Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, while Siri was feeling guilty about enjoying her political challenges, Vivenna barely escaped with her life—twice. This week, Siri and Susebron have a picnic on the floor, while Vivenna wanders the slums in despair.
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
Setting: The God King’s bedchamber
Timing: The evening/night after Chapter 34
Take a Deep Breath
Siri and Susebron relax together, mixing the ongoing debate over the priests with increasing flirtation. Siri, as usual, gets herself into a couple of embarrassing conversational moments as she forgets just how much Susebron doesn’t know about relationships, but Susebron is increasingly frustrated by his own lack of knowledge and her inability or unwillingness to explain. (They’re embarrassing!)
Interrupted by her growling stomach, Susebron orders food to be brought in. With an impressive array of food set before them, Susebron dismisses the servants; Siri removes the awkwardness of the single chair (!) by spreading a blanket on the floor. The new experience of sharing a meal reveals more of the strictures which have always surrounded him, and provides further opportunity for her to demonstrate … alternative approaches.
Even so, the conversation returns to their disagreement on trusting his priests, and concludes with him agreeing that if she can prove that the priests are trying to kill him, he will run away to Idris with her.
She felt her hair shift from the deep red into a golden tone, and she sighed softly with contentment, pulling herself a little closer to him.
How do you do that? he wrote.
Change your hair.
“That one was unconscious,” she said. “It goes blond if I feel happy or content.”
You’re happy, then? he wrote. With me?
But when you speak of the mountains, there is such longing in your voice.
“I miss them,” she said. “But if I left here, I’d miss you too. Sometimes, you can’t have everything you want, since the wants contradict each other.”
For all her rebelliousness and occasional naiveté, she’s wiser than a lot of people I know. Too many people insist they can have everything they want, and end up ruining it all instead. Contentment is a skill worth learning.
This set of annotations mostly reflects things we’ve already been talking about (yay, us!): Siri’s growth, as reflected in her ability to control her hair; (spoilers) that Susebron is more right about his priests than Siri is in that they do want his good, but for all that, they will hold him within what they see as their primary responsibility. There are also a couple of things we haven’t really touched on directly yet: the reversal compared to Mistborn; two scenes which reflect personal experiences in his own marriage; and a bit of research on taste buds and how the sense of taste works when you don’t have a tongue.
I was particularly interested by his comments regarding Mistborn. These are the kind of thematic elements that are sort of obvious once you notice them, but I tend not to see them until someone else points them out.
One of the big reversals I planned for this book from the concept stage was a world where the priests were good and the thieving crew was evil—a complete turnabout from Mistborn. Denth and his team were developed in my mind as an “anti-Kelsier’s Crew.” The priesthood, then, was to turn out to be maligned by the characters and actually working for their best interests.
In the end, I went with the evil crew idea, but the priests aren’t 100% without their flaws.
Point of View: Vivenna
Setting: T’Telir slums
Timing: The day which was dawning in Chapter 35
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna wanders the slums aimlessly, in shock from the repeated blows of the raid, the kidnapping, Parlin’s death, and the betrayal of “her” team; hair bleached white with panic and fear, she is broken and numb. As she finds herself in a dead-end alley, she is blocked by one of the Idrians from the previous day’s crowd, but the only “help” he will give her is to not turn her in—for selfish reasons as much as for her identity. Instead, he demands her fine dress, which he can sell; disappointed by the lack of money in the pockets, he also demands her silk leggings. When he adds her shift to the list, though, she refuses, befouling it with mud so that it will be useless to him. He leaves her in the alley, curled up in the mud, weeping.
Eventually she realizes that she needs to move; the dress had made her recognizable, but even with it gone, her hair is out of place for a street waif. Unable to change it from white to black, she settles for rubbing mud and dirt into it, then wraps herself in a filthy shawl she found in the refuse heap. Unfortunately, now that she holds it, the shawl is too bright—anyone with even the first Heightening will realize that she holds far more Breath than she should. The answer suddenly comes to her, and she places all her remaining Breath into the shawl where it will be unnoticed. Tying the rope from her pocket around her ankle and wrapping herself in the shawl, she shuffles away as a Drab.
“The leggings. They’re silk, right?”
Her shift came down to her midthighs. She stooped down, pulling off the leggings, then handed them over. He took them, and she saw a glint of greed—or perhaps something else—in his eyes.
“The shift,” he said, waving his knife.
“No,” she said quietly.
He took a step forward.
Something snapped inside of her.
“No!” she yelled. “No, no, NO! You take your city, your colors and clothing, and go! Leave me!” She fell to her knees, crying, and grabbed handfuls of refuse and mud, rubbing it on the shift. “There!” she screamed. “You want it! Take it from me! Sell it like this!”
Contrary to his threat, the man wavered. He looked around, then clutched the valuable cloth to his chest and dashed away.
Vivenna knelt. Where had she found more tears? She curled up, heedless of the trash and mud, and wept.
Oh, Vivenna. No one could recognize you now as the calm, confident, self-controlled Perfect Princess of Idris. And you’re not even finished with your descent yet, poor thing.
Here, Sanderson addresses some deliberate choices he made regarding Vivenna’s time in the gutter, both literally and figuratively: not to wallow in her problems, not to strip her completely, and not to use rape as a means to beat her down further. (He’s right—that particular technique for forcing female characters into abjectness is overused in fantasy; it’s a cheap and easy way to say, “See, now she’s as far down as she can get.”) He also clarifies something we talked about early on—how Vivenna really could have given away all her Breaths, one at a time, if she knew how. Denth, of course, did know how, but framed his denial to sound like an innocent mistake. The rat.
* * *
Snow White and Rose Red
The Chapter 36 annotations point out several contrasts between the sisters, and they’re kind of unavoidable. Aside from the basic discrepancy in their situations—picnicking on the floor with the God King vs. curled up in the mud and trash of a slum alleyway—Siri is now the one with control over not only her hair, but her emotions and her circumstances. At least to some degree. The only smidgen of control Vivenna manages is to stay out of the places Denth would look for her, and make herself so filthy no one wants to look at her.
This deck is seriously stacked.
Oddly enough, there’s one (possibly unintentional) reversal within the reversal. Last week there was some discussion about how Sanderson is not afraid to make his characters be completely wrong about the things they “know”—the unreliable narrator is not only very realistic, it’s too often unexpected in fantasy. Up to now, Vivenna has been wrong about so very, very many things, so that it felt like everything she did was based on misinformation. Siri has been much more willing to see intuitively where her training was incorrect, and change her behavior accordingly. This week, it’s the opposite. Siri is way, way wrong in trusting Bluefingers, and almost equally wrong in not trusting the priests—though the priests aren’t exactly giving her any reason to trust them. It’s understandable, but it’s still incorrect. Vivenna, on the other hand, comes almost intuitively to the right answer to a question she asked several months ago: she finds the way to hide her Breath, despite Denth’s deliberately misleading instructions.
I toyed briefly with adjusting the chapter count each week so we really felt Vivenna’s depths of despair, but given that Sanderson deliberately didn’t do that… I won’t.
As I Live and Breathe
There’s not a lot to discuss on BioChroma this week, except to bring out what’s in the annotations regarding Vivenna’s partial realization. Though she didn’t do it intentionally, she had already split up her Breath instinctively, only giving the rope enough Breath to do what she commanded, and then investing Tonk Fah’s cloak with another portion. Now she’s carrying two objects that each contain some of her Breath: the rope with a small number, and the shawl with a lot. If she were sufficiently determined and patient, she could put a single Breath into one object, the rest into another, retake the single Breath and donate it to a Drab. It would take time to go through that process with several hundred Breaths, but she could have done it.
Also, it’s a very good thing she realized that the Breath would make her stand out even in rags.
The scene in the alley was a painful reminder of culture clash even within a culture. Vivenna truly did look down on the Idrians in the city for their failure to maintain the standards she had assumed were common to all who believed in Austre; the thief was not wrong about that. On the other hand, those people considered themselves Idrians, patriots, holding together against the Hallandren, and they knew who she was. One would think she should have been able to turn to them when she was betrayed, an Idrian to Idrians, a princess to her people—not as a ruler or leader, of course, but at least as one of them. Instead, they’re so immersed in their “city Idrian” culture, far more like the Hallandren than their Idrian roots, that the extent of the help they’re willing to give her is “not turning her in” and “relieving her of the dress that makes her stand out.”
In Living Color
This scene, more than any previously, really makes my heart ache for Susebron. I can’t blame Siri for being too embarrassed to explain things, but at the same time, she could make it easier for him, I think. The bit with the “seductress” question:
Seductress, he wrote. I know that word. It is used in a story when the evil queen tries to tempt the young prince with something, though I don’t know what.
I think she must have been planning to offer him food.
“Yeah,” Siri said. “Good interpretation, there, Seb. Completely right.”
He hesitated. She wasn’t offering food, was she?
I mean, yes, it’s hilariously funny, in one way. At the same time, here’s this guy that’s fifty years old, never allowed to learn anything more of humanity than he got from a book of children’s stories, and even that he was never able to read for himself. Because, of course, he was never allowed to do anything for himself. Siri thinks about how he’s too important to even open his own door, but I can’t help thinking how frustrating it would be, to simply never be allowed to do things for himself.
Dining is such a production for me. I eat some of what is on a plate, then servants pull it away, wipe my face, and bring me another one. I never finish an entire dish, even if I like it.
Siri snorted. “I’m surprised they don’t hold the spoon for you.”
They did when I was younger, Susebron wrote, flushing. I eventually got them to let me do it myself. It’s hard, when you can’t speak with anyone.
Can you imagine?? Growing up like that, there were probably a few times it was a good thing he couldn’t Awaken anything. At least, I’d be dangerously annoyed!
I think it’s worth reminding ourselves here that, as per the annotations, Susebron may be the God King, but the priests have a higher loyalty to Peacegiver than they do to Susebron:
They believe they have the charge to protect Peacegiver’s Treasure, and the God King holds that treasure. They do feel bad for what they are required to do to him.
Their interpretation is extreme, but what would you do, if your god (Peacegiver) Commanded you that the Breaths be held and protected, but never used?
I can’t help thinking that no one but the priests actually know about this higher loyalty. Or rather, Susebron knows some of it but doesn’t entirely understand it, because he knows so little about Awakening. Clearly Siri is familiar with some of the common lore, and she seems aware of the prohibition against using that enormous quantity of Breath, but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t comprehend why it’s such a sacred duty to the priests.
Speaking of the priests, they really could use a good smacking around. Just being honest with Susebron, and eventually Siri, would have made a world of difference.
We’ll discuss this when we get to the final chapters, I’m sure, but I can’t help wondering if Vasher had any idea what his gift of Breath and his admonition against using it would do to the men who held it—or what would be done to them in the name of obedience to his orders.
I’m reminded of the passage in Words of Radiance, when Kaladin goes to him for advice; his response is on the order of, “Do the thing that will let you sleep at night. It’s what I wish I’d done.” Now I’m really wondering whether that refers to the events we learn of in this book—like giving an order that will result in toddlers having their tongues removed prior to receiving a massive treasury of Breath—or whether he did some things after this point that were even worse. Or at least harder to live with…
These were strange chapters to try to write about. In the first one, part of me kept laughing at the awkwardness of the situation. Part of me wanted to slap Siri for not just explaining things to Susebron, instead of leaving him feeling frustrated and humiliated by his ignorance. And part of me just relishes the growing intimacy between the two, because it really is very sweet. Siri gobbling pastries just because you’re not supposed to, and then Susebron imitating her just because there was no one to stop him… it was just so much fun.
Also, I find it utterly impossible to think of Susebron as fifty years old. Utterly. Impossible.
One last note: this is the first time Siri calls him “Seb” if I am correct. And this is how I suddenly realized that the emphasis in pronouncing his name should be on the second syllable, not the first. Just in case I haven’t pointed this out before, this is another one of those repeated-consonant-at-the-beginning-of-a-name forms: Susebron, Vivenna, Dedelin, T’Telir, Sisirinah… all of which then have the emphasis on the next syllable.
Well, okay. That’s it for the blog—now it’s time for the comments! Join us again next week, when we will cover chapters 38 and 39, in which Lightsong counts priests, and Vivenna moves closer to starvation.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. In current news, the Oathbringer revision bar is now up to 74%, the hype is being prepared, and the Warbreaker reread will continue at this pace so as to wrap up in mid-August. Moving directly into Edgedancer (with a team reread!) will allow that to finish at the end of October—just in time for the last excited fanfares before the Oathbringer release.