Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Siri continued her search for information, and Vivenna continued to meet with criminals. This week, Siri gets a new definition of beauty while Vivenna, Vasher, and Lightsong ponder their options.
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, Vivenna, Vasher
Setting: The God King’s Palace, the D’Denir garden, a street nearby
Timing: The morning after Chapter 28
Take a Deep Breath
Siri and Susebron converse quietly in the bedroom after the night’s performance. He is interested in her background and her homeland because he is interested in her, but the conversation accidentally shifts to discussion of religions. This is disturbing for him, partly because he’s never realized that worship of the Returned is exclusive to Hallandren, and partly because it seems so strange for a god to have a wife who doesn’t believe in him. He brings the conversation back to her, though it again wanders—this time into beauty and BioChroma. Even though, or perhaps because, they are discussing uncomfortable topics, they continue to grow closer and are rapidly coming to love one another.
Vivenna stands with a crowd of onlookers gaping at four bodies in the D’Denir Garden. While she first focuses on the details of life and death with her enhanced vision, Denth points out the bizarre look of the wounds—a telltale sign that these men were killed by Nightblood. Denth stews about a way to deal with it; Tonk Fah suggests stealing it, but Denth refuses to consider touching it. He wants Vasher to draw it, to be forced to use it until it either kills him or weakens him so that Denth can take him down, refusing to accept that Vasher could have beaten Arsteel fairly. Vivenna is unsettled by the morning’s events, and realizes that she is being watched by someone with a lot of Breath.
Vasher looks down at the departing group from the top of a nearby building. Nightblood cheerfully suggests going down to talk to Denth, and asks where Shashara is; as usual, he either can’t or won’t remember that Shashara and Arsteel are dead, and that Denth is now Vasher’s mortal enemy. Vasher, however, is merely frustrated with Vivenna’s activities and the related disruption of plans; he knows he’ll have to deal with this bunch, but decides to wait for now.
But you don’t believe in worshiping the Returned?
Siri shrugged. “I haven’t decided yet. My people teach strongly against it. They’re not fond of the way that the Hallandren understand religion.”
He sat quietly for a long moment.
So… you do not like those such as me?
“What? Of course I like you! You’re sweet!”
He frowned, writing. I don’t think God Kings are supposed to be “sweet.”
“Fine, then,” she said, rolling her eyes. “You’re terrible and mighty. Awesome and deific. And sweet.”
Much better, he wrote, smiling. I should very much like to meet this Austre.
Okay, to be honest, I don’t really have anything in particular to say about this. I just love it, so I quoted it for you. There you have it.
The annotations, as they so often do, address the most interesting points of discussion. One is the way in which the Siri-Susebron romance provides a light counterpoint to the danger and tension of Vivenna’s plot, and the soul-searching and intrigue of Lightsong’s. Speaking of Susebron, yes, he did get better at spelling too fast. Did you really want to read more chapters of misspellings? A lesser issue is that the location of the bodies (the D’Denir gardens) is purely coincidental—in-world, of course. It’s handy for the author and the characters, but Vasher didn’t use the location just because Vivenna had been there the day before. It would be a non-scene, but the conflict between Denth and Vasher needs to be A Thing for the reader. Finally, there’s a quick summary of the Pahn Kahl religion, and the clarification that the religion itself isn’t driving the actions of the Pahn Kahl people; it’s the way they’re taken for granted and all but ignored as a people that is the problem.
Point of View: Lightsong
Setting: Lightsong’s Palace, Hopefinder’s Palace
Timing: Unknown; probably soon after Chapter 27
Take a Deep Breath
Blushweaver watches in astonishment as Lightsong makes a horrible mess with clay and a pottery wheel; he concludes that pottery is definitely not one of the skills carried over from his previous life. Juggling fruit, however, is… as is mathematics, sketching, and a surprising knowledge of sailing terminology. He’s been experimenting, and along with pottery has shown no affinity for dyeing, horses, gardening, sculpting, or foreign languages. As they walk away together, Blushweaver is bemused by his fascination with his former life; she insists that she wouldn’t want to know, because she was obviously boring before.
Together they arrive at the palace of Hopefinder the Just, god of innocence and beauty. He is a bit of a paradox—the youngest of the gods by apparent physical age, but fifth oldest in order of Return. He and Blushweaver take opposing views of the current political situation; where Blushweaver is confident of the approach of war, Hopefinder is convinced that affairs are growing more stable. As they debate the matter, Lightsong mostly listens, and discovers that there’s a lot going on in the city of which he was completely unaware: rumors of the presence of a second Idrian princess in the city, for example. Listening for other points of interest, he muses on the oddities of a god who Returned as a very young child, combining as he does many mature traits with others that are distinctly child-like.
As this rambles off into musings on cultural ideals as reflected in the gods, he is abruptly brought back to the conversation by Hopefinder rebuking Blushweaver’s attempts to seduce him. This brings it to a point: he knows that her real purpose in visiting him is to try to obtain his Lifeless Commands. He proposes a bargain: his command phrase in return for her votes, to be directed as he wishes. To everyone’s surprise, she accepts the deal. Lightsong is disturbed by this evidence of Blushweaver’s conviction that war really was coming, and equally disturbed by Hopefinder’s willingness to give up what should have been a sacred obligation. As Hopefinder prepares to release his Commands, Lightsong sees a vision—a shining room made of steel; a prison.
As Hopefinder leaves, Blushweaver is pleased to now hold the Commands for two of the four Lifeless contingents: Mercystar gave hers to Blushweaver the previous day, encouraged by Lightsong’s interest in solving the mysterious death of her servant. She assumes this was his ultimate purpose, but he denies it; his primary interest is in the mystery of his former identity.
“Eleven years. Eleven years of peace. Eleven years to grow to sincerely loathe this system of government we have. We all attend the assembly court of judgment. We listen to the arguments. But most of us don’t matter. In any given vote, only those with sway in that field have any real say over anything. During war times, those of us with Lifeless Commands are important. The rest of the time, our opinion rarely matters.
“You want my Lifeless? Be welcome to them! I have had no opportunity to use them in eleven years, and I venture that another eleven will pass without incident. I will give you those Commands, Blushweaver—but only in exchange for your vote. You sit on the council of social ills. You have an important vote practically every week. In exchange for my security phrases, you must promise to vote in social matters as I say, from now until one of us dies.”
The pavilion fell silent.
“Ah, so now you reconsider,” Hopefinder said, smiling. “I’ve heard you complain about your duties in court—that you find your votes trivial. Well, it’s not so easy to let go of them, is it? Your vote is all the influence you have. It isn’t flashy, but it is potent. It—”
“Done,” Blushweaver said sharply.
In a way, it does seem like a bizarre form of government, where assignment of responsibility has nothing to do with either the interests or aptitudes of the individual. It’s easy to see the god of bravery holding a quarter of the army, but why the goddess of matrons and families? The god of innocence and beauty? The goddess of kindness?
For that matter, who decides what the political assignments are? Who names the Returned? Who decides what attribute(s) they represent?
The annotations reveal that Lightsong (who isn’t the first, but is the first of his generation, to investigate his own past) was actually the son of a potter. They also clarify some of Lightsong’s musings about the nature of the Returned and the aging process they undergo if they return while very young children. Finally, they address the underlying depth of personality of both Blushweaver and Lightsong, both of which are becoming more apparent in the text itself by this point.
Snow White and Rose Red
This week, Siri and Vivenna occupy the same chapter, but with vastly different situations. Siri, while she really is trying to find out if/why/from whom her life is in danger, and likewise Susebron’s, at the same time is in a comfortable life where she is learning to fit. She’s also totally falling in love with her husband, and thoroughly enjoying her time with him. While there is a certain tension emanating from Bluefingers’s warnings and from the attitude of the priests, it’s overwhelmed by the increasing intimacy and the delight she feels in his company.
Vivenna, despite her relatively wealthy status, has no such joy to balance her many discomforts. She’s out of her depth politically and socially, she is deeply uncomfortable with all the color and ostentation (not to mention Awakening), she’s even more deeply uncomfortable with the large stock of Breath she holds, she’s unsure about the validity of their more criminal activities even in ostensible service to her homeland, and she has no one she can confidently rely on. She’s got Parlin, who she likes and trusts but doesn’t really respect. She’s got the mercenaries, who she sort of likes (well, some of them) but doesn’t understand at all and doesn’t entirely trust. And she’s got Vasher watching her with unknown motives.
So far, we’ve seen Siri go through stages of carelessness, rebellion, fear, fascination, cautious acceptance, familiarity, determination, and growing confidence. Vivenna started out calm and confident, but every time we see her she’s got more doubts and less confidence… and the slide has only begun.
A few chapters ago, we saw the difficulty Vivenna had with understanding the Hallandren religion. This chapter brings up the same subject, but this time it’s a difficulty between Susebron and Siri:
Siri flushed, hair blushing as well. “I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t talk about other gods in front of you.”
Other gods? he wrote. Like those in the court?
“No,” Siri said. “Austre is the Idrian god.”
I understand, Susebron wrote. Is he very handsome?
Siri laughed. “No, you don’t understand. He’s not a Returned, like you or Lightsong. He’s… well, I don’t know. Didn’t the priests mention other religions to you?”
Other religions? he wrote.
“Sure,” she said. “I mean, not everybody worships the Returned. The Idrians like me worship Austre, and the Pahn Kahl people—like Bluefingers… well, I don’t actually know what they worship, but it’s not you.”
That is very strange to consider, he wrote. If your gods are not Returned, then what are they?
There’s a lot more, but I can’t quote the entire section. Susebron is understandably disturbed by the realization that his wife, who he is coming to care about very much, doesn’t actually believe that he’s a god at all. Worried that it makes him sound petulant, he is nonetheless honest with her about his concern. It’s a touching little scene, as they struggle to understand each other’s point of view. So many things that Susebron has always taken for granted, Siri simply doesn’t believe—but it’s her lack of belief that helps her work out the mechanics of his actual abilities. It’ll be a lot more chapters until he fully believes her and acts on this understanding, but as with many “minor details” it will be critical to the plot solution.
In Living Color
Siri’s breakthrough understanding about the difference between Susebron’s Divine Breath and the thousands of additional Breaths was probably a lot more stunning the first time through… This time, we’ve been talking about it enough already that it feels like she’s just finally catching up. She’s right, in any case: he can indeed make use of all those additional Breaths to Awaken, but they still don’t know how to do it without the ability to speak. She’s wrong on some other things, naturally, but still pretty close. Also, his reserves are growing faster than she’d been told, since sometimes he gets three or four Breaths each week while only consuming one.
Denth & Vasher, while not actually doing anything, are busy lurking around in the background being ominous. Also, they really don’t like each other.
Probably the biggest revelations about the Returned in these chapters, though it’s more world-building than plot-building, is the musing on Hopefinder’s development. Returned as a two-year-old, he now has the body of an extremely impressive thirteen-year-old, with the maturity of a much older person. As is the way with all Returned who are very young at the time, during his first year his mental and communicative abilities matured very rapidly, so that in many ways he was an adult in a three-year-old’s body. Assuming he doesn’t give up his life first, he’ll continue to mature until he reaches prime adulthood, and then stop aging. Nice gig if you can get it.
You have to wonder, though, what makes Endowment give the occasional two-year-old (or baby) the opportunity to Return, and what makes them accept it…
This segues pretty handily into Lightsong’s musings (more world-building) about the way the appearance of each Returned reflects their own ideals. A lot of it is cultural—what are the current societal standards of beauty? Some of it is simply individual self-image—Lightsong is an example of this, where his physique reflects his own mental image of what the god of bravery ought to look like. It’s a clue, which we’ll see borne out at the very end of the book, that once they understand how it works, Returned can actually change their appearance at will.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
Nightblood is, as always, a bizarre combination of hilarious and creepy. How much does he understand and refuse to acknowledge, and how much is just the limitation of a hunk of steel given sapience? He never remembers for more than a few minutes that things are no longer the way they were when he was created. He remembers the people he collects along the way, from Shashara and Vasher at the beginning, to Denth (Varatreledees) and the other scholars, to Vivenna in the present. He just doesn’t seem to comprehend the passage of time or the permanence of death.
I saved my favorite piece for last, with sort of a half excuse that it didn’t fit very well in any of the other units. This is Susebron’s perspective on beauty, which is both natural to his condition and a lovely insight on true beauty.
I suspect that the mountains are beautiful, as you have said. However, I believe the most beautiful thing in them has already come down to me.
On the surface, that’s quite a pick-up line. (Can you use a pick-up line on your own wife? I guess…) On a slightly deeper level, it’s an exquisitely beautiful thing to say to your bride. And on a purely practical level, it’s completely amazing.
I have thousands of Breaths, he wrote. It is hard to see as other people do—only through the stories of my mother can I understand their ways. All colors are beauty in my eyes. When others look at something—a person—one may sometimes seem more beautiful than another.
This is not so for me. I see only the color. The rich, wondrous colors that make up all things and gives them life. I cannot focus only on the face, as so many do. I see the sparkle of the eyes, the blush of the cheeks, the tones of skin—even each blemish is a distinct pattern. All people are wonderful.
He erased. And so, when I speak of beauty, I must speak of things other than these colors. And you are different. I do not know how to describe it.
I can’t quite articulate what I love about this. Something to do with the factual nature of what it’s like to have the Tenth Heightening, coupled with a personality that seeks to understand the nature of another person. Something to do with the kind of sight that no longer sees physical beauty as exceptional, because to him all people are equally beautiful. Something about how it would be nice if we could all do this, but for reals like Susebron—it’s not that he has somehow overcome the distraction of physical appearance, which is the best we can hope for; it’s that he really does, unavoidably, see beauty in the appearance of every person and every object around him.
Welp. That’s clearly going to just go in circles, so I’ll quit. But I hope you see it too; I think it’s a pretty cool aspect of the magic that Sanderson chose to bring out.
And that’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover chapters 31 and 32, in which Vivenna gets two very difficult lessons, and Siri gets a much more pleasant—if confusing—one from a white-haired storyteller.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. If you Facebook, you can join her in the Tor-Sanderson-rereader-specific group known as the Storm Cellar; since it’s a closed group, you have to ask to join. Identify yourself as a Tor friend, and one of the moderators will add you. Also, the Oathbringer progress bar is currently at 44%. Just sayin’…