Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Siri and Lightsong pursued self-awareness, while Vivenna and Vasher had internal debates about how to proceed. This week, Vivenna has no plan and almost gets killed, and Siri has plans which move forward, although not in entirely welcome ways.
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: Vivenna
Setting: The Idrian slum in T’Telir
Timing: Undetermined; probably just a few days later
Take a Deep Breath
Over Denth’s objections, Vivenna and the mercenaries enter a slum area in T’Telir, where they are to meet with some Idrian “leaders” – a.k.a. slumlords. Vivenna feels awful that her people have to live in such a wretched and frightening area, surrounded by prostitutes and gangs… until Denth smacks her with the unpalatable truth that the Idrians are the prostitutes and gangs. He explains the economics of the situation, which she at first refuses to believe; unfortunately, she soon enough sees all the evidence needed to prove his point. Her anger against Hallandren is stoked again by seeing Idrian farmers and shepherds turned to thieves and thugs, their women turned to prostitutes, the children to street urchins; it reminds her too much of how Hallandren has dominated her entire life with the preparation to become the God Kings wife.
Arriving at the “park” where she is to meet the leaders, she stops to speak with the common people gathered there: a mix of street toughs, prostitutes, and worn-down older folks. She tries to tell them that their king still cares for them, and that she will find a way for them to return home, but they aren’t really interested. Despite the wretchedness of the slum, many have no desire to leave; they earn more here than they did at home, and really are Idrian in only superficial ways. “Hope” and “comfort” are simply not things she can give them.
Giving up on her speech, she goes on to her meeting with the three slumlords. Unfortunately, despite her insistence on this meeting, she has no set goals in mind beyond “make certain the war goes as well for Idris as possible” and “I want our people to survive.” She has no firm idea what her specific goals should be, and is caught with no answers to their various (self-serving) ideas and intentions. Dimly realizing that she has nothing to offer either these men or the people outside, and deeply disturbed by their adaptation to Hallandren ways, she prepares to leave – and then the screams begin. The city watch has arrived with a contingent of Lifeless soldiers, and the slumlords’ guards attempt to resist; the whole things turns to a bloody mess. Vivenna flees with Tonk Fah, and everything goes pear-shaped; she can’t run without tripping on her skirt; there seem to be Lifeless everywhere, and they don’t seem interested in accepting surrender.
Separated from Tonk Fah, her skirt torn off to keep it from tripping her again, caught in an alley with two Lifeless approaching from one side and one from the other, Vivenna desperately tries to Awaken a piece of rope to entangle their legs. As the lone Lifeless reaches her, she cowers to the ground… and it leaps over her to defend her against the other two. Finally, she recognizes Clod, who has somehow come to her rescue, first against these two, and then others who join them. She is stunned by their skill – she’d assumed they would simply use brute force, but Clod especially seems to be an expert swordsman, his movement matching the brief display Denth had made in that restaurant so long ago. The alleyway finally falls still; Tonk Fah and Denth find Vivenna with four fallen Lifeless and a badly injured Clod. Jewels will not be pleased.
“I don’t understand, Denth. We are a peaceful people. A people of mountain villages. We are open. Friendly.”
“That kind doesn’t last long in a slum,” he said, walking beside her. “They change or they get beaten down.”
Vivenna shivered, feeling a stab of anger at Hallandren. I could have forgiven the Hallandren for making my people poor. But this? They’ve made thugs and thieves out of caring shepherds and farmers. They’ve turned our women into prostitutes and our children to urchins.
She knew she shouldn’t let herself get angry. And yet, she had to grit her teeth and work very, very hard to keep her hair from bleeding to a smoldering red. The images awoke something within her. Something she had consistently avoided thinking about.
Hallandren has ruined these people. Just as it ruined me by dominating my childhood, by forcing me to honor the obligation to be taken and raped in the name of protecting my country.
I hate this city.
She’s not entirely wrong… but she’s not entirely right. Either way, her perception and her anger are understandable. To be fair, it needs to go farther; her father shares some of the blame. But to be even more fair, it needs to come closer. These people, for the most part, made their own choices – some of them are suffering the consequences of earlier bad decisions, and some are simply living in the choices they made. It’s never simple, is it?
The first of this chapter’s annotations addresses Vivenna’s delusions about the Idrian slumlords in particular, and the local Idrians in general – the latter particularly in light of real world situations. There’s also a quick highlight of something the Idrians in T’Telir have got wrong: in the attempt to follow the old ways of avoiding color to thwart Awakeners, they continue to wear dull clothing… but for some reason, they’ve shifted to wearing dark tones instead of light. It would make sense in that light tones are harder to keep clean… but it gives Awakeners a whole lot more to work with. Oops.
The second is about Vivenna and the slumlords, including rationale for giving enough information about each to differentiate them but not enough to really focus on them as characters. The bigger point is that Vivenna demonstrates how unprepared she is for this gig; she is drifting on Denth’s guidance, her identity and whatever comes along, with no concrete goal that she wants to accomplish.
The final section regards the background of the raid itself – a combination of general unrest, the sneak raid on Mercystar’s palace, the ambitions of the watch captain, and rumors about the slumlords meeting, all complicated by the captain’s sending in Lifeless authorized for deadly force without giving sufficiently specific Commands, and Bluefingers meddling to Command some of the Lifeless to attack and kill with minimal aggravation, and everyone overreacting to everyone else. So a lot of people got hurt and killed for no valid reason.
Point of View: Siri
Setting: The God King’s Palace, the Arena
Timing: Undetermined; a few days later, or perhaps the next morning
Take a Deep Breath
Siri awakes, alone as usual, and revels for a few minutes in the new life she’s found. Before long, reality takes over and she determines that despite her failures of the past – like ignoring all her lessons – she needs to make up for it now. Once done with her morning routine, she pulls aside one of the brown-clad serving girl and gives her a message for Bluefingers – that Siri has information to trade.
In the arena, Lightsong greets her happily; after the expected wordplay, he actually gets serious for a few moments and explains a little of what happens when someone Returns. Quickly moving on, he reveals that he has a surprise for her: a white-bearded storyteller named Hoid. She asks him to tell her of the days before the division of Idris and Hallandren, and the origins of the Hallandren God Kings. He proceeds with an unusual method involving handfuls of various colored sand and other small objects, telling of how this part of the world was discovered by the other nations, the first Returned, the economic issues that set up the Manywar, new developments in making Lifeless, the Five Scholars choosing different sides, Kalad’s new and terrible Phantoms which ended the war, and a few of the many different interpretations of both conflict and resolution.
The storytelling then turns to the God Kings, with an initial comment – surprising to Siri – that the Idrian royal family is descended from the first Returned; this fact is, apparently, known in Hallandren but not in Idris these days. Hoid tells of the foundation of Hallandren, when Peacegiver stopped the war and granted Breath to his successor, though the details are presumably lost. In any event, the God King ruled for a time, but when his heir was born, he soon died, as has also happened to every God King since then; Susebron is the fifth.
Having gained some answers but having also developed new questions, Siri thanks Hoid for his storytelling and leaves Lightsong’s pavilion.
“All men die,” Lightsong said. “Some, however, die in ways that exemplify a particular attribute or emotion. They show a spark of something greater than the rest of mankind. That is what is said to bring us back.”
He fell silent.
“You died showing great bravery, then?” Siri asked.
“Apparently,” he said. “I don’t know for sure. Something in my dreams suggests that I may have insulted a very large panther. That sounds rather brave, don’t you think?”
Okay, so I think that answers my question from previous weeks, about the origins of the thematic elements associated with each god or goddess. Loosely, anyway.
Annotations for chapter 32 touch on formulaic requirements for character development and clever ways to make infodumps not feel like it. More specifically, Siri needs to reach this point and decide to take charge, though it risks emulating an annoying formula approach. Hoid’s weird storytelling tricks disguise the history lesson as entertainment; though naturally some of what he says is guesswork, most of it is pretty close, and the bigger things are correct. Also, sometimes there are good reasons for not including maps in your books.
Snow White and Rose Red
Another stark contrast between our princesses this week! Vivenna has realized by now that her education was lacking in some regards, and Siri is regretting that she simply ignored her education altogether. The results, though, are dramatically different.
Vivenna is drifting. She’s mostly going along with Denth’s plans, and occasionally trying to steer toward something she vaguely thinks ought to be a good idea. In this episode, she does learn a lot about Idrians in T’Telir, but it’s not because she sought the knowledge; she just stumbled on it. Granted that she’s almost totally dependent on Denth, Tonk Fah, and Jewels, it seems to me that she could ask more questions of everyday people – shopkeepers and such – or at the very least ask Parlin to seek out information. She could be learning more about Idrians in T’Telir, Hallandren beliefs, rumors of impending war… all sorts of things, if she’d ask more relevant questions.
Now, I’ll admit that it’s hard to fill holes in your education when you don’t know what the holes are. She usually only discovers a question when she learns the answer – though even so, she’s not pursuing the knowledge much further than the initial event that makes her recognize the gap. Far worse, though, is that she’s got no real strategy. She came to Hallandren because she didn’t want to waste her lifetime worth of preparation (or whatever other reasons), but she doesn’t have a very clear idea of her actual purpose here. All she has is some arm-wavy “make things better for my people” and “reduce Hallandren’s ability to make war on Idris.” It’s not really her fault, in a way; she wasn’t trained for this at all. But when the slumlords confront her with questions about taking over the city or creating a strong military presence, it’s clear she hasn’t even thought about that sort of thing. All she really wants is for Hallandren to leave Idris alone and everyone just be nice, but international politics rarely work that way.
Siri, on the other hand, is acutely aware that she knows almost nothing. She has a reasonably firm grip on the practices of Austrism, though far less understanding of the foundation behind the practices. Beyond that, though, she knows very little of the Hallandren religion, their view of history, or even their actual recent history. She should know some of it, but she didn’t pay attention – and the good thing is that she knows she doesn’t know. So now, even though Susebron’s priests are less than helpful, she is determined to learn. And she has a very distinct purpose in mind: find out why Susebron’s life is in danger, and from whom; pull that information out into broad daylight, and deal with it so that whoever seeks to harm him is destroyed.
Having said all that, though, it’s not entirely fair to Vivenna. Siri is only really concerned about two people right now: herself and Susebron. If they can uncover some of these mysteries, they could be in a position to actually stop Hallandren from attacking Idris, and that would be great, but first they just have to figure out the source and nature of the threat. Vivenna doesn’t (as far as she knows) have the same level of personal danger, but the forces she must outmaneuver in order to do her chosen task are much, much larger and … well, murkier. There are more factions than she even knows about, and the faction she’s part of isn’t the one she thinks it is. Without knowing it, she’s working against her own goals; she’s helping to stir up attitudes that will support the war while attempting to undermine the ability to make war. And of course, Siri is a lot luckier in her companions than Vivenna is at this point. Siri has a husband who loves her, and allies in Lightsong and Llarimar who actually wish her well. Vivenna has Parlin, who is mostly loyal but as inexperienced as she is, and “allies” in Denth & co. who are ruthlessly using and manipulating her to their own ends.
I still think Vivenna needs a clearer purpose, but she’s on very slippery ground compared to Siri’s position. So I’ll give her a break. (Sanderson won’t!) This chapter isn’t the lowest she’ll sink, but it’s pretty low: sprawled in a muddy alley in her shirt and underbreeches, clutching her torn-off skirt in one hand, a frayed rope in the other, and no clue how to even commit the terrible deed that might save her life.
As I Live and Breathe
Speaking of which… this is the time when Vivenna realizes that being told the mechanics of something is not at all the same as knowing how to do it. She literally begs a piece of rope to help her, but she can’t even get started. She has the rope, she has the Breath, and she has the color to fuel the Awakening, but she doesn’t know how to transfer the Breath and she doesn’t know how to Command the object.
Begging isn’t enough.
Once again, we get a glimpse of the Pahn Kahl without noticing the significance. Siri has figured out that the servants who dress in brown are the Pahn Kahl, and she can reliably expect her message for Bluefingers to be delivered. What she hasn’t yet caught on to – and won’t for quite a while yet – is the depth of the rift between Hallandren and Pahn Kahl. To be fair, most of the Hallandren aren’t aware of it either…
In Living Color
We’re mostly dealing peripherally with Denth and Lightsong in these chapters. Denth is just being his usual condescending self, pretending to be a mercenary obeying Vivenna’s orders and laughing at her ignorance.
Lightsong, at least, gives us some possible answers to Big Questions I’ve Asked. Specifically, he claims that the attributes associated with a Returned are determined by their death somehow. So “Lightsong the Bold, god of bravery” is so called because he was bold and brave in his death. It would be an interesting exercise to take some of the other gods and goddesses and try to guess what their manner of death might have been, based on their descriptive attributes. (Blushweaver is given to us, so there’s a place to start.)
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
Vivenna’s expectation that the Lifeless would be unskilled zombies, hacking away and winning through sheer force, probably fit pretty well with what we all expected. We’ve seen Clod a few times before, and he’s always sort of bumbled along doing whatever Jewels told him to do. This is where we start to get the textual clues that their characteristics in life carry over to their Lifeless existence, at least to some extent. Clod’s flash of determination, and his uncanny skill in taking out four other Lifeless by himself, is the first real text clue as to his original identity. (He used to be Arsteel, in case you missed that earlier.)
Oh, my. There’s so much I ought to include, but it would basically mean quoting the entirety of Hoid’s storytelling session. So… I’ll suggest that you just read that, rather than trying to summarize it here. One of the few things I really want to address, though, is the direct confirmation here that the Royal Line is really, truly Special.
We’ve been told over and over that Returned can’t have children… but Hoid tells Siri that she has the blood of a Returned. Somehow, in the week between his Return and his death following the consumption of his one Divine Breath, Vo (the first Returned) got his wife pregnant. We don’t know whether it’s a matter of timing (gotta be in the first week!), or if Endowment hadn’t quite worked out the details of Returning yet, or what else might be going on with this sometimes-they-can-sometimes-they-can’t business, but it’s definitely not as firm a rule as we’d thought!
It’s also worth noting that Hoid is really quite gentle with Siri, showing how there are multiple interpretations of history, and how some things she’d always accepted as fact might be colored by modern sensibilities.
Hey, there’s Hoid! It’s almost funny now to read Sanderson’s comments on him in the annotations:
This cameo is so obvious (or, at least, someday it will be) that I almost didn’t use the name Hoid for the character, as I felt it would be too obvious. The first draft had him using one of his other favorite pseudonyms. However, in the end, I decided that too many people would be confused (or at least even more confused) if I didn’t use the same name. So here it is.
By now, most of his readers are so used to the Hoid-spotting game that we catch every appearance, no matter what name he’s using. I guess that’s sort of a reminder, isn’t it, that this was a fairly early entry in the Cosmere novelry!
Well, that’s it for the blog today – now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover chapter 33, in which Vivenna has heart-to-heart talks with Denth and Parlin, makes some decisions, and gets in trouble. I don’t think I’ll try to tackle 34 as well; both chapters have a lot of stuff to cover, and I think they’ll do better without combining. (I could change my mind, though.)
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 revision status bar is at 54%!