Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Vivenna’s efforts to help her people led her to do more things she herself disapproves. This week, Lightsong continues his investigation of The Murder at Mercystar’s Palace.
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!
“My sympathies, Your Grace, that you have been inconvenienced by a semblance of motivation.”
Point of View: Lightsong
Setting: Various locations within the Court of Gods
Timing: The morning after Chapter 23
Take a Deep Breath
Lightsong bounces out of bed an hour early, enthused to get back to his murder investigation, but reluctantly agrees to view some artwork first. He’s surprised to find a painting which he feels he shouldn’t like quite as much as he does, but it speaks to him; he sees much more detail in the painting than Llarimar does, which the priest finds deeply troubling. Lightsong is done with viewing artwork for the day, but requests that this one painting be kept for his collection.
On the way to Mercystar’s palace, Lightsong relates the night’s dream to his priest: a storm so strong it pushed him backward and seemed to make the ground undulate, and a red panther made of glass, waiting in the storm. The guards at Mercystar’s palace are reluctant to admit him, but without a direct command from their mistress they have no authority to deny him. As he examines the corridor, one of Mercystar’s priests arrives. Like the guards, he is reluctant to allow Lightsong to ask questions or interview the servants and guards, but also has no authority to deny him.
While awaiting the arrival of the requested personnel, Lightsong reexamines the newly replaced wood in the floor, and realizes that one section is a trapdoor; he pretends not to notice it, for the benefit of the watching priest—who is clearly aware of its existence. With the arrival of the guards and servants, Lightsong divides them up into groups according to who was together during the events, sends each group to a point out of earshot of the others, and then proceeds to question them. He gets a good description of Vasher, and a fair description of what happened… except that one of the servants is obviously lying at first.
After hearing everything, Lightsong concludes that there were two intruders, one following the other, and that both left through the trapdoor. He leaves the palace, having confiscated the Lifeless squirrel for further study. On his way home, though, he reveals the thing that most confuses him about the investigation: how he, Lightsong the indolent, is so good at unraveling the mysterious invasion. Llarimar, of course, refuses to discuss Lightsong’s previous life, so he’s left wondering just what he had known and done in order for this detective work to come so naturally.
Red upon red, shades so subtle that the painter must have been of the Third Heightening at least. Violent, terrible reds, clashing against one another like waves—waves that only vaguely resembled men, yet that somehow managed to convey the idea of armies fighting much better than any detailed realistic depiction could have.
Chaos. Bloody wounds upon bloody uniforms upon bloody skin. There was so much violence in red. His own color. He almost felt as if he were in the painting—felt its turmoil shaking him, disorienting him, pulling on him.
The waves of men pointed toward one figure at the center. A woman, vaguely depicted by a couple of curved brushstrokes. And yet it was obvious. She stood high, as if atop a cresting wave of crashing soldiers, caught in mid-motion, head flung back, her arm upraised.
Holding a deep black sword that darkened the red sky around it.
“The Battle of Twilight Falls,” Llarimar said quietly, standing beside him in the white hallway. “Last conflict of the Manywar.”
Lightsong nodded. He’d known that, somehow. The faces of many of the soldiers were tinged with grey. They were Lifeless. The Manywar had been the first time they had been used in large numbers on the battlefield.
That’s quite an evocative description. I’m pretty sure I didn’t recognize Nightblood the first time I read this, but it sure seems obvious now. I wonder if anyone who didn’t see the annotations picked up on the presence of Shashara. Again, it seems fairly obvious now, but my first (second, third…) time through, I’m pretty sure I didn’t.
This chapter’s annotations were chock full of goodies. The first one touches on the difficulty of writing a character with internal conflicts; it may make them a more interesting person, but if their conflict leads to indecision and inaction, they get boring real fast. Good advice, and slightly amusing given that a fair number of people were bored with Warbreaker by this point because it seemed that no one was doing anything!
The second note has to do with Lightsong and the painting, where we learn that there really is something to the religion. Lightsong does see things in the painting that a normal person can’t, though the “proof” is awfully subtle if you don’t have the annotations at hand.
A well crafted piece of art, made by a person channeling the Tones and connected to them via Breath, can speak to a Returned.
In this case, Lightsong is seeing an image, not visible to Llarimar, from the battle for which the painting is titled; it’s prophetic in that another Manywar is on the verge of breaking out, and Nightblood is active in both.
Then there are the spoiler annotations, where we learn all sorts of things we wouldn’t otherwise get to know at all: the woman Lightsong sees in the painting is Shashara (Denth’s sister, Vasher’s wife, a Returned known as Glorysinger), and this is the only time Nightblood was ever drawn in battle. The results were horrific, as you can imagine. Shashara insisted on using it in the battle, and she insisted on exposing the secret of how to make more, but Vasher was adamantly opposed to both. He ended up killing her (with Nightblood) to keep her from making more and loosing them on the world. Nightblood, we’re told, actually plays a much larger role in the larger story of this world than the almost bit-part role he has in the book. Presumably, if we ever get the sequel we’ll find out what that story and role are.
Bluefingers is, of course, in the middle of it all. We know from the annotations (Chapter 11) that he’s Denth’s real employer, and because of a vague assumption that Vasher’s goals would complement his own, he gave Vasher the information about the trapdoor. He also told Denth about Vasher’s exploration, of course, warning him not to risk exposure by attacking. Not that Denth would have cared if he had a good opportunity, but he didn’t, and with his Breath hidden, Vasher didn’t know he was following.
Finally, a note about Lightsong’s investigation. As mentioned above, he pretty much figures out what we already know, plus the bit about the second intruder. The really interesting part of the investigation is what it might indicate about who Lightsong was before he died, and his rising curiosity in that regard.
Lightsong still doesn’t quite know what to do about the war question, or how much to support Blushweaver’s machinations, but he’s starting to get involved in things that will draw him in far more deeply than he could ever have imagined. Also, I think it’s funny that Bluefingers is trying to manipulate both Denth and Vasher, while having no understanding of the depths of their animosity for one another.
In Living Color
The primary focus of this chapter is, of course, Lightsong. Up until now, we’ve seen him lazy, flirting, depressed, and reluctantly drawn in. Now, finally, we’re seeing some enthusiasm for a task he’s set for himself, and the indolence is gone. The irreverence, of course, remains. This is Lightsong.
It’s generally a forbidden subject, to ask any questions or make any mention of the former life of one of the Returned. No one is to know, or admit they know, who they were or what they did, or even how they died. Naturally, a troublemaker like Lightsong wants to know all the answers—and I’d be very surprised if most of the Returned didn’t feel the same way to some extent. Some, I’m sure, would just as soon not know, and prefer their godhood untarnished by former weaknesses. Maybe most of them feel that way, but there have to be other curious ones besides Lightsong, right?
So now I wonder: when Endowment sends people back as Returned, does she give them additional abilities to help them fulfill their purpose? Is that where Lightsong’s detective skills come from? Or were they always there in his original self, and just didn’t get used this way? This question reminds me of a certain scene on a train, with an engaged couple playing ledger-detectives, searching for three missing clips… the point being that it’s not uncommon for the same strengths to be useful in widely varying careers.
I may never know.
Vasher and Denth are only in this chapter by description and annotation, but they do make their presence known. Such a contrast in their approaches to life: Vasher often seems to dislike himself and all he’s done, but at the same time, he takes care not to abuse his gifts, in this case going so far as to risk discovery for the sake of not killing anyone. Denth, even though he has to play some weird mental games with himself to justify it, doesn’t in the least mind torturing or killing people if it will get him what he wants.
Oddly enough, this calls to mind some of the discussion from last week, with Vivenna’s religious dilemma. This isn’t the same question, quite, but it’s related. Vasher takes responsibility for his own actions as well as (perhaps too many of) the ripples caused by them, even though other people also affect those ripples. Denth has a strong tendency to avoid personal responsibility; he will do whatever he needs to do, but anything that might bother his conscience he immediately shifts to someone else’s responsibility—his employer, his victim, whoever might be handy. I wonder if he always had that abuser mentality, or if that’s something that developed after he Returned or after some of the Five Scholars shenanigans. Certainly, he blames Vasher for Shashara’s death without admitting that she was pursuing an incredibly dangerous and foolhardy science; with that “justification,” he can do almost anything to anyone as long as it helps him set up his longed-for duel with Vasher.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
That blasted squirrel just won’t go away. It makes me laugh every time I think about it. “Bite people who aren’t me.” I can’t remember what Lightsong’s people are able to learn from it, but I’ll happily wait and read it in context. I love that the squirrel just keeps going like an Energizer bunny.
In other news, I had completely forgotten most of the annotations concerning Nightblood in this chapter. I forgot that he was actually used in battle, and that seeing him in the picture was something only a Returned (or perhaps only Lightsong) could do. One thing I didn’t forget, though, is that the creation of Nightblood caused the rift between Vasher and Shashara, and he killed her to prevent her spreading the knowledge of how to Awaken steel.
In recent years, we have learned more about Nightblood, most particularly that he was created in an attempt to emulate the Shardblades of Roshar… but created the wrong way, on the wrong planet, using the wrong magic system, and the result was not good. While I don’t know this for certain, I suspect that whoever observed the Shardblades didn’t understand what they actually were—that a sapient entity whose origin is in the Cognitive Realm had taken on the physical form of a metal blade, and that a broken oath locked it in that form. Not realizing the origin, Vasher and Shashara tried to go the other way with it—taking a physical object and giving it some level of cognition. Turns out it was a bad idea.
The Manywar forms a backdrop for this chapter in several ways, mostly as mentioned in the annotations. The painting Lightsong views is titled “The Battle of Twilight Falls,” which is known as the last battle in the Manywar.
He stared at the sharp smears of paint, each figure just a couple of triangular strokes. It was beautiful. Could war be beautiful? How could he find beauty in those grey faces confronting flesh, the Lifeless killing men? This battle hadn’t even meant anything. It hadn’t decided the outcome of the war, even though the leader of the Pahn Unity—the kingdoms united against Hallandren—had been killed in the battle. Diplomacy had finally ended the Manywar, not bloodshed.
I’d say Lightsong is probably wrong in thinking that this battle didn’t mean anything. He’s seeing the Lifeless, Shashara, and Nightblood—all of which were major factors in ending the war, if only because they gave Vasher the incentive to take the final measures which ended it. (There were other effects, I’m sure!) And somehow, I’m pretty sure the death of the leader of the forces against Hallandren had more of an effect than history credits.
The talk of another war doesn’t seem to be that similar to the Manywar; it’s only supposed to be Hallandren subjugating Idris and wiping out the royal family, right? But of course, the reader—or at least the rereader!—is by now aware that there is more to it, with the initial conflict intended to drastically weaken both nations so that others can make their bids for sovereignty.
One thing that seems to have taken a back seat, but must be important since it was included… Lightsong’s dream. I can’t at all remember if he ever figures out a meaning for it, but it has to mean something, right? He dreams of a tremendous storm, raining and blowing so hard that it forced him backward and even made the ground seem to move. Llarimar seems to be interpreting this as more signs of war—or at least, Lightsong interprets Llarimar’s reaction that way. But then there’s a really odd bit—so odd that Llarimar has to confirm that Lightsong isn’t just inventing things to annoy him—when he reveals that he saw
“A red panther. It seemed to shine, reflective, like it was made of glass or something like that. It was waiting in the storm.”
Okay, I’ll admit it… I cheated and looked it up on the Coppermind, but I’m not telling. All things considered, though, Llarimar’s reaction seems way understated.
I’ve very much enjoyed the discussions, short though they’ve been, on the recent posts. I do apologize for not responding; for some reason, I couldn’t get comments to post either from my laptop or my phone. Now I seem to at least be able to post from my phone, so…we’ll see what transpires. Keep up the good work, and hopefully the developers will continue to chase down and squash the bugs so we can have a little more discussion and a little less frustration. Also, as you may have noticed, I didn’t manage a second chapter this week either. Well, I’ll just have to keep trying!
That’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 27, in which Siri continues her search for information that doesn’t get filtered through the priests. Who knows, maybe next week will be the charm for speeding up!
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. For those following the Oathbringer developments, you may have noticed that the fourth draft is now at 23%. This is the one where he’s incorporating the beta comments and slashing any overblown language; rumor has it that the word count might get down in the same general vicinity as Words of Radiance.