Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Siri learned a shocking thing about her husband, and Vasher created a distraction. This week, Lightsong plays Returned Bocce, and Vivenna plays with her hair.
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, Vivenna
Setting: Court of Gods, T’Telir restaurants
Timing: Lightsong: several days after Chapter 18; Vivenna: about two weeks after Chapter 19
Take a Deep Breath
Lightsong lounges on the balcony of Truthcall’s palace, where they and two other Returned—Lifeblesser and Weatherlove—are playing an extremely complex game called Tarachin, which Lightsong has never bothered to actually learn. Nonetheless, he does extremely well at it; privately, he thinks the game is inherently flawed when the one who understands it the least tends to win.
Along with the game, of course, politics are played, as the others speculate on the opportunities presented by the Idrians sending the “wrong” princess. Lightsong pretends disinterest, secretly irritated by their scheming to take advantage of their young queen’s presumed naiveté. Despite knowing that these three are rank amateurs compared to others, he is troubled by their machinations and finally leaves with the game unfinished. Musing on what contribution he should be making and how he should be using his resources even though he doesn’t believe in his own godhood, he reluctantly goes looking for Blushweaver.
Vivenna sits in a restaurant with Denth, Tonk Fah, and a foul little man named Fob, who has the potential to be useful to their plans. Vivenna mostly tries not to gag as the other three slurp down raw mussels and discuss the threat of war; finally, she is called on to play her part in convincing the repulsive landowner by changing the color of her hair a couple of times. The direct involvement of the royal family is their strongest argument, and he appears to be swayed by it.
Leaving the restaurant, they rejoin the rest of their team and proceed to a much less appealing restaurant, meeting with an even more revolting character named Grable. Denth begins his spiel with a bribe, but before they can proceed Grable demands to see Vivenna’s hair-change trick. Pleased by her demonstration, he wants to know where Denth found someone with enough royal blood to impersonate a princess. Grable ignores her insistence that his suggestion is impossible, and demands a price. Denth rises to leave, and Grable’s bodyguards also rise; suddenly, the bodyguards are dead. Grable simply acknowledges Denth’s skill; as they leave, the mercenaries explain to Vivenna that Grable just wanted to know if Denth was as good as rumor claimed.
As they walk, they are suddenly approached by a stranger calling out to the princess. He seems to be an Idrian who has heard rumors of her, and wishes to offer his service to her. Upon questioning (in a slum building a mile or two from the previous restaurant), it turns out that he’s a very poor man, working for one of the crime bosses in the city. Those with money can do all right, but an Idrian without money have a hard time finding a job and, often as not, end up involved in crime. Vivenna tells him she wants to meet with the other Idrians, and sends him on his way.
Denth tells her that they will remain in their safe house for several hours to make sure the coast really is clear and Grable isn’t going to come after them. This leaves her uncomfortable time to think and to realize that she is really not prepared for or capable of actually being useful to the Idrian cause in Hallandren. She mentions this to Denth, who weirdly encourages her to stay.
“He just wanted to see my blade,” Denth said. He still seemed tense. “It happens sometimes.”
“Barring that, he wanted to steal himself a princess,” Tonk Fah added. “He either got to verify Denth’s skill or he got you.”
Oh, Vivenna, you are so out of your depth here. So, so unprepared, beyond your wildest dreams or nightmares. You really should ignore Denth’s advice and just go home now. Really. You can’t even begin to comprehend the uses a man like Grable would have for you. For that matter, you can’t comprehend the uses a man like Denth has for you, poor foolish child.
This chapter’s annotations are loaded! Lightsong’s game served two purposes: another vignette of life among the Returned, and a little more mulling over the decision before going to Blushweaver. Vivenna’s feelings about seafood mirror the author’s (and I’m in total agreement!). The thing about the Royal Locks (quoted below) is true with a couple of exceptions, but we won’t learn much more about how it works until/unless the sequel gets written.
There’s an extended section on Clod and Jewels, most of which I’ll address below, and another on the fact that neither culture is right about everything. Finally, there’s a hefty chunk (with spoilers) about Denth’s various abilities—inhuman (i.e. Returned) reflexes, the ability to hide his Returned nature, suppressing the divine Breath—how they relate to Vasher’s abilities, Tonk Fah’s sociopathy, and the fact (only hinted in the chapter) that Dedelin has indeed sent people searching for Vivenna… and that her “employees” intercepted them.
In Living Color
Lightsong’s annoyance over the scheming of his friends (if they can be so called) is where he really begins to step into his heroic role. He’s carefully cultivated his careless persona, both concealing and emphasizing his lack of belief in his own divinity. Now, as his dreams become more vivid, so his awareness of the shortcomings of the other Returned and his compassion for ordinary mortals both increase. He’s still not sure what to do, or even how to figure out what to do, but for the first time since his Return, he’s getting the idea that he needs to do something.
He heard petitions, even though he didn’t intend to ever give up his Breath and die. He interpreted paintings, even though he didn’t think he was seeing anything prophetic in them. Couldn’t he help secure power in the court in order to be prepared when he didn’t believe that his visions meant anything? Particularly if those preparations helped protect a young woman who, undoubtedly, would have no other allies?
It’s time to quit shirking and get doing.
In other news, Lightsong’s assessment of the other three gods in the Tarachin game is sort of hilarious: Weatherlove, god of storms; Lifeblesser, god of healing; and Truthcall, god of nature. They each have their own colors, their own preferred clothing style, and their own hair color (blond, brown, and black respectively), but beyond that, they’re virtually identical. Seven feet tall, muscular, square-jawed, graceful, perfectly coiffed—they all follow the same pattern of “this is what a god should look like!” almost to the point of absurdity. Also, ummm… doesn’t that description fit Lightsong, too? Another observer might think all four of them were virtually identical.
Lightsong also notices that being Returned “did not, unfortunately, increase one’s mental capacity along with one’s physical attributes.” Lifeblesser in particular seems to have trouble comprehending Lightsong’s snark. Ah, well. He makes up for it in dedication to this incomprehensible game, which entertains the gods while making the priests and servants put forth all the real effort, arranging everything and keeping track of the complicated scoring so their gods don’t have to strain their poor brains. Even funnier, Lightsong would love to lose to them so they’d quite inviting him to play… but it’s really hard to deliberately lose a game when you have no idea how you’re winning it.
Snow White and Rose Red
Vivenna has now been in the city for a matter of weeks, though we don’t know exactly how many. The worst part for the reader—or at least this reader—is that, now she’s getting used to things, she’s gotten back to her subconscious superiority complex. She continues to recognize that her training was wildly inadequate and she’s essentially useless, and yet she still thinks of herself as qualified to judge the behavior of others. She’s critical of Parlin, her childhood friend, thinking of him as not “terribly bright, true, but he had always been levelheaded” just because he insists on wearing a hat she finds ridiculous. At the same time, she puts inordinate trust in Denth and Tonk Fah, buying pretty much every line they feed her unless they start laughing to let her know they’re teasing, and never recognizing that almost everything they tell her is fake, with her the oblivious butt of the joke.
I’m finding it hard to determine how I feel about this Princess of ours. I still feel sorry for her, because she’s in so far over her head, and she really is trying to do right by her family and her people. At the same time, for a very smart girl she can be incredibly dumb. I suppose it’s that tenacious belief that she is, in herself, somehow above everyone else—despite admonishing the Idrian man not to put her above others—that results in her ultimate downfall when it proves to be so incredibly false.
So… she goes along with all of Denth’s plans, obediently displaying the Royal Locks when called upon, allowing herself to be the figurehead and the most convincing argument they have. A tool, one might say. At the same time, we really ought not to be too hard on her in all areas, because she’s not always wrong. For instance:
“Being royal is about more than just blood. It’s about lineage and the holy calling of Austre. My children will not have the Royal Locks unless I become queen of Idris. Only potential heirs have the ability to change their hair color.”
As we know from the annotations, this is true. While she and her siblings all have this ability, if Ridger becomes king after Dedelin, only his children will have the Locks; hers and Fafen’s and Siri’s will not. I don’t know if it’s declared anywhere, but my understanding is that one retains this ability lifelong. I also don’t know what would happen if Ridger became king and she had children, but then Ridger died with no heir so that her children became the heirs. Would they suddenly manifest the Locks? Like I said, I don’t know what would happen. Maybe that’s never occurred in the 300 years of Idrian history, so no one knows.
As I Live and Breathe
Speaking of being right about things… This chapter is the first time Vivenna—and therefore the reader, usually— realizes that Jewels is a Drab. The clue comes as they wait for Denth and Tonk Fah to check out the safe house, and Vivenna occupies herself with consciously examining the things she can sense due to her store of Breath; suddenly it registers that Jewels just… doesn’t register. Once noted, it’s blatantly obvious in a dozen little clues, and while Vivenna’s reaction might strike us as somewhat condescending, it turns out that she’s correct about Drabs and their lack of Breath too. As Sanderson states in the annotations,
It is a part of your soul, and without one, you are more prone to depression, you get sick much more easily, and you’re generally more irritable.
He specifically points this out so that we are reminded that neither culture has a monopoly on truth. In this specific, the Idrians are correct, and the Hallandren claim that it isn’t all that damaging to lose your Breath is merely an attempt to justify their practices. A lot of the people probably believe it, too… even if they’re dead wrong.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
Here again, we meet Clod the Lifeless; Jewels not only takes care of him, she seems to talk to him a lot, as though he were alive. Vivenna, somewhat creeped out by this, asks Denth if she does that all the time, and notes that it doesn’t seem very healthy. Denth looks troubled and says nothing, but in the annotations we learn…
“Creeped out” and “troubled” are both appropriate responses to the situation. Turns out that Jewels only joined this crew when Arsteel did, and only because he did, and only because she was in love with him. When Vasher killed Arsteel, the crew decided to make him a Lifeless, knowing that even though he wouldn’t be as great a swordsman as before, he’d still be far better than most other people, and the most dangerous Lifeless around. Jewels, however, is still in love with Arsteel, and sometimes still sleeps with Clod, and is most definitely somewhat unhinged in this regard.
We get an idea just how good a swordsman Arsteel must have been, if he was considered even better than Denth. Not only did Denth recognize the movement before Grable’s bodyguards even got their swords out, they were both dead before either could strike a single blow.
“People speak of you,” Grable said. “Say you appeared out of nowhere a decade or so back. Gathered yourself a team of the best—stole them from important men. Or important prisons. Nobody knows much about you, other than the fact that you’re fast. Some say inhumanly so.”
There are a few other odds and ends to address. Such as… Tonk Fah. Aside from his role of “bad cop” in the meetings, we generally see him eat and sleep, both with great enthusiasm. This time, he does an odd thing. He disappears for a few minutes and returns with a monkey on his shoulder. The parrot is nowhere to be seen, and when queried about it, he looks ashamed and claims that the parrot was boring anyway; Denth comments that “Tonks isn’t very good with pets.” Well, no. There’s a dead parrot in their safehouse basement…
Disturbingly, the annotations tell us that there aren’t currently any dead Idrian soldiers in that same basement. When Vivenna thinks about how anyone sent by her father would first check Lemex’s old place, it’s a little nudge to the reader that this has indeed happened, several times, and Denth’s watchers have observed them. They’re all dead, and more will die, because Denth will not allow anyone to find Vivenna and remove her from his power. He has Plans for her.
Last note, regarding timeline: The two sections in this chapter are probably not concurrent events; Vivenna’s section ought to be (if my tracking is correct) about ten days after Lightsong’s bocce game.
There are a number of other things in the chapter that are worth discussing, but they’re going to have to be discussed in the comments; I’ve run out of steam. So, have at it! And join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 23, in which Lightsong goes to see Blushweaver, and the pair of them visit Mercystar to condole with her over the attack on her palace.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. As you may have noticed, the progress bar for Oathbringer third draft is up to 93%. The third draft is the one that goes out to the beta readers, so when you see that move to 100%, you’ll know we’re working on the final part; it should happen within the next few days.