Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, most of our main characters converged on the arena for the Assembly where Siri made her first public appearance as queen. This week, the God King joins them, as does Vasher, while the priests begin debates and we get a brief lesson in history and comparative theology.
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, Lightsong, Siri, Vivenna
Setting: The Arena in the Court of Gods
Timing: Immediately following Chapter 14
Take a Deep Breath
Siri turns to see Susebron standing behind her, clothed in white which his immense BioChroma turns to a rainbow aura, and appearing far younger than she expected. Gaping at him in awe, she belatedly remembers to kneel.
Lightsong stands looking across the arena at the white-robed figure, but at Blushweaver’s insistence decides that there’s no point in needlessly angering the God King and kneels, also belatedly.
As Siri kneels before him, her husband is lifted with Awakened ropes to a golden throne on an outcropping above her. With all the display pieces properly positioned, everyone resumes their seats and their conversation; priests enter the arena below to begin the day’s debate. Siri considers her husband, comparing what little she knows of him with what she’s always been taught of Austre, God of Colors. Bluefingers approaches, checking to be sure everything is in place. Siri questions him about the Returned, and discovers to her surprise that the Pahn Kahl consider themselves distinct from Hallandren, accepting Susebron as their king but not their god. Bluefingers explains some of the mystery of BioChroma and “The Light of Peace”– tens of thousands of Breaths—the God King holds. While this answers some of her questions, she realizes that there is still much of both history and religion that she doesn’t understand. In any case, Hallandren doesn’t seem nearly as awful as she’d expected.
Vivenna, feeling overwhelmed by her Breath, the crowd, the color, and all, concludes that Hallandren is even worse than she’d been told. Deeply uncomfortable in this situation, she decides that having seen Siri, it’s time for her to leave. As she turns, she discovers a scruffy-looking nerfherder man two rows back, staring directly at her. Bizarrely, he holds even more Breath than she does, and carries a sword which seems to have its own twisted BioChroma. Determined now to leave for sure, she and Parlin exit the arena; once in the passageway, she finally hears what Parlin has been trying to tell her—the priests are talking about Idris, and debating whether to begin the war their treaty was supposed to prevent. She returns to the arena as quickly as possible.
Surely the Hallandren people had their own version of the story. Watching the Returned in their boxes made Siri wonder. One fact was obvious: Things in Hallandren were a whole lot less terrible than she had been taught.
Vivenna shivered, cringing as the people in their colorful outfits crowded around her. Things here are worse, even, than my tutors said, she decided, wriggling in her seat.
So different, these two sisters.
Annotations this week reflect on Siri’s perception of the God King, why it matters, and how in a sense it relates to the Lord Ruler in Mistborn; a brief note on adding Kalad’s Phantoms to create a little more mystery; deliberately keeping Vasher’s plot to glimpses here and there during the early part of the story; and life sense as part of BioChroma. It’s all interesting stuff, but it doesn’t particularly shed new light on the text itself.
Snow White and Rose Red
Once again, the contrast drawn between the sisters is stark; it’s also a little unexpected. Vivenna has always been the one to think things through, considering implications and strategies. Now, thrown off her stride by possession of hundreds of Breaths as well as Denth’s manipulations, she falls back on holding tightly to her training, rejecting anything that doesn’t fit her world view. And to be fair, she has plenty of reason to be off-balance and in need of something to hold on to! I expect most of us would do much the same.
She still couldn’t decide if she thought the Breath she held was horrible or wonderful. Gradually, she was coming to appreciate that it was horrible because of how wonderful it felt. The more people that surged around her, the more overwhelmed she felt by her Breath-heightened perception of them.
Siri, by contrast, is busy actually thinking about things—not something she was previously known for, other than thinking up snappy retorts. She keeps getting new information, and she can’t not process it in light of what she sees before her as well as what she had always been taught. While she’s still a little off-balance from being in a strange place and surrounded by strange things, she at least doesn’t have the bizarre impact of heightened BioChroma to deal with. So… she gets a new perspective on the Returned, and especially the God King, and develops questions about this Hallandren religion and her own history & theology. Whatever Bluefingers’s eventual plans, at least at this point he’s telling her the truth, which is a lot better than what Vivenna’s been getting.
I can’t help wondering: if Vivenna had come here as planned, unenhanced and prepared to accept her role… would she really have been so bad at adapting as I keep thinking? She barely got into T’Telir, which was overwhelming enough on the surface, before getting 500+ extra Breaths stuffed into her against her will. If everything is now almost unbearably confusing, who’s to blame her for her revulsion?
Meh. I seem to be ambivalent about her. Sometimes I see her as woefully rigid and unable to adapt, and sometimes I just feel awful for her.
We learn a little more about the Pahn Kahl—a snippet here, and a snippet there, little clues that seem like nice worldbuilding but will eventually add up to a major plot issue. For now, we have our first (?) statement that the Pahn Kahl do not consider themselves Hallandren. They accept Susebron as their king, but they do not worship him as a god. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for anyone in the Court, and as far as I can tell, no one even sees the potential conflict.
It’s slightly ironic that Siri asked Bluefingers about the Returned, rather than one of the priests. He’s pretty much the only person she can talk to who doesn’t either hate or worship the Returned, so she almost accidentally gets some honest information about them. He seems to understand a lot about the Divine Breath and BioChroma in general, as well as a little too much about the God King in particular.
In other cultures, here’s a question that’s been bothering me for a while: Who—or what— exactly, is Austre? Is he a misunderstood Edgli? Is he an ancestor of the Idrian monarchy? We really are never told, as far as I know (unless it’s in the annotations I haven’t read yet), so it’s all speculation. My best guess is that he is a limited personification of Edgli, the Vessel of Endowment—but it bugs me not to know for sure.
In Living Color
It’s a funny thing. In this chapter, not one of the Returned actually does much of anything, but they still manage to dominate the chapter. Susebron mysteriously appears behind Siri, looks at her, gets lifted to his throne, and raises his hand; Siri spends the rest of her time stewing about him and the Returned in general. Lightsong stands looking at Susebron until Blushweaver convinces him to kneel with her. Vasher just stands there and looks at Vivenna; she runs off in a panic.
Well, Lightsong will remedy some of that lack of action next week. In the meantime, we at least get to learn that Susebron has the same Divine Breath as any of the other Returned; that’s not what makes him stand out. That is caused by an enormous quantity of Breath—some of it passed down since the end of the Manywar, but also added to by absorbing an extra Breath every week.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
There’s Nightblood again… So what do y’all think?
The strange man didn’t take his eyes off of her. He shifted, pushing back his cloak and exposing a large, black-hilted sword at his belt. Few people in Hallandren wore weapons. This man didn’t seem to care. How had he gotten that thing into the court? The people to the sides gave him a wide berth, and Vivenna swore she could sense something about that sword.
Was Vasher giving Nightblood a good look at Vivenna to see if she was good or evil? Or was he giving her a good look at the sword to see how she reacted? If I recall correctly, we’ll have to wait a bit to see any more of their interaction.
As I Live and Breathe
“The God Kings are said to be the only ones to ever achieve the Tenth Heightening. That is what makes light fracture around him, as well as gives him other abilities. The ability to break Lifeless Commands, for instance, or the ability to Awaken objects without touching them, using only the sound of his voice. These powers are less a function of divinity, and more a simple matter of holding so much Breath.”
Ironic, that the one man who can “Awaken objects… using only the sound of his voice” cannot speak. Then again, I guess that was sort of the point. I wonder how many of these powers Susebron even knows he holds.
Hey, look at that! Kalad, Idrian royals, Peacegiver the Blessed… the Manywar Saga! Well, a piece of it, anyway.
Siri is questioning all sorts of things this week; this time, it’s the story of why the royal family had been cast out of Hallandren and fled to Idris.
She knew the official story taught in Idris— that the royals hadn’t supported the conflicts that led up to the Manywar. For that, the people had revolted against them.
So the people revolted—for that reason or another—and then the war was ended by Peacegiver, but without returning the royal family to power, for which the Idrians claim betrayal, treachery, and heresy. For perhaps the first time in her life, it occurs to her that the Hallandren probably have a very different version of the story, but we don’t get to hear it today.
According to the histories, Kalad led the revolt, and thus earned the title of Usurper. He then created the Lifeless, though this story seems confused. It almost (!!) looks like he had been part of the original creation of the Lifeless armies, but then built another army of an even more dangerous type for himself. (Which… is more or less true, but at this point I’m not sure if Siri realizes there are two distinct kinds of Lifeless army in play. I’m pretty sure I didn’t, at this point.)
Eventually, according to the history, Kalad was defeated by Peacegiver, who ended the war through diplomacy but failed to restore the royal family. Instead, by Bluefingers’s statement, Peacegiver gave a vast store of Breath to one of the Returned, making him the God King. That store, plus one extra Breath a week, is passed down from father to son, to each God King of Hallandren, and apparently it’s never ever used.
Siri, still restricted to a mostly inactive role, spends this chapter conveniently meditating on the history of her people as it relates to Hallandren, and asking oddly useful random questions of Bluefingers. Vivenna, rather than having the luxury of careful thinking and planning, continues to find herself having to react to unexpected situations. I feel like I’ve said this before… this chapter seems to hold its breath as the scene is set for the next chapter. Seems like something had better break loose before too long!
That’s it for the blog—now a minor bit of housekeeping. While the Oathbringer beta read moves forward, I will (try to) continue with one chapter per week, though I nearly wimped out this week. (I make no guarantees… I may actually have to skip a week at some point, just for the sake of my sanity.) Once that’s finished, though, I’m going to attempt to increase the pace; it really does feel like it’s dragging. This may involve a little less detail in the post, but we can make up for it in the comments, eh?
Speaking of which… it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 16, in which it’s all about the politics.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan, currently immersed in the new Oathbringer beta read. In case you haven’t seen it elsewhere, the anticipated release date is November 14.