Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Lightsong learned the theology of his own religion, and Siri discovered that she’d survived the night after all. This week, Vivenna tries to figure out how to keep her skin and her ideals intact, and Siri is prepared for presentation at 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: Vivenna, Siri
Setting: Lemex’s home in T’Telir; the God King’s palace
Timing: The day after Chapter 10, 11, and 12
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna wrestles with her two major problems: what to do with all that Breath, and what to do with herself now that she has no mentor in the city. She and the mercenaries each suggest alternatives for the first problem, but each seems worse than the last; she decides to just hold on to it for a while. The second problem will take a lot more thinking.
Denth and Tonk Fah play games with Vivenna’s naiveté, leading her to the point of transferring their contract with Lemex to her. She also admits her purpose in coming to T’Telir: to rescue her sister, sneaking her out of the God King’s palace, taking her place if necessary—but it has to be done in a way that can’t be traced to Idris. She doesn’t want to start the war, after all.
They claim to have been working on projects for Lemex, but at the same time to not really know what he was up to. Vivenna, shaken by the idea that he’d been embezzling money to purchase more Breath, decides that she has to find out more. They prepare to ransack the house; Vivenna insists on supervising, but they remind her that today is the day Siri will be presented at the Court. Ordinary citizens—or foreigners—can’t just walk into the Court, of course… but it turns out that someone holding her current quantity of Breath—probably about 500—is automatically considered important enough to be admitted immediately.
Meanwhile, Siri is getting her hair and makeup done, in preparation for her formal presentation. Blond with excitement, her “Wedding Jubilation” is finally over, and she will be able to leave the palace at last. The possibility of talking with someone other than priests, scribes, and servants is going to be a relief—and she’ll finally get to see her husband in daylight. The process of choosing clothing begins, and a crazy idea occurs to her: she could try on a whole bunch of things before she has to decide! The serving women clearly are wondering why she needs to ask permission for something so obvious, but she’s never actually had the opportunity until she came to Hallandren. With a hint of guilt, quickly rationalized, she decides to enjoy the frivolity of trying on everything.
Vivenna folded her arms, not moving. “I’ve been tutored all about these things, Denth. Regular people can’t just walk into the Court of Gods. If you want to watch the judgments at the Court Assembly, you either have to be favored of one of the gods, be extremely influential, or you have to draw and win the lottery.”
“True,” Denth said, leaning against the banister. “If only we knew someone with enough BioChromatic Breaths to instantly be considered important, and therefore gain entrance to the court without being questioned.”
“Ah, Denth,” Tonk Fah said. “Someone has to have at least fifty Breaths to be considered worthy! That’s a terribly high number.”
Vivenna paused. “And… how many Breaths do I have?”
“Oh, around five hundred or so,” Denth said. “At least, that’s what Lemex claimed. I’m inclined to believe him. You are, after all, making the carpet shine.”
Oh, Vivenna. So confident in your lessons and abilities, and you have no idea that they’re laughing at your ignorance all the time, playing you like a fiddle.
The first annotation concerns something that (you may have noticed!) has been bugging me: the timing of these chapters. It’s basically and admittedly messy, due to a last-minute editorial request to set Vivenna’s chapters earlier in the sequence. So, yes, last week’s scene with Lightsong was to have taken place several days earlier; you can decide whether it matters to you, and either say they aren’t quite chronological (as per the author) or that the “few days” references should have been changed. Anyway, yes, it was off, and I feel vindicated now. So there.
The remaining annotations concern the relative movement of Vivenna and Siri in their character development, Tonk Fah’s reference to pets (meaning Clod, not the bird), and Denth’s motivations in the mind games he’s playing with Vivenna. I’m glad I didn’t read the annotations along with the book the first time through; knowing what was going on with him would really have spoiled the effect of his betrayal.
Snow White and Rose Red
Vivenna, new in town but confident in her training, continues her devolution in this chapter. Last time we saw her, she was consciously flustered by the unexpectedness of T’Telir, the mercenaries, the death of Lemex, and the unwelcome gift of a whole lot of Breath. After a night’s sleep, she has regained much of her confidence, but that really is only making her situation worse by being so misplaced. She is being cleverly manipulated by Denth to become a puppet for his real employers, all the while thinking she is the one making the decisions. Ever so carefully, she’s being shifted from action to reaction.
Siri, on the other hand, was never confidently active before. She was always the one who reacted to restrictions, generally if unconsciously controlled by her desire to not do what was expected of her. She’s been learning to control her emotions, for one thing. Now in these last couple of days, she’s begun to consider what she actually wants and needs to do, rather than being controlled either by fearful acquiescence to, or stubborn rebellion against, the expectations placed on her. She doesn’t see it yet, but it’s starting. She’s becoming active on her own behalf and that of her people.
As I Live and Breathe
We learn something new about Breath in this chapter! Unfortunately for the first-time reader as well as Vivenna, much of what we learn is wrong. Her idea of giving away one Breath at a time to the first 500 Drabs she can find would actually probably work, if she practiced and got good enough at it to manage that much control. Since that wouldn’t suit Denth’s purpose, he informs her that it’s impossible: if she gives any she’ll have to give it all. Tonk Fah suggests putting it in an object, which Denth promptly extends to Awakening—anathema to a devout follower of Austre. Since we’ve already watched Vasher divide his breath several times, both for Awakening and for simple storage, we (should) know neither of these things are true, but Vivenna certainly doesn’t. With the only options being to become a Drab herself, use it for Awakening, or keep it, she is left to make the least unpalatable choice. Losing her soul is certainly not a valid option, and Awakening monstrosities using the souls of others just as bad—so she keeps it.
Oh, one thing is almost true—Denth says she probably has around 500 or so Breaths, according to Lemex’s claim. Given that she notes her strange new sense of color, “like perfect pitch for the eyes,” she has at least the third Heightening, or 600 Breaths.
In Living Color
The unreliable narrator, while not obvious on a first read, comes to the forefront in Denth’s lies to Vivenna: lies primarily about Breath, but also about Lemex and his own knowledge of Lemex’s activities. He feeds her a clever mix of truth and falsehood—enough truth that can be readily confirmed, mixed with false statements which cannot be so readily disproven—so that she is groomed to accept his self-deprecatory manner as essentially truthful. In this case, his lies about how Breath can be used are directed to keeping Lemex’s entire stock intact, with a view to eventually maneuvering Vivenna into giving it all to him. In the annotations, we see that he expects to have to torture it out of her, but until her other usefulness is done, he’ll try other means to manipulate her into trusting him.
Vivenna is so vulnerable to the likable, persuasive villain it’s not even funny. Denth doesn’t try to be too likable, or too persuasive, but through his shifting between odd humor and (a pretense of) serious honesty, she starts to feel like she can read him. Big mistake, of course…
And so… she reaches the end of this chapter thinking that she’s making decisions and moving forward. In reality, she’s doing everything Denth wants. She’s “maintaining his contract”—which leaves her in his power just as much as Lemex ever was. She’s keeping her Breath stock intact, ready for him to extort from her when he wishes. She even prepares to go off to Court to see Siri, giving him ample opportunity to arrange any and all of Lemex’s records and property in ways that will convince her to do the things he wants, thinking she’s serving her people but really only being used as a puppet.
Oh, Vivenna. At least Siri is having fun frivoling with her wardrobe, finally!
That’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 14, in which Lightsong, Blushweaver, Siri, Vivenna, Parlin, and the God King all attend the Court Assembly.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. Please forgive any apparent neglect of the discussion in the upcoming weeks; the onset of the Oathbringer beta read has distracted her, and will likely be occupying a great deal of her attention for the next month or two.