Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Siri misbehaved rather badly—she spoke to the God King! This week, Lightsong also behaves badly—he runs away from his petitioners!—and Siri discovers that she survived the night despite her irreverence.
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, Siri
Setting: Lightsong’s palace, the God King’s bedchamber
Timing: The morning after Chapter 11, apparently the sixth or seventh day of the Wedding Jubilation?
Take a Deep Breath
Lightsong grumbles internally as he listens to petitions from his followers. His great frustration is that people actually think of him as a god, when he knows perfectly well that he’s completely useless. The only think he can do for them is, someday, sacrifice his own life to heal someone else; they don’t seem to realize what they ask of him each time they bring him a petition. The hardest ones, for some reason, are the children. Finally he can’t take it any longer and rushes out of the room, leaving his priests and petitioners bewildered. Llarimar remains calm and sympathetic, as always.
Once the petitioners are gone, Lightsong asks Llarimar to explain something: why are the Returned considered gods when they are all fundamentally useless until they die? Llarimar explains the current understanding of the purpose of Returned; Lightsong remains skeptical. The topic shifts to politics, and Lightsong makes plans for the following days Assembly.
Siri looks out the window of the bedchamber, reflecting on the events of the night. She had spoken directly to the God King, made a demand, looked at him… and yet, there has been no apparent repercussion. Feeling aghast, relieved, and encouraged all at once, she decides it’s time to move forward. She’ll be herself again; she’ll quit being all cautious and frightened, even if it does bring punishment.
He had no desire, despite what he sometimes said, to leave his comfortable home in the court. He was not a man of jungles; he was a man of parties.
But sometimes he wished that he could at least want to be something else. Blushweaver’s words still weighed upon him. You’ll have to stand for something eventually, Lightsong. You’re a god to these people…
He was. Whether he wanted to be or not. That was the frustrating part. He’d tried his best to be useless and vain. And still they came.
We could use your confidence… you’re a better man than you give yourself credit for being.
It’s tough being a reluctant god, isn’t it?
This week’s annotations provide background on the concept of the Returned accomplishing one healing miracle—it was something Sanderson played with for the Seons in Elantris but then deleted from that story. It’s an interesting notion: a being which has the innate ability to do one major miracle (healing, in this case), but doing it will kill them; it’s also a very useful tool in Warbreaker’s structure. The other note is on the necessity of rushing Siri’s fearful-and-indecisive phase for the sake of moving the plot—and keeping her from getting so boring no one could care about her.
In Living Color
I love this picture of Lightsong, and give my thanks to BotanicaXu for kindly allowing me to use it. I see it reflecting Lightsong’s inner pensiveness even as he attempts to appear frivolous—which is where we find him this week. He’s tried so hard to keep everyone from taking him seriously, but they do it anyway. Aside from his title of “Lightsong the Bold,” the god of bravery—a designation guaranteed to draw certain people no matter how he behaves –there are people who see through the façade. They may misinterpret what they see (ahemBlushweavercough), or they may simply know more of his character than he does himself (Llarimar!), or any of several other variations. But those with discernment can see a depth of character that he himself wishes to deny.
Apparently many readers see him as shallow as he tries to appear; I suspect that if he had a choice, he’d love the surfer-dude persona of the original audio version. That’s exactly how he wants to be perceived. And it’s a lie.
IMO, this chapter clarifies much of his problem for us. While it does make sense in context, I find it hilarious that Lightsong has been a “god” for five years and still doesn’t know the theology of his own religion. And yet… not so hilarious, because that’s the root of his problems. His sense of responsibility is at war with his sense of ability, if that makes … sense. (Um?) He’s supposed to be a god, and is treated like one, but he has no confidence in his ability to do anything for those who revere him. The only thing he can do, so far as he knows, is choose to die so that some random person can live, and somehow he’s just supposed to know who, and when.
Llarimar explains it, to him and to us, at least as far as the Hallandren understand it, and it goes something like this:
Certain people, presumably due to the noble nature of their dying, are given the opportunity to Return from death. They choose to do so based on something they see after death, where the future is visible to them. Because of that vision, they return to “fix a problem, share information, or otherwise help” the living. Each one returns with a specific objective; the difficulty is that transitioning back to the physical realm fragments the memory. Not only do they not remember their former life, they don’t remember what they saw in death that made them choose to return. The hope is that through recalling their dreams, viewing the offerings, and hearing the petitions, memory of their objective will be restored and they will be able to fulfill it. The purpose of the priests and devotees is to keep them alive with Breath long enough to accomplish their task, and to gain whatever insight into the future the Returned can provide. After that, they can find someone who deserves the healing of a divine Breath, and they can continue on their journey “across the Iridescent Wave”—presumably, to the same Beyond as other worlds have shown us.
I really wish we knew how much of this is accurate! Some of it is, certainly, but how much is truth and how much is fancy? And how much more is there that they don’t know? Despite my wariness of Sanderson’s unreliable narrators, I shall cautiously proceed as if this is more or less accurate.
Snow White and Rose Red
We get just a brief glimpse of Siri as she considers her survival. It’s implied, at least, that she believes her actions of the previous night are just like her previous behavior, and that from now on she’s going to go back to “being herself.” She doesn’t realize just how much growth she’s accomplished by a week’s worth of careful self-discipline. IIRC, anyway, her actions going forward are much more carefully considered than before, even while being consistent with her natural personality.
I’m a little confused on the timing, but … I think I worked it out? In Chapter 11, Siri mentioned kneeling naked for six nights; in Chapter 12, Lightsong thinks about the Wedding Jubilation not being over for another few days, and Llarimar comments that the new queen won’t be presented for another few days; in Chapter 13, Siri is dressed for her court presentation since the Jubilation is over. It’s possible that Chapter 12 takes place on the 6th day of the Jubilation, leaving Siri one more night of kneeling and meaning that the Jubilation started the day after she arrived. That would mean we skip a day between Chapters 12 and 13. Alternatively, it began the day she arrived (which makes more sense given what Llarimar said about Lightsong not hearing petitions that first day), and Chapter 13 is later the same day as Chapter 12. Either way, it appears that there’s a minor continuity error in Lightsong’s section, because that bit about the Jubilation not being over for a few more days doesn’t fit. But it’s pretty minor, really.
One other thing about the Hallandren religion, which apparently not all its adherents understand:
“Please, Great One,” the woman said. She sniffled, then bowed her head. “Oh, please. He was brave, like you. My Breath, it would be yours. The Breaths of my entire family. Service for a hundred years, anything. Please, just heal him.”
She doesn’t seem to realize that the promise of all that Breath and service would be meaningless to Lightsong, because he’d be dead. I suppose it’s possible that she knows he’d be dead, but would consider his sacrifice worth it for the sake of the Breath and service given to the pantheon in general? If that’s the case, then she really doesn’t have a clue about the interrelationships of the gods!
That’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 13 and its annotations, in which Vivenna tries to decide what to do next and Siri prepares to be presented in the Court.
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.