Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Lightsong began his Detective Returned career, as his interest was piqued by Mercystar’s incident. This week, Siri and Susebron seek solutions in stories.
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
Setting: The God King’s Palace—library and bedchamber
Timing: Indeterminate, but some weeks into Siri’s residence
Take a Deep Breath
Chapter 24 opens on Siri, sweeping through the scribes’ quarters of the palace in a gown with a ten-foot-long train, sending servants and priests into shock and dismay. She reaches her goal, the palace library, and proclaims her desire for books. Sure that she would much prefer fiction, one offers to have a reader bring her a book from the city; she insists that she will take some of these books from the library. Treledees, in full panoply, refuses to allow it, claiming that Susebron owns these books and has made it clear that he wishes them to remain in the library. While she knows this to be false, she also knows that the priest has the upper hand for now, and she retreats.
Later, in the bedchamber with Susebron, they argue about the intentions of the priests; Siri thinks they are deliberately doing things to spite her, while Susebron maintains that they are good men who work hard to care for the kingdom he rules – or that they rule in his name. They quickly rabbit-trail off into forms of speech, as Siri tries to explain sarcasm and mockery. As the conversation wanders, she realizes that he’s gotten all of his values from the folktales his mother read to him as a child, and she wonders aloud if his resulting desire to treat people well is what kept him from consummating their marriage. Much to her discomfiture, he actually doesn’t understand anything about sex, and she changes the subject rather than have to try to explain it. The exchange trails off, but Siri continues to wonder which is more dangerous to her: a baby, or the lack of one.
The God King sat, looking confused but thoughtful. You are very normal, he finally wrote.
Siri frowned. “Um. Thank you?”
Was that good sarcasm? he wrote. Because in reality, you are quite strange.
She smiled. “I try my best.”
He looked up.
“That was sarcasm again,” she said. “I don’t ‘try’ to be strange. It just happens.”
This is one of my favorite snippets from this chapter, but it’s also weirdly representative of several months’ worth of their association. Partly, it’s just plain funny, as they become closer and their personalities are revealed through their relationship. Partly, though, it’s bizarre watching Susebron learn how people behave when they’re comfortable together: he’s roughly fifty years old, but he’s never had a real chance to observe, much less participate in, any significant level of natural interaction. Siri is a new experience for him; whether by intent or neglect, his priests have effectively isolated him from all human bonding since his mother … went wherever she went when they decided he didn’t need her any more.
The annotations this week answered several questions I was asking as I reread the chapter. The first one was about Siri not wanting the priests listening to her as she sounded out the words, which just seemed odd to me. However, as Sanderson states,
This was actually a very common thing in most cultures, even literate ones, up until the modern era. People would speak to themselves as they read. Even someone who could read, like Siri, wouldn’t be particularly accustomed to reading. Their society didn’t demand it the same way that ours does.
So there you have it. It would have made sense for her to read aloud, and I can see why she didn’t want to. The part I thought was funny was that she really was there in search of information, and for all of Treledees’s snit about removing books, it wasn’t about the books at all. They assumed she knew all the stuff in the histories and was just trying to bully them, while she assumed they were trying to hide the information she needed.
The other notes concern the naturally growing relationship between Siri and Susebron; the odd reason the priests let him keep his book of children’s stories; and Susebron’s complete ignorance about sex. We’ll talk about these in context, below.
Snow White and Rose Red
What seems to be happening with Siri this week is that, while her personality isn’t really changing, it is maturing; she’s learning to both control, and make use of, her strengths and weaknesses. She starts out with what seems to be a success, as she regally proceeds through the palace and forcefully makes her wishes known. It backfires on her, unfortunately; she hasn’t learned how to win a confrontation with Treledees, and so she retreats with nothing to show for her efforts. I found that frustrating, though I don’t know what else she could have done that wouldn’t devolve into a shouting match that would make her look even worse. It seems strange that she didn’t try harder, but then again, she didn’t really expect this ploy to succeed. So… there’s that, I guess.
As I noted above, though, they weren’t even fighting the same battle. Siri (unlike me) is less concerned about looking weak by backing down from her demand for the books, and more concerned about how she’s going to get hold of the information the priests are obviously hiding from her. Oddly enough, if she’d been willing to risk looking foolish by standing there reading, she’d probably have been able to get most of her questions answered right away. Huh.
Moving on. At this point, Siri retains her old habit of being contrary for the sheer cussedness of it, though her increased self-awareness on the subject is a step toward maturity. She recognizes and admits the thrill of keeping a secret from the priests, and at that a secret involving one of the most powerful men in the world. Incongruously, being in collusion with the God King himself leaves her in the unaccustomed position of only rebelling against the lesser authorities… and it seems to me that this leads her to try to figure out the root causes for there even being a difference between the two.
Her questions, now, seem to focus on the motivations of the priests in keeping Susebron ignorant and silent; what the succession of a king looks like; and whether the presence or absence of a child is the more dangerous.
Aside from the always present Idrian-Hallandren clash, in this case between Siri and the priests, there is one subtle distinction that now leaps out and clubs me over the head:
Long tables lined the walls, stacks of paper cluttered those tables, and scribes—Pahn Kahl men in brown, Hallandren men in the day’s colors—worked on the papers.
On the first read, this seems like a small touch of worldbuilding casually tossed into the scene – how the Hallandren servants all wear the color-of-the-day look while the Pahn Kahl wear only brown. And it is a small touch of world building… but it also turns out to be part of the major plot conflict, hiding in plain sight. It’s just a meaningless tradition to most people, or perhaps a sign of their lower status, but the Pahn Kahl choose to wear the brown; in a sense, it is the ensign of their refusal to be absorbed into the Hallandren kingdom and culture.
In Living Color
The Susebron we’re getting to know now is highly intelligent, but also highly ignorant. His priests, whether out of loyalty to the instructions left by Peacegiver the Blessed or out of their own ambition, have carefully taught him only what is needed to make him an impressive figurehead. It may be that they fear what he might choose to do with his powers if he knew what was really going on and chose to get involved. It may be that they just don’t want him interfering in the bureaucracy that keeps the kingdom functioning. It may even be that they truly believe the only way to keep his Breath safe for the day Peacegiver would return and require it of them.
We really don’t know if all the former God Kings were treated the same way. Did the other four all have their tongues removed to keep them from using the Breath? Were they all kept in complete ignorance while their priests ruled in their names? I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.
In any case, Susebron’s only education is what he received from his mother in the form of stories – folktales, fairytales – stories of children who were rewarded when they obeyed and were good, but were eaten by monsters or fell to other terrible fates when they disobeyed. On the up side, he has learned about good and evil, and sees clear distinctions. On the down side, he is woefully ignorant of human failings and the gray areas which require choices and judgements. And on the funny side…
“These stories,” she said. “Your desire to treat people well. Is that what kept you from… taking me on any of those nights when I first came into the room?”
From taking you? I do not understand.
Siri blushed, hair turning red to match. “I mean, why did you just sit there?”
Because I did not know what else to do, he said. I knew that we need to have a child. So I sat and waited for it to happen. We must be doing something wrong, for no child has come.
Siri paused, then blinked. He couldn’t possibly…“ You don’t know how to have children?”
In the stories, he wrote, a man and a woman spend the night together. Then they have a child. We spent many nights together, and there were no children.
I’m not sure who to pity more here – Susebron, who has no idea what to do with a wife (at least in bed) or Siri, who will eventually have to decide whether or not to teach him! But it’s pretty funny, however you look at it. In the end, of course, it only matters for their own happiness anyway.
“How did the previous God Kings die?”
There have been only four, he wrote. I do not know how they died for certain.
“Only four kings in several hundred years, all dead of mysterious circumstances….”
My father died before I was old enough to remember him, Susebron wrote. I was told he gave his life for the kingdom—that he released his BioChromatic Breath, as all Returned can, to cure a terrible disease. The other Returned can only cure one person. A God King, however, can cure many. That is what I was told.
Such a combination of truth and lies. Like any Returned, the God King is not subject to disease or aging due to his Divine Breath; the perfect preservation for an adulthood of around 100 years is, I assume, at least partly due to the additional fifty thousand or so Breaths, the “national treasure” originally bestowed by Peacegiver and then added to at the rate of one extra Breath per week. So it is apparently no secret that the God King can live for a century or more. The lies… well, we don’t actually know them for what they are at this point in the story, but IIRC no one outside the priests realizes that most of his extraordinary magnificence is due to his holding such a massive load of Breath. The idea that the previous God King gave his BioChromatic Breath to cure a terrible disease is almost certainly a fiction, but it makes a nice story and keeps the children happy.
There are plenty of other oddments to talk over, but I’ll limit myself to this one:
I wonder why the bedchamber is out here, she thought. Outside the main body of the palace, in the black part.
Me too, Siri. It can’t be a matter of access, since all the rooms are accessible to the servants. Maybe it’s because the interior rooms are harder to completely close off? Or because it’s harder to set up the interior rooms in a way that allows the priests to spy? I don’t know, and I don’t recall that it ever gets answered. Anyone?
Time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 25, in which Vivenna assists in a heist and irritates Denth. I know, only one chapter this week, and probably only one next week too. I do intend to speed up, I promise, but life is a bit hectic right now. Hopefully it will calm down soon, as extended family members recover from various impairments and require less care and feeding.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. Having finally completed the beta read of Oathbringer, she hopes to get her breath back sometime in the next week or two and get things moving along. Sometime in the near future, you should see two new progress bars on Sanderson’s website: the Oathbringer fourth draft, and the next project he’s writing. Rumor has it that he’s really ready to move to a different world for a while.