Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Siri had everyone blushing with her new bedtime routine, while Lightsong tried unsuccessfully to call in sick. This week, Vivenna’s prejudices are on full display, even as her inexperience sets her up for further manipulation.
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: Her new digs in T’Telir
Timing: The morning after Chapter 18: Vivenna’s third day in T’Telir
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna and the two mercenaries tour their new house, less ostentatious than Lemex’s but still in a nice enough area to be safe. The mess they left at Lemex’s house will be compounded by a gang of burglars, Lemex’s body will be dealt with by the authorities, and what’s left of his property seized in forfeit—all neatly taken care of with no ties to Vivenna or Denth. Bothered by this casual disregard but still off balance from the events of the previous two days, she lets it slide; they turn to discussion of how to disrupt Hallandren’s ability to make war.
Denth provides a list of ideas: meet with Vahr’s associates in organized crime to stir up revolts in the flower plantations; raid the Lifeless storage warehouses to mess with their functionality; disrupt the city’s food supply by raiding merchant caravans. Vivenna is appalled at the violence of the options presented, but is finally convinced that it needs to be that way.
The door bangs open and a Lifeless soldier barges in, sending Vivenna into a panic until she realizes that the mercenaries are laughing at her again. Jewels enters behind the creature, bringing supplies and the news that he is in the city. Vivenna is nearly hysterical about the presence of a Lifeless on her crew, but Denth makes it clear that they’re a package deal. She finally dodges the subject by asking about the large quantity of weapons Jewels brought; Denth explains that it’s all part of the aforementioned violence, and that she could really make herself useful by learning to be an Awakener. Revolted by the thought, she categorically refuses.
Jewels interrupts with a reemphasized worry over him beating them to the city, and with a supply of Breath granting Fourth or Fifth Heightening. From her brief description, Denth is convinced that the man she saw is someone he wants to kill—a man they call Tax, now calling himself Vasher, who killed a friend of theirs a couple of months ago. Listening, Vivenna realizes they’re talking about the man she saw watching her at the Arena on the previous day. When she describes the event, the team realizes that this Vasher is one step ahead of them again; Denth tells Vivenna that there are no coincidences around Vasher, and that he is probably planning to kill her.
“He killed a good friend of ours over in Yarn Dred a couple months back. Denth used to have four people in this team.”
“It shouldn’t have happened,” Jewels said. “Arsteel was a brilliant duelist—almost as good as Denth. Vasher’s never been able to beat either of them.”
“He used that… sword of his,” Tonk Fah grumbled.
“There was no blackness around the wound,” Jewels said.
“Then he cut the blackness out,” Tonk Fah snapped, watching Denth belt a sword to his waist. “There’s no way Vasher beat Arsteel in a fair duel. No way.”
More hints for the reader—or the rereader—regarding the notion that Vasher has a trick for dealing with duelists when it matters… but the first time through, most of us probably assumed that Vasher was just a lot better than these people are willing to admit. Pretty sure that’s what I thought, anyway.
In the annotations, we’re reminded that Denth has deliberately told Jewels to stay away for a couple of days, and she’s only pretending she doesn’t know who Vivenna is. It was also a deliberate move by the author, in that Jewels was the perfect character to be controlling a Lifeless, but he needed to give Vivenna a little time before learning about Clod. Too many shocks at once stretch the limits of belief.
In a second note, a small detail is pointed out: the more Breath you hold, the easier it is to learn to Awaken. Denth keeps reminding Vivenna of the amount she holds, hoping to get her so frustrated about carrying it that she passes it to him.
Finally, a few more thoughts on the relationship between Denth and Vivenna. One is that the activities Denth is planning are calculated to make Hallandren more likely to attack Idris, not less… but like Vivenna, most of the readers are taken in by his rationale. Another—which coincidentally answered one of the questions in my notes—is that while Denth presents these suggestions as “what he could figure out of old Lemex’s plans,” they’ve been his own plans all along. Like Vivenna, Lemex was merely a tool for Denth; unlike Vivenna, he was becoming difficult to manipulate, which is another reason that Denth poisoned him. And Tonk Fah’s creepy line about how many bodies would fit in the storage space was supposed to be creepy…
Snow White and Rose Red
Poor Vivenna—every time she begins to get a grip on herself and exert her habitual self-control, she gets her feet knocked out from under her again. This is the morning of her third day in T’Telir; after the shocks of Lemex’s death, her non-complicit acquisition of a large quantity of Breath, the imminence of war, and her discoveries regarding her father, today she finds herself approving a set of violent attacks on the Hallandren people, and a Lifeless in her employ.
Today’s evidence of slipping control:
“What’s wrong with you?” Jewels said, glancing at Vivenna. “Some Awakener come by and steal your colors?”
Vivenna paused. “What?”
“She means,” Denth said, “why do you look so surprised?”
“That, and her hair is white,” Jewels said, walking over to the canvas bags.
Vivenna flushed, realizing that her shock had gotten the better of her. She returned her hair to its proper dark color.
Not only did her hair involuntarily go white with the shock of having a Lifeless walk into her new house, she wasn’t even aware it had happened. She’s becoming so numbed by repeated blows that she didn’t even feel her hair change. I realize I’m saying this pretty much every time we get in Vivenna’s head, but I really feel bad for her. I can no longer honestly view her harshly for her prejudices and assumptions; we all have them, but Vivenna’s are being pulled out and used to beat her every time she turns around. Thus continueth her slide into helplessness.
About that Lifeless, her opposition to the concept is completely rational, despite Denth’s twisting of words. If buying someone else’s Breath is immoral, using it to Awaken objects is more so—and taking someone’s dead body and Awakening it with another person’s Breath has to be just about the pinnacle of evil. Whether we agree with the basic premise or not, Vivenna is doing her best to be as moral and ethical as she can be in this crazy place. It’s worth a little respect.
In Living Color
Though of course we don’t know it yet, we’ve just been introduced to the enmity between the remaining of the Five Scholars. Vasher defeated and killed Arsteel in a duel a few months ago, though no one can figure out how he did it. Denth, already at odds with Vasher, hates him even more after that, and can’t wait to meet and fight him. How much of this is hatred of Vasher, and how much desire to prove his own skill, is anyone’s guess.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
We don’t actually know much about this “Clod” yet, so… for the time being, I won’t say more. Feel free to talk about him in the comments, though.
By the end of this chapter, we’ve got most of the pieces in place. Siri has found a way to get the priests off her back (and get some sleep), Vivenna’s full team is assembled, Lightsong is poised to get involved in the political scene, and Vasher is … watching and preparing. If I recall correctly, the pace begins to increase in the upcoming chapters, as we shift from worldbuilding and positioning into major plot movement. Ready for the ride?
That’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 20, in which Susebron reaches out to Siri for the first time. If I can pull it off, we’ll also cover Chapter 21, when Vasher sneaks into the Court with the help of some bizarre distraction techniques.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. She has very little new news about the Oathbringer beta; she has finished Part 3, and Part 4 will probably arrive early next week. As expected, more answers generally result in more questions.