Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week Siri, Lightsong, and Blushweaver reacted to the priests debate over the merits of going to war with Idris. This week, Vivenna considers the same, until she’s forced to deal with the matter from… a different perspective.
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: T’Telir streets and Lemex’s home
Timing: Immediately following Chapter 16 (Vivenna’s second day in T’Telir)
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna makes her way back from the Court of Gods to Lemex’s residence, reflecting on the probability of war and the things she thought she knew. All of it gives her a much deeper understanding of her own inability to even cope with it all, much less influence it. Approaching the house, it looks like there’s been an attack, but it turns out to merely be the effects of Denth and Tonk Fah doing a very thorough “search.”
Their finds are collected on the remains of Lemex’s desk for Vivenna’s perusal; sorting and reading the papers leave her shocked to her core. Not only did her father know about Lemex’s Breath, he intentionally paid for some of it (though he probably didn’t know just how much Lemex had acquired). Not only did her father know that Hallandren was most likely going to war with Idris, he deliberately sent Siri in Vivenna’s place because he knew that she would become a hostage that he could not ransom. Everything she thought she knew about her father and about the world is now in question.
Determining finally to serve her people in the best way she can under the circumstances, she returns to the mercenaries to develop a plan. Denth acknowledges that he knows some of the things Lemex had in the works, and can piece together more. It won’t necessarily be easy, but she has a team of expensive specialists to put it together. In the meantime, they prepare to move to a new location the following day.
My friend, I must admit a weakness in myself. I will never be able to send Vivenna to be a hostage in that dragon’s nest of a city. To send her would be to kill her, and I cannot do that. Even though I know it would be best for Idris if I did.
Well. There it is, yet again. Except this time, Vivenna is getting the straight truth from Dedelin, with no sugar-coating or rationalization: her father sent Siri in her place, because he expected that the princess he sent would go to her death. I shudder to even imagine how that would feel.
In the annotations for Chapter 17, Sanderson expresses some frustration that we’re this far into the book and still haven’t met Jewels, the third member of the mercenary crew. However, given that this is only Vivenna’s second day in T’Telir, she would certainly not be ready to handle a Drab, much less the … fourth member. Introducing this complication and having Vivenna even pretend to continue to work with the mercenaries at this point would stretch believability a bit too far.
The other discussion is one that has come up repeatedly, and will continue to do so. Was Dedelin right or wrong to give Lemex money to buy Breath? Was he right to set aside his principles for the sake of saving his country? How do you determine right and wrong, when the good of your nation seems to require that you do something evil? It’s easy for us to “answer” that the Idrians are wrong about the magic, it’s neutral rather than evil, so of course it was right for Dedelin to buy the Breath. But that doesn’t answer the question… Should he have supported what he believed to be evil, for the “greater good” of his people? It’s not a problem we’re going to resolve here, of course, but it’s one worth considering.
Snow White and Rose Red
One of the reasons I keep on tracking the timeline is that it helps make sense of a character’s reactions. In this case, the reminder that this is only Vivenna’s second day in T’Telir is making a big difference, for me at least, in accepting her attitudes toward… well, everything, really. Siri has been in T’Telir for a week now (and of course she started out with a different personality and different tastes), but all this just hit Vivenna yesterday. Plus, unlike Siri, she is exposed to the full City Experience—colors, smells, noise, strangers, crowds of strangers—and she’s on foot with but one trusted companion. So… yeah. I can empathize with Vivenna much more when I think in terms of her timeline.
That said, she’s come a long way in a short time:
Only one day in T’Telir, and already she knew that her training and tutorials hadn’t prepared her half as well as she’d assumed.
She felt as if she knew nothing. And that left her feeling very lost. She was not the confident, competent woman she’d assumed herself to be. The frightening truth was, should she have been sent to become the God King’s bride, she would have been nearly as ineffective and confused as poor Siri undoubtedly was.
Simply realizing that much is a huge step forward, though I’m sure for her it feels like a step backward. (Okay, so the assumption about Siri is still a little annoying, but I have to admit that so far, Siri really has been pretty much “ineffective and confused.”) Vivenna has a lot farther to fall, still, and it’s going to be painful, but this is a step toward growth.
Of course, just the city and the war-drums in the Assembly aren’t the only things Vivenna has to deal with in this chapter. As noted in Breathtaking, this is the first time she’s confronted with some unequivocal and unpalatable facts about her father/king. How do you deal with the realization that your father condemned your sister to (what he assumed was) death in your place, because he loved you more than he loved her? As if that’s not enough, how do you deal with the realization that your father paid for his agent to do something you’ve always been taught was an evil, horrible wickedness? And that both things were because, as king, he would do almost anything to protect his people?
It’s actually a testimony to Vivenna’s strength of character, I think, that in the face of these revelations, she decides to move forward with what she believes will be best for her people. As Sanderson notes in the annotations, she failed this test the first time—she was ready to die for Idris, but not to live for Idris. Rather than staying home to help lead her people in the trouble coming upon them, she ran off to attempt something far beyond her powers to accomplish. Now, with brutal reality staring her in the face, she is at least determined to proceed with the plans her father had supported, since his original agent is no longer functional.
In Living Color
Denth is succeeding in his manipulations of Vivenna, leading her to trust him and Tonk Fah in a fashion that will turn out to have been a very, very bad idea. Then again, the first time through (without annotations), I believed him, too. He’s been very, very clever.
Vivenna didn’t move. She was increasingly uncertain of her purpose in the city. Yet she still had Denth and Tonk Fah, and—surprisingly—she was finding herself growing attached to them. How many soldiers in her father’s army—good men, all of them—would have been able to resist running off with five thousand marks? There was more to these mercenaries than they let on.
That’s certainly an understatement. There’s a whole lot more to them… and not much of it is good. At least, not good for Vivenna.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
This is just a quick observation, that Vivenna walks past one of the D’Denir statues on her way—which, of course, we don’t know is Significant at this point.
I really like the contrasts in this chapter. Vivenna starts out worrying about the debate she just heard, her own situation, and that of her sister. At the same time, she’s enjoying the walk down a quiet, pleasant street, with Parlin occasionally stopping to examine the lush and beautiful landscaping. That makes it more of a shock to arrive at Lemex’s house to find the splintered door half off its hinges—and then Denth pokes his head out and chuckles at her alarm. Just as she begins to see a bit of humor in their excessively thorough search, she’s left to go through a stack of papers that reveal not only the danger to her homeland, but the depths to which her father and his agent have sunk in trying to protect it. The knowledge brings her to tears, but it also moves her to realize the desperation behind it. In a final twist, after stating her determination to move forward and preparing to be forceful about it, Denth surprises her by his immediate cooperation and assistance. While this kind of abrupt back-and-forth could be badly done, in this case I believe it serves very well to place the reader in a mindset that reflects a little of Vivenna’s own unsettled state.
That’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 18, in which Siri takes a new approach to her evening routine, and Lightsong plays sick.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. As she’s noted in previous weeks, the Oathbringer beta read is proceeding, slightly behind the original optimistic schedule but still in good shape; she’s probably working on Part 3 as you read. Once that beta is finished, she hopes to step up the pace of this reread, so as to allow time for an Edgedancer reread before November.