Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Vivenna acknowledged a few hard truths about herself and her motivations. This week, Lightsong muses, Siri worries, Blushweaver threatens, Bluefingers prevaricates, and Vivenna escapes—twice. Quite the party up in here!
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: Lightsong, Siri
Setting: The God King’s Palace
Timing: Immediately following chapter 32; Lightsong notes that it is “a couple of months” after Siri’s arrival in T’Telir (It’s probably longer than that, but not by a lot.)
Take a Deep Breath
Lightsong watches Siri leave, slightly confused by her reaction to the idea of the God King dying, but his attention soon turns to the war debate, and he considers the probability that he will not be irrelevant much longer. Blushweaver interrupts his musing, and they review their position and theology until she realizes that he’s watching Siri watch the debate; he changes the subject by asking about the tunnel complex.
Siri watches the debate; torn between discouragement over the seeming inevitability of war, and excitement over being in the middle of the politics. She’s surprised by mention of an Idrian agent in the city, but dismisses the rumor that the agent is a princess of the royal family. She thinks about her sisters, realizing that Vivenna would have been a terrible fit for the job of wife-to-the-God-King. Blushweaver interrupts her musing (she has a habit of doing that) and warns Siri to leave “my Lightsong” alone.
Siri returns to the palace for her bath and a few minutes relaxation; her floating reverie is interrupted by Bluefingers, who has chosen this decidedly inopportune moment as the only time he can possibly speak with the queen. She asks what happens when a new God King takes the throne, pretending to understand most of his vague comments; he in turn pretends to be terribly nervous about his own situation and that of his people in the palace. He uses the opportunity to again mention the untrustworthiness of the priests, but is shocked when she reveals that she has actually been communicating with Susebron. They make an agreement: he will support Siri’s attempt to protect Susebron, and if it works she will make certain his people are protected. In exchange, he promises to get Siri and Susebron out of the palace if things go pear-shaped.
“Allmother controls the last group of Lifeless,” Blushweaver said.
“An odd choice, don’t you think?” Lightsong said. “I mean, I am a logical choice—assuming you don’t know me, of course—since I’m supposedly bold. Hopefinder represents justice, a nice mix with soldiers. Even Mercystar, who represents benevolence, makes a kind of sense for one who controls soldiers. But Allmother? Goddess of matrons and families? Giving her ten thousand Lifeless is enough to make even me consider my drunk-monkey theory.”
Didn’t I just ask this question a few weeks ago? Yes. Yes, I did. Chapter 30. Hopefinder (god of innocence and beauty) is at least called “Hopefinder the Just,” so okay-ish. But … yeah, that drunk-monkey theory is starting to sound more probable every time I think about this!
Fascinating details in the annotations for this chapter! First, Sanderson addresses the trope-reversal he was aiming for: since so much of fantasy is about overthrowing a corrupt government, he thought it would be fun to try a book where the protagonists were trying to stop a war and stabilize the existing government instead. The name Warbreaker was part of that, even though at the time he didn’t have characters or plots worked out.
The second is an aspect that I’ll address more below: the way Siri is excited by the challenges of her situation, contrasted with how Vivenna is constantly frustrated with hers. So, see below. Third, yes, Blushweaver is jealous because, yes, she’s actually in love with Lightsong.
In the Spoilers section, Sanderson unmasks Bluefingers’s duplicity: He leaked the information that got Vahr captured before that little rebellion could disrupt bigger plans. He lets Siri think he doesn’t know Susebron is mute, and pretends to be worried about the Pahn Kahl servants. He carefully drives another wedge of mistrust between Siri and the priests. Finally, he feigns reluctance but is actually overjoyed with Siri’s request to help her and Susebron get out of the palace.
Point of View: Vivenna
Setting: A dark room in the slums; the streets of T’Telir; the safe house
Timing: Almost immediately following Chapter 33 (later that night and into dawn)
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna finds herself bound and gagged in a dark room, but not alone. After a few threats, Vasher cuts her bonds and drops his black sword on the floor in front of her, demanding that she pick it up. Fighting a terrible, strange nausea, she forces herself to comply; a voice speaks in her head, and she drops the sword to empty her stomach of its meager contents. Vasher seems surprised, but picks up the sword and locks it away. He replaces her gag, ties her hands to a doorknob, tells her that if she runs he’ll find her and kill her, and then leaves.
Once her mind starts working, she recalls an old lesson on the subject of kidnapping: her responsibility is to escape as quickly as possible. To that end, she struggles with the ropes, but she’s tied too tightly; to her surprise, she manages to work her gag loose. After a couple of futile attempts to Awaken the rope, she lets her unconscious mind make use of the senses acquired with all that Breath—a bit like changing her hair color, which comes so naturally. To her amazement and relief, it works, and the rope drops from her wrists. She quickly unties her ankles and heads out into the night, bringing the rope with her.
Her first instinct is to get out of the slum and as far away from Vasher’s lair as possible. In the growing early light, she finally recognizes a statue which Denth once used as a landmark when giving directions. Working backward, she finally locates the safe house, where she lights a lantern and heads for the cellar to hide. Once down there, she finds Parlin bound to a chair… dead. Startled by Tonk Fah, she looks around and registers the objects on the walls as Tonks’s pets, tortured to death and hung up like trophies.
As she turns to flee, Denth, Jewels, and Clod come down the stairs; she realizes that they’ve been lying to her all along—that she really was kidnapped the day she arrived in T’Telir, that Lemex couldn’t have died of an illness, and that all their seeming “mercenary humor” was instead brutal truth. Now they’ve tortured Parlin to death because they think she ran away; furthermore, she discovers that her father had indeed sent people to find her, but Denth and Tonk Fah had intercepted and murdered them all.
Now she has to escape again, but Denth stops her attempt to Awaken Tonk Fah’s cloak. Although he finally notices the wounds on her wrists and realizes that she had been kidnapped rather than running away, he won’t risk her using her Breath, and demands it from her. Instead, Vivenna uses the security phrase she overheard earlier to Command Clod to attack Denth. In the confusion, she races up the stairs and throws the latch to slow them down, then runs for her life.
Denth grimaced, then twisted her arm, causing her to yelp. “All right. It looks like my hand has been forced. Let’s deal with that Breath of yours first, and then we can have a chat—nicely, like friends—about what has happened to you.”
Clod stepped up beside Denth, grey eyes staring forward, empty as always. Except… could she see something in them? Was she imagining it? Her emotions were so strained lately that she really couldn’t trust her perceptions. Clod seemed to meet her eyes.
“Now,” Denth said, face growing harder. “Repeat after me. My Life to yours. My Breath become yours.”
Vivenna looked up at him, meeting his eyes. “Howl of the sun,” she whispered.
Denth frowned. “What?”
“Attack Denth. Howl of the sun.”
“I—” Denth began. At that moment, Clod’s fist hit his face.
That has to be one of the most satisfying sentences in the whole book, right there. I hope it at least broke his nose, even if he healed it right away.
Also, one could get the notion that the Lifeless aren’t quite as lifeless as everyone thinks, and that just maybe Arsteel is less than thrilled with stirring up war and threatening princesses. (See also, Don’t Hold Your Breath)
The annotations for this chapter are extensive. You should read them.
The first one is really about what Vasher calls “the Nightblood test”—give someone the sword and see if they throw up or start trying to kill people. As he notes, this isn’t exactly a straightforward proposition. The second is about all things Vivenna, much of which I want to talk about below. She has appeared to be weaker than Siri in many ways—but at the same time, she’s had to deal with harder stuff. Now she’s getting the last of her support destroyed, which will play into her character arc. Third is a brief explanation of Vivenna finding the safe house and the authorial sleight-of-hand that makes it feel like less of a coincidence than it should. Clever authors.
The fourth note addresses the major gamble of the novel: the sympathetic mercenaries turn out to be actual bad (horrible) guys. Did he signal it well enough that it’s believable, while not making it so obvious that there’s no twist? He summarizes the hints that were dropped along the way—things that should convince us it’s true, even while we’re (supposed to be) blindsided by it. (And yes, I’m pretty sure I fell into his trap!)
Finally, Parlin. Poor Parlin – his whole purpose in the novel was to die here. However, Sanderson notes that Parlin is the one thing he’d like to go back and change, giving him more depth and sympathy so that his death would be more powerful to the reader, while not creating a distraction from more critical aspects. There’s also a brief summary here of what the mercenaries were up to while Vivenna was gone, and a little more on the Idrian corpses.
Snow White and Rose Red
Well. Our princesses are poles apart now, aren’t they? Siri, despite indications of impending danger and the war debate, is generally enjoying her life and is in the process of growing to truly fit her role. Vivenna, despite her reputation of always being in control, is now almost as down-and-out as it gets.
As noted above, this is an odd but revealing scene with Siri. She’s truly upset by what she learned from Hoid and Lightsong about the former God Kings all dying shortly after their heir was born. And the idea of Hallandren attacking her homeland is indeed disturbing, because her people are bound to suffer greatly. At the same time, she finds that she’s excited by being in the middle of the politics, in a position to perhaps influence events. She doesn’t even have to go out of her way to create problems: they’re mostly unavoidable! But she does feel just a little guilty about enjoying it. The reflections brought on by the rumored “Idrian princess in the city” are along the lines we’ve discussed before:
Vivenna’s stoic coldness would never have coaxed Susebron out of his imperial mask. Vivenna’s obvious disapproval would have alienated her from gods like Lightsong. Vivenna would have hated wearing the beautiful dresses and would never have appreciated the colors and variety in the city. Siri might not have been ideal for the position, but she was slowly coming to realize that Vivenna hadn’t been a good choice either.
Sanderson mentions that Siri’s enjoyment of the challenges is a more mature version of her childhood tendency to cause trouble just for the excitement, which makes sense. It seems to me that her ability to see this in herself, as well as her realization of the difficulties Vivenna would have had as queen, are also signs of maturation.
It’s worth noting here that despite her challenges, Siri is in a pretty good place. Aside from the creature comforts, she has a husband she’s growing to love, trust and respect. She has a friend in Lightsong, who has already gone out of his way (uncharacteristic, in this Court!) to help her. She has information, most of it fairly reliable, about the framework of her situation. Of course, she also has a confidant who is as duplicitous as they come, but she doesn’t know about that part yet. All in all, she’s got some reason to be hopeful.
Vivenna, at roughly the same time frame, is getting every last bit of support knocked out from under her. Kidnapped by Vasher, who appears to be an eyelash away from killing her out of hand, she escapes and finds her way to the safe house, only to discover that her trusted “allies/employees” have murdered her only friend. Not only that, they’ve also intercepted and murdered every person her father sent to find her. (According to the annotations, the count has reached several dozen by now.) She escapes again with nothing but the clothes she’s wearing and a very empty stomach, and now she’s hiding from both Vasher and Denth, either of whom is likely to kill her—possibly after torturing her for her Breath.
Things are not looking good, but there are several positives to note. One, this may be the first time her lessons were actually useful:
There are things to do if you are kidnapped, one had taught. Things that every princess should know. During her time in T’Telir, she’d begun to feel that her lessons were useless. Now she was surprised to find herself remembering sessions that related directly to her situation.
If a person kidnaps you, the tutor had taught, your best time to escape is near the beginning, when you are still strong. They will starve you and beat you so that soon you will be too weak to flee. Do not expect to be rescued, though friends will undoubtedly be working to help you. Never expect to be redeemed for a ransom. Most kidnappings end in death.
The best thing you can do for your country is try to escape. If you don’t succeed, then perhaps the captor will kill you. That is preferable to what you might have to endure as a captive. Plus, if you die, the kidnappers will no longer have a hostage.
Brutal, but useful. Because of this, she finds the courage to defy Vasher’s threats, and make a way to escape. And because of it, she finds a way past the shock of Parlin’s death and Denth’s betrayal to escape again before she can be used to further his purposes any more.
A second positive effect is that her desperation to escape leads her to recall everything she knew about Awakening, including that the amount of Breath she held would make it easier to Awaken instinctively. That in turn leads her to relax the conscious control she’s been trying, and let her enhanced senses simply do their thing. It works.
The third, which I may love a little too much, is that she stays calm enough under pressure to remember the security phrase Jewels muttered the previous day as well as how she used it to control Clod. That was… unexpected, as was Clod’s apparent desire to be of service.
Vivenna is most definitely not in a happy place, and it’s going to get worse. But there are hopeful signs already, even if she—and the first-time reader—may not recognize their importance.
As I Live and Breathe
So Vivenna pulls off a couple of attempts at Awakening. Sort of. The first one seems almost haphazard, but she successfully draws color from the wall and sends Breath to the rope to make it untie itself. The second one is a heart-breaker: she manages to draw color from her dress and pass Breath into Tonks’s cloak, but she’s too slow—or Denth is too fast. I could have screamed when he kept her from speaking!
(Question: Do we know if there’s a time limit on giving an object a Command after giving it Breath? It seems like Denth just needs to prevent her from speaking for a few seconds, and the Breath is wasted. She could presumably get it back if she knew how, but Denth doesn’t seem concerned that she’ll be able to finish the job.)
The other bummer in this is that some of her Breath is now stuck in Tonk Fah’s cloak, where she’ll likely never have a chance to get it back.
The Pahn Kahl continue to hide in plain sight. Bluefingers is lying through his teeth with every other word, but he speaks the truth when he insists that her bath—where she’s served solely by Pahn Kahl women—is the only place he can be assured of not being overheard by those who are dangerous to him. What I’m wondering now is whether the Pahn Kahl actually are considered “second-class servants” by the Hallandren, or whether he’s exaggerating. Or both: whether they have made themselves into a separate group so deliberately that the division between Hallandren and Pahn Kahl is an artificial construct of the Pahn Kahl themselves.
In Living Color
Lightsong, Blushweaver, Vasher, and Denth all do their bit in this chapter, but there’s really not a lot that’s new about the first three. Unless you want to count Blushweaver getting all snitty at Siri for her supposed attempt to seduce Lightsong, which is really funny when you know Siri’s side.
Denth, though… well, I guess he proves today what he said earlier—that he hasn’t been a good man for some years now. He’s spent this whole time covering up Tonk Fah’s sociopathic nature by making it sound like they were just joking. Now that the truth is out, he’s ruthless—and he still tries to pretend that he’s funny. I really hope we get that sequel someday. I want to know when and why he turned into such a rotten toad.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
Nightblood. Talks to Vivenna and scares the living daylights out of her—or would, if she weren’t too busy retching up everything down to her toenails. Y’all really should read the annotation about the Nightblood Test—it’s a bit convoluted, and involves Nightblood’s reliance on the morality of the person holding him, since he’s got none of his own. But it works, and Vasher is surprised occasionally by someone like Vivenna who totally can’t touch the sword without heaving everything available.
Far more interesting to me, today anyway, is the situation with Clod. As I mentioned above, Clod seems to have more humanity than Lifeless are expected to retain. Whether this is because he was a Returned before they made him a Lifeless, or because Lifeless aren’t quite so lifeless as they’re assumed to be… well, I’d like to know.
I did have to go and scrounge out what little we know about Arsteel. I had assumed that he was on Denth’s side, having joined his little mercenary band, but that seems not to be the case. From what I learned (searching through the annotations, mostly), Arsteel was by nature a peacemaker. The conflict between Denth and Vasher bothered him, and he joined Denth’s group in search of an opportunity to resolve that conflict and reforged their friendship. He’d had no intention of killing Vasher in that duel—he’d figured to just disarm him (maybe after a little humiliation) and then explain all the things. But Vasher didn’t know that, and he went into the duel to win. Which he did.
They made Arsteel into the Lifeless Clod, partly just to see if it could be done with a Returned, and partly because if it worked, he should be a really skilled Lifeless. Obviously it could be done, and equally obviously, he is an insanely skilled Lifeless. But it seems to me also obvious that Clod/Arsteel is, for some unfathomable reason, determined to protect Vivenna whenever possible. And I’d really, really like to know why.
I hadn’t thought about it before reading the annotations, but in a way I’m glad Parlin wasn’t more “real” to me. (That last conversation he had with Vivenna, where he pointed out that the idea of them marrying was never more than a pretense, was one of his few “real” moments. That, and his big-brother-style fondness for little Siri…) I agree that his death would have hurt more if I’d gotten attached to him as a person. On the other hand, we see this moment like we’ve always seen Parlin: through Vivenna’s eyes, and through the impact it had on her.
Which is better? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a wimp, but I’ll admit that I don’t mind seeing his death more in terms of its effect on Vivenna, instead of feeling like my best buddy was murdered…
Well, okay. That’s a super-long blog. Sorry about that. I guess that’s what happens when I try to pick up the chapter pace just as the plot pace picks up too! Anyway, chime in on the comments, and join us again next week, when we will cover chapters 36 and 37, in which Siri flirts and picnics with her husband, while Vivenna crawls closer to rock bottom.
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, for those keeping tabs, the Oathbringer progress bar is now at 68%, and rumor has it that the beta read was an extremely successful venture. Woot!