal with the terrors of Hallandren, her little sister handled it far better than she herself can possibly do.
It’s almost a relief when Denth throws her for a loop with that crack about being there to kill her.
There are a few positive results of Vivenna’s training, at least for the reader. Due to her studies, she’s able to recognize various foreigners in the city, feeding us snippets of information about the greater world of Nalthis beyond Idris and Hallandren. While much of it is relatively insignificant, it does have the effect of extending the world far beyond the shores of the Bright Sea and the mountains of Idris.
In Living Color
Although in context we don’t know this yet, we meet another of the Returned in this chapter—and, as it turns out, much more. Denth is posing here as a mercenary; in the next chapter he claims to have been hired by Dedelin’s agent Lemex. Later, we’ll learn that he was formerly known as Vara Treledees, and was one of the Five Scholars of ancient times. For now, he goes by the name of Denth, hanging around with an inarticulate bloke named Tonk Fah who carries a cudgel and a parrot. They both will Become Important, of course.
In further foreshadowing, we see again the D’Denir Celabrin, the stone statues scattered throughout the city. I don’t recall that we ever learn a good reason for the people to dress them up in colorful clothing, but it’s mentioned repeatedly. According to the history—or mythology—of the time, the first thousand of the statues were commissioned by Peacegiver the Blessed at the end of the Manywar, and various of the Returned have added to the number around the city over the years. Presumably, the ones commissioned by the various Returned aren’t actually the same thing as the originals, though… right?
It seems that the timeline isn’t terribly important in Warbreaker, at least not yet. I think we can safely assume that the back-and-forth POVs are roughly concurrent—i.e., this is likely taking place the same day as Siri’s exploration of the palace. But I don’t know for sure, and there’s not much to tell us.
Other items of note include the relationship between Parlin and Vivenna. She seems to know that he’s more or less in love with her, and is willing to make use of his loyalty as needed, without returning his affection. I’m not exactly critical of this; she was always “destined” to marry the God King of Hallandren, so it would be stupid (and annoying) for her to let herself fall in love with anyone. If anything, it’s foolish of Parlin to indulge in such hopes, because Vivenna is far too dedicated to her duty to endanger her end game this way. On the other hand, there’s a nasty little twist included:
During their youth, he’d often brought her gifts from the forest. Usually, those had taken the form of some animal he’d killed.
To Parlin’s mind, nothing showed affection like a hunk of something dead and bleeding on the table.
This is one of the snippets that make me see both Parlin and Vivenna in a negative light. Parlin sounds rather like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Does he use antlers in all of his decorating, too? Now I have nothing against antlers, or hunting in general. (As I sit here typing, in fact, I can look up at a lovely trophy set of deer antlers my dad got in 1943 and bequeathed to my children. It’s been nicely mounted, and it suits the room rather well.) I think what gives this moment its tone is the unavoidable sneer in Vivenna’s thoughts—“a hunk of something dead and bleeding on the table.” I don’t know if, in writing this, Sanderson really intended for us to read Vivenna as considering Parlin to merely be a useful tool, but it sure comes across that way.
I could wish it didn’t. There’s a lot about Vivenna that I like, and even more with which I can empathize. But not this part. Parlin has stayed with her out of loyalty and some amount of affection; it seems to me that returning his loyalty, if not his affection, is the least she could do if she’s going to keep him around like this.
In other news, Vivenna has the same reaction to the fashionable women’s clothing as Siri did, except that she doesn’t have the mortifying constraint of being required to wear it. (Not yet, anyway!) Also, there are a lot of Idrians in the city. For now, it’s just an odd note, but it will become Significant soon enough.
Well, that’s it for the blog; now for a little housekeeping:
Yes, this chapter would combine well with the following chapter. No, it’s not going to happen this week. See, you could either have one post this week with two chapters, and then nothing until January, or you could have one this week, one next week, and maybe even one the following week (if I can get it together before the deadline), each with one chapter. Executive decision wins; you get one chapter each week instead of one big post and a three-week wait. On the bright side, it doesn’t look like the Oathbringer beta read will come along and sidetrack me from even getting the two holiday posts written, as I was afraid it might.
Join us now in the comments, and then come back week, when we will cover Chapter 10, in which Vivenna copes with mercenaries… after a fashion, anyway. Or they cope with her.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and multi-genre literature fan. Now that the first draft of Oathbringer is finished, she eagerly awaits the launch of beta reading early next year. Yippee!