Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, our main protagonists all gathered in the arena, and the priests began their debates. This week, the subject of war with Idris becomes the focus; both Siri and Lightsong are deeply disturbed.
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, Lightsong
Setting: The Arena
Timing: Immediately following Chapter 15
Take a Deep Breath
The priests in the Arena argue for and against an assault on Idris, while Lightsong and Blushweaver watch together. Blushweaver briefly pretends to be impartial, but Lightsong is more perceptive than he wants to let on, and she shows her hand a little more. She is convinced Idris is planning something deep, and she wants to have all the Lifeless ready to march on them.
Siri listens to the debate in disbelief, as they discuss war on her homeland despite her fulfillment of the treaty. A serving woman rushes off to bring Treledees to answer her questions about the debate. Refusing to be intimidated, she asks him to explain what’s going on; he claims that Idris is a rebel province, and they are debating whether to bring it under proper royal control. He then changes the subject to strongly urge her to get on with the process of providing an heir, with strong implications that her nighttime activities are being observed. Over her dismay, he insists that as a woman, she should be able to “use her charms” to motivate the God King, even though she’s not allowed to speak to him or look at him. As incentive, he holds out the notion that he will use his considerable influence to protect Idris if she cooperates… and implies that if she fails, Idris will suffer for it.
Lightsong approaches Siri and sits down beside her with his customary banter. She seems too naive and unsure to fit Blushweaver’s expectations, and he debates with himself whether she’s really that innocent, or a magnificent actress. He keeps playing word games, trying to figure her out, until she finally explodes, and demands that he tell her what’s going on. He turns the question aside with a joke, but is more and more convinced that she is genuine—which means she’ll get torn apart by the factions of the Court. He withdraws, but leaves a touch of comfort behind.
“They sent the wrong one,” Blushweaver said. “The younger instead of the elder.”
“I know,” Lightsong said. “Clever of them.”
“Clever?” Blushweaver said. “It’s downright brilliant. Do you know what a fortune we paid these last twenty years to spy upon, study, and learn about the eldest daughter? Those of us who thought to be careful even studied the second daughter, the one they’ve made a monk. But the youngest? Nobody gave her half a thought.”
And so the Idrians send a random element into court, Lightsong thought. One that upsets plans and conniving that our politicians have been working on for decades.
It was brilliant.
So Blushweaver is convinced that the Idrians have been planning this all along, grooming Siri to be the perfect infiltrator while everyone spied on Vivenna. Well, they’re right—it would have been a brilliant plan, if the Idrians had actually wanted to infiltrate and influence Hallandren politics. Apparently it never occurs to her that the Idrians might really just want to be left alone.
This week’s annotations are a philosophical bunch. First comes a reflection on war and politics, questioning whether this is an “anti-war novel” or not. (It’s not, by intent, but it does raise some questions left to the reader to answer.) Then there’s a little comparison & contrast drawn between Sarene in Elantris and Siri in Warbreaker. Both are sent to a foreign country to marry the ruler, but with very different results. Finally, there’s a note on the interaction between Siri and Lightsong. It really is delightful to look at one main character through the eyes of another—it tells you all sorts of things about both characters!
Snow White and Rose Red
For the first time, Siri comes face to face with the realization that her sacrifice may be completely meaningless. In spite of fulfilling the treaty, there are those who still look on Idris as a threat, and the war her father feared may yet come to pass. That’s a bit of a shock, in itself.
As if that weren’t enough, the poor child suddenly realizes that not only has she been humiliating herself by kneeling naked on the floor in front of her husband, she’s also been watched by priests or guards. Invasion of privacy, much? It doesn’t seem to be something Hallandren people consider, but poor Idrian Siri is—quite reasonably, IMO—mortified, and feels further degraded. She very nearly pulls back into her old self, I think, and would have lost all the determined ground she’d made if left to Treledees’s tender mercies much longer.
I find it utterly believable, in all of this, that Lightsong is the one who inadvertently enables her to regain her balance. He’s not a servant, so there’s no problem having a conversation with him. He’s not a priest, so he seems a little less likely to try to force their agenda on her. In fact, he (and the other Returned) is as close to an equal as she’s going to find in all of T’Telir. Combined with his laid-back approach and relatively gentle teasing and verbal sparring, he’s the perfect personality to bring out the explosive question: “What is going on here?”
The really funny part is Blushweaver’s conviction that Siri is a deep, deep agent for Idris, come to manipulate their God King into returning the kingdom to the royal family who fled during the Manywar. Lightsong, of course, is far more perceptive than anyone thinks:
This woman is no fake, Lightsong thought, staring into her youthful, confused eyes. Or, if she is, then she’s the best actress I’ve ever met.
That meant something. Something important. It was possible there were mundane reasons this girl had been sent instead of her sister. Sickness on the part of the elder daughter, perhaps. But Lightsong didn’t buy that. She was part of something. A plot, or perhaps several. And whatever those plots were, she didn’t know about them.
Unfortunately, he’s right about the plots but wrong about the source.
In Living Color
Lightsong and Blushweaver return with their standard verbal fencing, with Blushweaver totally paranoid about what the Idrians are up to and Lightweaver not entirely convinced. She gets frustrated both by his level of perception and by his apparent refusal to take anything seriously, and he—very reluctantly—starts paying actual attention to what’s going on, and maybe why.
It’s interesting that, in theory, the priests move among the people, and then come to the arena to speak about the concerns they’ve discovered. The gods then (again, in theory) listen to the debates and if necessary make decisions about the issues. Not too surprisingly, the gods are not always willing to wait for the people to be concerned about something that might threaten the political power of the Returned. In this case, Blushweaver has not only directed her priests on the arguments they must make, but has also seeded the gathered priests with those sympathetic to her position, to make it look more popular.
I hate politics.
We do run across mention of a couple more of the gods in this chapter. Stillmark the Noble is one of the oldest of the gods and is considered wise. He and his high priest Nanrovah are traditionalists and argue against most innovations. That’s… pretty much all we know of him, and we don’t ever even learn what he’s supposed to be the god of. We also hear, briefly, of Mirthgiver, the god of laughter, whom Lightsong describes as “Dull as a rock and twice as ugly,” and claims that “If ever there was a god more poorly suited to his position than I, it’s he.” Sounds like a real winner!
Last note on the gods:
… there was a growing belief that the Returned were weaker than they’d been in previous generations. Not less powerful in BioChroma, just less… divine. Less benevolent, less wise. Lightsong happened to agree.
It had been three years since a Returned had given up his or her life to heal someone. The people were growing impatient with their gods.
Why would this be the case? I’m not disagreeing, but I’m wondering.
From the “Different Views of History” Department, we get a clear view of the contrast between the Idrian version and the Hallandren. According to Hallandren teaching, tradition, history, what-have-you, Idris is a province in rebellion against the rest of the nation, refusing to be ruled by the God King and the Returned, refusing to follow the Iridescent Tones. That makes the Idrians heretics and rebels. According to Idrian history, the people of Hallandren rebelled against their rightful monarchy, who fled into exile and maintained the true religion of Austre, but who are still the lawful rulers of all Hallandren. That makes the Hallandren heretics and rebels.
Dedelin tried to arrange a treaty which would give both sides what they wanted, but the mistrust runs deep.
Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall
I find it highly entertaining that the Idrian version of cussing involves “Austre, God of Colors” while the Hallandren version is just “Colors”. This week we have Blushweaver:
“Aw, Colors,” she swore.
“Oh, blessed Colors,” Blushweaver said with a sigh.
Colors take you, Blushweaver!
I note this mostly as contrast to Siri’s frequent phrase, “Oh, Austre, Lord of Colors!”
And so the plots thicken. Blushweaver and her coterie are determined to protect themselves by means of a preemptive strike on Idris, while the Idrians just want to be left alone. Blushweaver is working to obtain the Commands for as many of the Lifeless as she can get, just to be prepared. The God King’s priests put pressure on Siri to get on with producing an heir (even though they know it’s impossible)… but we don’t know more of that particular plot yet, so we’ll wait.
Nanrovah, high priest of Stillmark—remember that name. He’ll become relevant later.
That’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 17, in which Vivenna learns many things difficult to understand.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. For those following, the Oathbringer beta read has more or less finished with Part 2, and will begin Part 3 late this week or early next week. Unsurprisingly, it’s full of surprises. Radiants and Oathgates and Highstorms, Oh My!