Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Lightsong continued his murder investigation, with increasing curiosity about his previous life. This week, Siri seeks new sources of information, while Vivenna meets with more criminals and ponders the contradictory nature of her life in Hallandren.
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. HOWEVER: Any spoilers for Oathbringer, whether from early release materials or recent Q&As, are strictly forbidden. If you absolutely must say something, mark it as a spoiler and then make the spoilerific text white just before you post it.
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, the arena
Timing: Unknown; probably a week or two after Chapter 24
Take a Deep Breath
Siri strides through the palace, frustrated with her inability to obtain any information that isn’t carefully filtered by the priests, and searching for Bluefingers. She finally catches sight of him and hurries to catch him, but as soon as he glimpses her he ducks away and evades her in the maze of the palace. Her serving women still deny that he is avoiding her, as that would be improper, but it is clear that he will be of no further help. Suddenly, she recalls another source of information that will not be controlled by Susebron’s priests.
The arena is occupied by a track and field competition, which Siri has never seen before; whether she is more fascinated by the variety of events or the men wearing only loincloths is undetermined. Eventually, she remembers why she came, and looks around for Lightsong. Spotting his colors, she—with entourage—goes to talk with him. She approaches him with her usual candor, and he responds with his usual flippancy, while his high priest looks disapproving. The irrepressible snark rises in Siri, causing Lightsong to become a little more genuine in his humor, and he agrees to answer her questions if she will answer hers.
Her primary question is about the fate of the previous God Kings; Lightsong calmly states that they died, and Llarimar expands on the answer by explaining further. After some discussion of the subject, interspersed with snark, Siri discovers that each of the God Kings died shortly after the birth of his heir. Llarimar recommends that if she’d like more detailed historical information, she should order in a professional storyteller from the city; considering that his priest had been much more helpful than Susebron’s, she asks if Lightsong would please do that for her.
Lightsong takes his turn at asking questions, which are all about city guards, policemen, and detectives in Idris, and particularly their crime-solving methods. Once his curiosity is satisfied, he directs both his servants and hers to stay behind while he walks with Siri a short distance down the walkway. He advises her that Hallandren politics is a dangerous game to play, and he recommends that she work on her persona, making sure that people see her the right way to suit her purposes, and above all to appear average. With a warning not to depend on him, he saunters away.
The Chapter 27 annotations provide a little backstory of Lightsong’s career as a god. His advice to Siri is based on his own experience, including his attempt to be a better person as a result of his relationship with Calmseer. When that didn’t work—instead of being able to change anything, he was merely mocked for being hypocritical—he returned to his earlier persona, but with more sarcasm. By the beginning of Warbreaker, he had given up on changing anything, but recent events have had their effect.
I do have to quote a humorous bit, though, in case you didn’t read it for yourself:
I considered having the men performing the athletics competitions in the court be naked. After all, there’s been so much female nudity in the book so far that it would only be fair to balance it out…
I decided it would just be gratuitous. Just because the Greeks competed nude doesn’t mean that it would naturally happen everywhere else. Still, thinking of how much it would embarrass Siri almost made me put it in. ;)
Point of View: Vivenna
Setting: A restaurant, and the D’Denir garden
Timing: Unknown; probably a week or so after Chapter 25
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna is meeting with another Idrian today, Thame, planning for greater involvement with the Idrian workers in the city. She’s surprised by how many Idrians are in T’Telir, and dismayed by the duality of the men (like her current contact) who are “loyal” to Idris and yet take advantage of the lowly position of their countrymen. Once her contact leaves, Denth joins her to “complement” her on how well she and Parlin are fitting in with the T’Telir scene these days.
She’s not exactly flattered, but Denth’s musing opens the way for her own concern with the complexity of her situation, the way she feels she’s compromising her beliefs for the sake of her people, and the similarity to others (like Lemex and Thame) who take advantage of those they seem to work for. Denth, in turn, muses on the way everyone believes they’re doing the right thing, or at least the wrong thing for the right reasons. With nothing resolved, they leave the restaurant, accompanied by Tonk Fah, who seems to have lost his monkey.
They reach their next meeting place, the D’Denir garden, where hundreds of the oversized statues are decorated with colorful cloths and garments. This meeting is with a group of forgers, who appear to be having a picnic. Vivenna and Denth sit down nearby, and conduct a covert conversation with a man near the edge of the group. The instructions are to create a set of letters appearing to prove that certain priests are corrupt and have been extorting Idris for years, demonstrating that Idris clearly does not want war and that the priests are lying. She provides a sample of Dedelin’s handwriting with his seal and signature, along with written instructions, which a servant take from her under the pretext of retrieving a napkin blown away by the wind. The forgers leave, and Vivenna takes advantage of a break in the schedule to relax in the serenity of the garden.
Irritated by the sight of Parlin, who is dressed in bright colors and seems to be flirting with Jewels, she has to acknowledge that he does blend into the city quite well, but goes for a walk to avoid watching him any longer. She considers the statues around her, and the contradictions inherent in this city, this situation, and herself. Acknowledging the wonder and beauty of BioChromatic Breath, she still determines that for herself, Awakening would be crossing the line. She will retain her beliefs and the actions needed to be consistent with those beliefs, even if it means she has to give away all her Breath and become Drab to avoid using it for herself.
The annotations for Chapter 28 concern the changes in Vivenna’s character, leading to the conversations with Denth about how everyone sees himself as the hero of his own story—and how that ties into the larger theme and the very early scenes imagined for this book. In the spoilery section, Sanderson reveals that the meeting with the forgers was Vivenna’s idea, and Denth didn’t like it at all; when she eventually vanishes, he immediately cancels the project, which is why this plot point seems to disappear. Finally, it’s clarified that Vivenna really isn’t in love with Parlin, no matter what he and their fathers might have hoped—but he is her last personal tie to home, and she feels somewhat possessive of him. Of course, Jewels has other interests and isn’t in love with Parlin either. One quote:
She was going to marry the God King. No room for childish things like love for her. (That will bite her eventually, of course. In a later book, I’m afraid.)
So when we finally get the sequel, currently identified as Nightblood, it will include Vivenna… doing something? The obvious speculation is that she’ll fall in love with Vasher, but not vice versa. That’s certainly one possibility, though the more I think of it, the more possibilities I see.
It was a connection. The world around her felt close. Even inanimate things like her clothing or fallen twigs felt near to her. They were dead, yet seemed to yearn for life again.
She could give it to them. They remembered life and she could Awaken those memories. But what good would it do to save her people if she lost herself?
Denth doesn’t seem lost, she thought. He and the other mercenaries can separate what they believe from what they are forced to do.
In her opinion, that was why people regarded mercenaries as they did. If you divorced belief from action, then you were on dangerous ground.
This is a profound insight for all of us, I think. If my actions as a whole don’t line up with what I claim to believe, accusations of hypocrisy are the least of my concerns: it means I don’t actually believe what I claim. (Note that this is not the same as whether my actions line up with what other people think I claim to believe, however! Nor does it mean that every single action must line up, because we all fail to live up to our own requirements sometimes.) One place this becomes particularly dangerous in our culture, IMO, is our “internet anonymity.” We think we can be like Vivenna’s perception of the mercenaries, separating our online selves from our “real” or in-person selves… but that’s only in the presentation. If you’re a jerk online, it’s because somewhere under the façade you present to family, friends, or coworkers, you actually are a jerk. And the more you think it’s okay to be a jerk online, the more your real self will live up down to that acceptance.
By the way, I think Vivenna is wrong about the mercenaries, too. Not one of them is doing anything they really think is wrong. Jewels believes in the Iridescent Tones, but that doesn’t mean she has to care whether Hallandren goes to war with Idris. Tonk Fah is a sociopath, so he does whatever he feels like doing within the limitations Denth enforces on him. Denth… well, as we know, Denth doesn’t believe in much of anything except getting more Breath and getting revenge on Vasher.
Snow White and Rose Red
Lightsong’s insight into Siri’s personality and situation are good, but incomplete. She is both innocent and ignorant of the political situation in which she finds herself, but her innate stubbornness and quick wit—and her adaptability—are starting to become strengths. She almost instinctively uses them to solve problems within the framework she’s given, rather than her former careless disruptiveness. By way of comparison with her sister, Siri still holds to her roots in Austrism, but far less to the outward manifestations than Vivenna.
While some of the difference is simply personality, I suspect that some of it is also Siri’s developing relationship with Susebron. She has someone—a specific individual—besides herself to concern her, and the mysteries surrounding his upbringing, his current situation, and his precarious future give her a sharp focus that Vivenna is lacking. At the same time, Vivenna is concerned with her people as a whole—which naturally keeps cultural and religious distinctives in the forefront of her thinking.
Another huge difference, of course, is that Siri is (for the moment) in a position of relative security but little influence. While she might not be able to get straight answers from those who normally surround her, no one will stop her from having conversations with other gods/goddesses in the Court, and within the court she can go where she pleases in absolute safety. For the moment. Vivenna, on the other hand, is in a position of almost no security, depending on a crew of mercenaries for protection if she so much as ventures out of the house, but at the same time she is ostensibly the one in charge of the entire operation.
Yet another difference: As far as Siri knows, she will likely never see another Idrian as long as she lives—and there are some indications that won’t be very long, if she can’t figure out what’s going on. Vivenna sees Idrians every day, and the Idrians she sees are quite the mixed bag. Most of them are in some stage of adapting to Hallandren ways, through clothing or behavior or (for the wealthier ones like Lemex) through the purchase of Breath to increase their level of influence. At the same time, the vast majority of the Idrians she sees are extremely poor. Often, they have come to T’Telir because when the crops fail, it’s closer and easier to reach than Bevalis; equally often, they had no certainty of receiving aid if they went to Dedelin for relief, while Hallandren always has plenty of labor needs. Her people, here in Hallandren, are not only an oppressed minority; for Vivenna, they have now become a stark example of the inefficiency of the Idrian government. In one sense, every poor, starving Idrian child she sees in T’Telir is a rebuke of her father’s kingship.
For all that they grew up in the same house, and are now living in the same foreign city, Siri and Vivenna have reason to be taking very different paths in their character growth.
In Living Color
These Returned are quite the insightful bunch this week. Lightsong, despite his façade, reveals his political acuity in his advice to Siri. Like this bit:
You don’t want to appear too nonthreatening— people are always suspicious of the innocent. The trick is to appear average. Just as crafty as everyone else. That way, everyone else will assume that they can beat you with just a little advantage.
In one sense, he’s back to playing the vacuous, pampered godling—and it’s absolutely hilarious when Siri realizes that Llarimar’s disapproving frowns are aimed at Lightsong, when he looks at her apologetically. (This serves its own good purpose, in helping her realize that not all the priests are conniving against her.) At the same time, he’s continuing to shift away from his public persona; he’s still trying to figure out his own past, and he’s making an effort to help Siri survive the political maelstrom she’s trying to navigate.
Denth… well, Denth has some good insights, but I still want to punch him. The concept that “every man is a hero in his own story” is, generally speaking, true—as is the concept that most people think that they do what they have to for the “right” reasons, whether or not they recognize that what they’re doing is wrong. He himself believes that killing Vasher is the right thing to do (or at least justifiable) to get vengeance for his sister—never mind the damage that she was willing to unleash on the world, even beyond what she and Vasher had already done.
In any case, his words provide something of an anchor to the concerns Vivenna has been wrestling with, so I’ll give him that much, for now.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
The D’Denir garden is home to a vast number of the statues (which we later learn are really Kalad’s Phantoms, the Awakened warriors made from bone encased in stone) to be found around the city; this chapter leaves me with a number of questions about them. Vivenna notes that these are the oldest of the statues, and that “this group was the final gift from Peacegiver the Blessed.” So… are these the only “real” Phantoms, and those in the rest of the city are just statues? Or did Kalad/Peacegiver/Vasher continue to create them for a while? I’m confused.
Also: Vivenna thinks that “there were too many in this garden for all to be decorated.” In a city this size, that seems unlikely, but it does serve as a hint that there really are a lot of them. Not that we know how important they will be, or even what they are, at this point in the story! In retrospect, the descriptions of them in this chapter ought to make the wary reader sit up and take notice, as Vivenna points out how beautiful and dignified they appear, and how unlike the other kinds of art normally seen in T’Telir.
But that brings up my final question: How were they made?
They stood, as if on guard, somehow more solid than much of the city. Most stared up into the sky or looked straight ahead. Each one was different, each pose distinct, each face unique. It must have taken decades to create all of these, she thought.
When Vasher finally reveals their truth at the end of the book, he doesn’t talk about how they were made—just that there are Awakened bones inside the stone. But here they seem to have personality: different poses, different attitudes, unique faces. Is the face the same as that of the original owner of the bones? I hate to say it, but they almost sound like they were Soulcast. Given when they were made, now I’m deeply curious as to the possibility that along with Shardblades, Vasher also observed the funeral of a highborn Alethi and saw a body Soulcast to stone. I don’t know that it’s very convincing evidence, but it makes me wonder how he went about encasing skeletons in stone, and why each one has such distinct features.
One final observation: Tonk Fah has lost his monkey. Ugh. Just ugh! Denth’s comment really creeped me out:
Of all the happy miracles in the universe, one of the greatest is that Tonks has never fathered a child. He’d probably lose it before the week was out.
That’s a deeply disturbing thought. Fortunately, he doesn’t seem the type to inspire love and loyalty in a woman, so even if he did accidentally father a child, he’d probably never find out about it. One can hope.
That’s it for the blog, and we managed two chapters with a slight rearrangement of the recurring units. Now: it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover Chapter 29, in which Siri and Susebron learn more about the world, Vivenna sees and feels some very disturbing things, and Vasher… watches. It’s a dense chapter, but if possible we’ll also do Chapter 30, in which Lightsong expands his quest for hints about his past, and Blushweaver expands her quest for power.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. She is, unfortunately, not going to be at JordanCon this weekend. However, for those who are, be sure to connect with the Storm Cellar; I believe this group is joining Leigh’s Loonies (the WoT rereaders on Tor) for dinner on Friday. And if you can make it to the Opening Ceremonies, the Storm Cellar (ably represented by our own Braid_Tug and AhoyMatey) will be presenting this year’s gift to Harriet McDougal in appreciation for her selection of Brandon Sanderson to complete the Wheel of Time. Without her editor’s eye for a good storyteller to finish the task, many of us would still not know about the Cosmere.