Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Vivenna learned some very difficult recent history, while Siri learned unexpected ancient history. This week, Vivenna confronts hard truths, badly.
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 mercenaries’ safehouse and headquarters
Timing: Later in the same day as Chapter 31
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna watches Jewels work to repair Clod as they wait in the safe house for things to calm down, and reflects on her reactions to her recent fright—not a flattering evaluation, all in all. Jewels mutters to Clod as she works, clearly annoyed at the damage he sustained while protecting Vivenna.
Denth enters the room and sits beside Vivenna, offering encouragement despite her perceived failure during the raid, but she startles him by asking him to teach her Awakening. Suddenly, she pours out all her anger at Hallandren and admits that coming to T’Telir was to regain some purpose in her life after Siri was sent in her place. Reluctant to explain further to Denth, she turns the subject back to the work Jewels is doing on Clod, and learns more about the Lifeless—this one in particular, and the construct in general, going all the way back to the Manywar.
The conversation turns again to Awakening, and Denth gives her a few casual instructions about how it works, which she vows to start practicing. As he prepares to leave, she thanks him for being more than just a good employee: he’s a good man, she says. He denies the charge, but before she can say more, Tonk Fah returns; with Jewels finished working on Clod, they all return to headquarters.
Parlin rushes to meet them, checking on Jewels before Vivenna. Irritated at his priorities, she challenges him and discovers to her shock that he isn’t and never has been in love with her. Overwhelmed by another unexpected revelation on this crazy day, she retires to her room and bolts the door, but one more shock awaits her: Vasher is on her balcony, and Awakens her drapes to strangle her into unconsciousness.
“Should you be saying things like that?” Vivenna asked, noticing halfheartedly that her hair was turning red again. “Aren’t you engaged to me?”
He frowned. “You were engaged to the God King, Vivenna.”
“But you know what our fathers wanted,” she said, hands on hips.
“I did,” Parlin said. “But, well, when we left Idris, I figured we were both going to get disinherited. There’s really no reason to keep up the charade.”
“I mean, let’s be honest, Vivenna,” he said, smiling. “You really haven’t ever been that nice to me. I know you think I’m stupid; I guess you’re probably right. But if you really cared, I figured that you wouldn’t make me feel stupid, too. Jewels grumbles at me, but she laughs at my jokes sometimes. You’ve never done that.”
“But…” Vivenna said, finding herself at a slight loss for words. “But why did you follow me down to Hallandren?”
He blinked. “Well, for Siri, of course. Isn’t that why we came? To rescue her?” He smiled fondly, then shrugged. “Good night, Vivenna.” He trailed down the steps, calling to Jewels to see if she was hurt.
Well, ouch. And well-deserved, too. I’m not sure whether to pity her cluelessness, or snarl at her thoughtlessness. Both, probably, but I find the thoughtlessness less excusable. Ah, well. They’re both going to have other concerns soon enough.
The first of the annotations is a fairly extended elaboration on Denth’s explanation about the Lifeless. You should probably read it. The second annotation is about Vivenna’s acknowledgement of her reasons for coming to T’Telir, which we’ll talk about a bit more below. The third is a brief backstory on Sanderson’s development of Awakening as a magic system, and how it came to be part of Warbreaker. The final note concerns the sudden acceleration of Vivenna’s plot; it’s been a little slow up to this point, but with Vasher kidnapping her, the pace picks up a tad.
Snow White and Rose Red
Our girl Vivenna is starting to seriously come from together. Last week (or this morning, depending on how you look at it), in her panic over the Lifeless she lost control of all the things she held dear: modesty meant nothing when she needed to run; hair color meant nothing when trying to survive; blasphemy meant nothing if Awakening a rope could save her life. In the face of all this failure, she’s ready to throw away all her beliefs—since apparently she didn’t really believe them – for the sole purpose of destroying Hallandren.
While I disagree with her conclusion, it’s understandable. The will to survive is so instinctive that only training and practice—not mere intellectual loathing—can give a person the strength to resist using whatever tools come to hand when in danger. Of course, sometimes lack of training with that tool means that the desire is inadequate to the execution, as Vivenna learned to her chagrin. (Let me take this opportunity to highly recommend a good pepper-spray training seminar—one with a practical scenario included. Ask me why, sometime.)
Anyway… the corollary to Vivenna’s religious failures is the revelation—not least, to herself—of just how much, and why, she hates Hallandren. As the larger, stronger nation, always a threat to her homeland, she blames this kingdom for stealing her childhood: by forcing her father into a treaty which promised her as the God King’s bride, her entire life was spent preparing for that task. Worse yet, because of this kingdom whose insatiable urge to devour Idris made the treaty too dangerous to fulfill as planned, Dedelin ultimately couldn’t bring himself to send Vivenna to either be killed or become a hostage. For that, too, she hates Hallandren: their aggressiveness caused her father to send Siri in her place, so that not only is her little sister in danger, she herself is proven to have sacrificed her entire life (all 22 years of it, mind you…) for nothing.
While I can understand her attitude, I can’t help noticing that she heaps all the blame on Hallandren for forcing the situation, accepting none of the blame for her father, her kingdom, or herself. Hallandren certainly appears to have been the aggressor, but it seems to me that she should face the fact that her father himself created the treaty when she was barely a baby. Not that anger at her father would help in this situation, though, so there’s that.
The other thing I can’t help noticing is that in her unbridled hatred, she overlooks the fact that her resources are no different than they ever were, with the minor exception that she’s willing to become an Awakener. She still represents the smaller, weaker nation, and her only assets in T’Telir are a little band of mercenaries and their contacts—mostly among the criminal element. How, exactly, is this going to suddenly be able to “destroy the Hallandren,” pray tell?
(From the rereader’s perspective, this is especially painful because for one thing, she’s totally playing into Denth’s hands; for another, both Hallandren and Idris are being manipulated by other forces, so her hatred is misguided anyway. Sigh.)
So after baring her soul to Denth, she’s forced to realize that Parlin isn’t in love with her, and he really did come to T’Telir for the reasons she only pretended. And then Vasher shows up. Plot twist!
As I Live and Breathe
We’ve picked up some bits and pieces about Awakening from watching Vasher, mostly. Courtesy of Denth, we now get some of the mechanics explained:
“Well,” Denth said, “there are a lot of Commands. If you want to bring a rope to life—like that one you tried to use back in the alleyway—a good Command is ‘hold things.’ Speak it with a clear voice, willing your Breath to act. If you do it right, the rope will grab whatever is closest. ‘Protect me’ is another good one, though it can be interpreted in fairly strange ways if you don’t imagine exactly what you want.”
“Imagine?” Vivenna asked.
He nodded. “You have to form the Command in your head, not just speak it. The Breath you give up, it’s part of your life. Your soul, you Idrians would say. When you Awaken something, it becomes part of you. If you’re good—and practiced—the things you Awaken will do what you expect of them. They’re part of you. They understand, just like your hands understand what you want them to do.”
He also points out that since she holds a lot of Breath and is fairly clever, she should be able to pick it up quickly. He even admits that what he just told her is common knowledge, so he can continue his self-deprecating persona. It’s worth noting that he doesn’t say anything about specifically giving her Breath to an object, though perhaps that’s instinctive; he also doesn’t tell her how to recover her Breath, once given. I’m not sure if that’s an oversight (and if so, whether on Denth’s part or Sanderson’s) or deliberate, but… there it is.
Theory time: Does the effect Denth mentions, that when you Awaken something it becomes part of you, have to do with the way Endowment works? I’m not quite sure how to say what I’m trying to say here, but… off the top of my head, I can’t recall any other magic system in the Cosmere where the stuff you work with is part of your soul. Lightweaving, maybe, sort of? And Feruchemy is (or was) inextricably tied to Identity, so that’s closer. But I think this is the only one where you give (endow?) an object a piece of your soul, and that object—while still an external object—becomes an extension of yourself. (Correct me in the comments!)
While there’s nothing overt about other cultures in this chapter, the subject matter keeps forcing me to recall the meddling and manipulation going on, that we haven’t learned about yet. While Vivenna blames Hallandren for everything, most of the Hallandren decision-makers are being manipulated by those who would be delighted to see Hallandren and Idris destroy each other to the last man. I keep not getting deeply into it, because the time just doesn’t seem right, but it looms over everything.
In Living Color
Denth is mostly maintaining his “jovial mercenary” role, but there are hints… The first-time reader might be starting to get a bit edgy about him by now (or perhaps not), and the rereader can’t help seeing details that are out of place when you know who he is. There are a couple of allusions to the five Scholars—first, their discovery of the ichor-alcohol which would keep Lifeless going; second, the discovery of some new Commands. Denth claims not to know which one was responsible for this second one, but I’m betting he actually means the Commands that Vasher used to create the D’Denir, and even more, the Command that Awakened Nightblood. In both cases, he knows exactly who discovered them—and in the latter, his sister was, shall we say, intimately involved? So, major evasion up in here.
The really telling moment, even for a first read, should be this:
She shook her head. “It’s more than that. You’re a good man, Denth.”
He met her eyes, and she could see something in them. An emotion she couldn’t describe. Again, she thought of the mask he wore—the persona of the laughing, joking mercenary. That man seemed just a front, when she looked into those eyes, and saw so much more.
“A good man,” he said, turning away. “Sometimes, I wish that were still true, Princess. I haven’t been a good man for some years now.”
Well, in that he for once speaks truth.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
For all that he does almost nothing, this chapter swirls around the Lifeless Clod. Vivenna finds that she has developed an odd pity and even a sort of affection for him. Jewels grumbles at him but is dedicated and meticulous as she works on his repairs. Denth, while pretending that he knows nothing of who Clod used to be, nonetheless admits that he was very skillful in life. And as Vivenna recalls a moment of humanity on Clod’s face when he was defending her, she has to face the fact that Clod is, in a sense, much more than an undead monstrosity… or at least he once was, and may even now be something more than she assumed.
Also, howl of the sun. Just… keep that one in mind, eh? Might come in handy!
A few last thoughts on Parlin. One of those “safe assumptions” of Vivenna’s recent years was that Parlin was in love with her, even though she was promised to Susebron. The exchange quoted above is further evidence that she was focused so tightly on her own role (and her own noble self-sacrifice) that she never bothered to understand those around her. I found his last sentiments very poignant this time, for reasons we’ll get into next week (I hope); Parlin actually did come to rescue Siri, because he’s fond of her, like a little sister. ::sniffle::
Along the lines of “keep that one in mind”—here’s another. Vivenna and Parlin talk briefly on the stairs here; no one else hears their conversation, so no one knows that it was purely personal. This will Matter in a couple of chapters.
That’s it, folks. Now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover chapter 34, in which Lightsong muses, Siri muses, Blushweaver insults, and Bluefingers misleads; and if we make it to 35, Vivenna… struggles.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. She would like to point out that the Oathbringer draft 4 & 5 progress bar is up to 62% – so Sanderson is working hard on the middle of Part 3, on a guess. Draft 6, incorporating final feedback from the editor, is anticipated by late June, give or take a couple of weeks.