Warbreaker Reread

Warbreaker Reread: Chapter 38 and 39

Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Siri flirted while Vivenna fled. This week, Lightsong counts priests and squirrels, while Vivenna counts bruises and alleyways.

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!


Chapter 38

Point of View: Lightsong
The Court of Gods
Timing: Indeterminate; some weeks after the break-in at Mercystar’s palace

Take a Deep Breath

Lightsong is awakened early, sweating from a nightmare of the impending war seen through the eyes of an Idrian soldier, along with the usual recurring images: the red panther, the storm, the young woman devoured by darkness. The only one he tells his priests is another new one, in which he saw Blushweaver, flushed; Llarimar, sleeping; and the God King, crying. Once they finish writing it down, he requests a set of urns painted in the colors of each of the gods—and a lot of pebbles—and then goes to receive his weekly offering of Breath from another child.

Later, stationed near the Court’s entrance, Lightsong tosses pebbles into the urns his servants have procured. Blushweaver approaches, disgruntled over her continuing lack of success at acquiring Allmother’s Lifeless Commands; Lightsong, as usual, refuses to take anything seriously and distracts her with a nonsensical conversation about swearing.

Eventually, he reveals that he’s counting the priests of each god who enter the court through the main entrance. As he had suspected, some gods have far fewer priests entering this way than the others, even though they have just as many on duty; Mercystar is one of those. He’s convinced that her priests enter through the tunnels, that Something Significant is going on, and that it relates to the murdered servant. Blushweaver believes he’s wasting his time, wanting him to focus on the war. His proof is the Lifeless squirrel: it has finally been broken by his priests, proving in the process that its creator was an incredibly strong and skilled Awakener… who squandered it as a distraction to get into the tunnels, and who was followed by someone willing to kill a guard to keep secrets.

Blushweaver doesn’t believe him, and insults him more thoroughly by accident than she ever did purposely. He maintains that there is something wrong, and his own uselessness as a god is proof—even though he doesn’t know what it proves. He departs to visit Allmother and obtain her Commands.


It felt so real. In the dream he had been a man, on the battlefield, with no weapon. Soldiers had died around him. Friend after friend. He had known them, each one close to him.

A war against Idris wouldn’t be like that, he thought. It would be fought by our Lifeless.

He didn’t want to acknowledge that his friends during the dream hadn’t been wearing bright colors. He hadn’t been seeing through the eyes of a Hallandren soldier, but an Idrian. Perhaps that was why it had been such a slaughter.

The Idrians are the ones threatening us. They’re the rebels who broke off, maintaining a second throne inside of Hallandren borders. They need to be quelled.

They deserve it.

And… he doesn’t believe that. He might be refusing to acknowledge that his dreams are prophetic, but he knows there’s something deeply wrong with it all. He just doesn’t know what.

Local Color

According to the annotations, this was originally the point at which Lightsong’s dreams turned dark, but to create tension earlier in the book, some of the disturbing elements were placed earlier in the final draft. The specific dream about Blushweaver, Llarimar, and the God King was always held for this chapter, though, and despite changes to the ending of the book, this dream and what it foreshadowed stayed the same.

About those pebbles, Lightsong of course couldn’t do the normal thing and send his priests to do the counting; he had to do it himself. This investigation gave him a purpose he badly needed. In the spoilers section, Sanderson explains that the tunnels aren’t as important as Lightsong thinks, but there are things going on there that will affect the ending. Also, he’s subconsciously connected the tunnels and his dreams of Blushweaver being captured.

Chapter 39

Point of View: Vivenna
T’Telir’s gutters and alleys
Timing: About a week after Chapter 37

Take a Deep Breath

Vivenna is seeing life much differently after a week in the gutter. She has hacked off her hair and sold it for a pittance, and she has no strength to regrow it. The certainty that Denth is watching for her to sell her Breath has kept her from trying to do so (even if she knew how). Instead, she sits begging, aware that she doesn’t even know how to do that properly. The best beggars know how to draw attention to themselves, but she fears to draw the attention of Denth or Vasher: a distant fear, compared to her immediate hunger, but she doesn’t know the trick anyway. She keeps her shawl close, but as a Drab—and a starving one—her mind is not working clearly. She sorts through and again discards all the likely sources of help: the city authorities would arrest her if they knew who she was, Denth knows how to find her father’s agents better than she does, the soup kitchens are being watched by Denth’s people. They’re probably watching the gates as well, but she can’t begin to beg enough money to return to Idris anyway.

A guard shoos her away from her street corner, and she moves off, nauseous and dizzy, to find a place to sleep. She makes her way back to the Idrian slum, where her accent has earned her some acceptance. After discovering other, stronger occupants in her favorite hiding places, she curls up against the wall of a bakery, where there will be some warmth in the morning, and falls asleep.


She wanted a good place to sleep. She wouldn’t have thought that it would make much difference which alleyway one huddled in, but some were warmer than others and some had better cover from the rain. Some were safer. She was beginning to learn these things, as well as who to avoid angering.

In her case, that last group included pretty much everyone—including the urchins. They were all above her in the pecking order. She’d learned that the second day. She’d tried to bring back a coin from selling her hair, intending to save it for a chance at leaving the city. She wasn’t certain how the urchins had known that she had coin, but she’d gotten her first beating that day.

Well, that’s a come-down for sure. A week ago, she was attempting to offer hope and encouragement to the downtrodden Idrians in the T’Telir slum; now she is the downtrodden Idrian. Not quite as bad as some, yet, but far lower than most.

Local Color

As goes the chapter, so go the annotations—dealing with Vivenna’s descent into the depths. Sanderson notes that originally this and the following Vivenna chapter (41) were a single chapter to avoid the begging-princess-slog-trope so common in fantasy, but he realized that the reader needs to see Vivenna dragging through the depths. Not forever-long, but long enough to make her collapse feel justified.

He also notes that there are indeed echoes of Fantine from Les Miserables in Vivenna’s experiences. He tried to avoid it at first, but eventually decided that when a master has influenced your writing, you might as well acknowledge it—and who better than Hugo to be such an influence?

* * *

Snow White and Rose Red

This week, we see nothing of Siri, focusing instead on Vivenna’s crash & burn sequence. She hasn’t quite hit the bottom yet, but she’s getting close. At the same time, she’s showing signs of increased self-awareness, which is often a step toward character growth.

For one thing, as miserable as she is,

One week on the street felt like an eternity—yet she knew that she’d only just begun to experience the life of the poor.

She’s starving and destitute, and is certainly learning to imitate the beggars, but she hasn’t lived it long enough to claim the identity, and she knows it.

For another thing, she keeps frightening herself by starting to seek Denth, momentarily believing that the things she’d seen had been hallucinations. Her mind isn’t working clearly, though she doesn’t know why, and she lives in constant fear of giving herself away somehow.

Another point is her realization that she no longer has any of her former moral standards. She would steal money or food in a heartbeat if she thought she could get away with it; the only thing holding her back is the knowledge that she’d get caught either by her intended target or the city guard. Either outcome would be bad news.

Then there’s her appearance. For all those weeks, she was obsessively choosy about what she wore; in order to be sufficiently modest, her dresses were the elegant and expensive kind. Now she’s so filthy that it’s hard to see the difference between clothing and skin, and her former way of thinking seems ridiculous.

Finally (for now), there’s the realization that even if she could manage to beg successfully, there’s no way she would actually save any coin for a return to Idris. Aside from the high probability that it would be taken from her, she knows perfectly well that she wouldn’t be able to keep from spending it on food. Hunger is an overpowering master.

So here she sits, filthy and starving, with only her shift and her shawl to call her own, vainly begging in the streets. She’s tried eating the rotting garbage in the gutters—and it would rot pretty fast in this climate—made herself sick doing so, and it’s the only thing she’s had to eat in two days. Our princess is in sorry shape.

I wondered briefly why she didn’t just go to the city authorities and get a message sent to Siri; it’s a desperate move, but there’s at least a chance it would work. While it’s possible that it simply never occurred to her to seek help from her little sister , I suspect that a) even if she considered it, she still thinks Siri is a helpless captive; and b) for reasons that will come out in next week’s annotations, she’s not thinking clearly enough to come up with such an idea.

In Living Color

Our favorite pair (or, you know, not) of gods take center stage once again. Lightsong does his best to maintain flippancy at all times, but it’s getting tougher. Those dreams are impossible to ignore, and they’re getting worse. The reality of his dreams, when we reach the climax, is really devastating; for now, it’s quite enough that they are increasingly grim in tone, and he finds it more and more difficult to pretend that they don’t mean anything.

To balance this, he’s latched onto his parallel investigations—to find out who Mercystar’s intruders were, and to find out who he was in his former life. Blushweaver thinks he’s obsessed with investigating—and he is—but she’s equally obsessed, and frustrated that he’s more occupied with his investigation than with her imminent war. One of the best lines in the whole chapter is the bit where she unintentionally insults him far more effectively than she ever could have if she’d been trying with both hands:

“Lightsong,” Blushweaver said. “If something that secret were going on, then why would the priests use those tunnels to come into the court? Wouldn’t that be a little suspicious? I mean, if you noticed it, how hard could it be to discover?”

Lightsong paused, then flushed slightly. “Of course,” he said. “I got so wrapped up in pretending to be useful that I forgot myself! Thank you so much for reminding me that I am an idiot.”

Ouch. That stung. And she didn’t even mean to. His response, beyond the usual self-mockery, is pretty significant even while his conclusion is still off-base:

“Why?” he asked, looking at her. “Why do I hate being a god? Why do I act so frivolous? Why do I undermine my own authority. Why?”

“I always assumed it was because you were amused by the contrast.”

“No,” he said. “Blushweaver, I was like this from the first day. When I awoke, I refused to believe I was a god. Refused to accept my place in this pantheon and this court. I’ve acted accordingly ever since. And, if I might say, I’ve gotten quite a bit more clever about it as the years have passed. Which is beside the point. The thing I must focus on—the important point here—is why.”

There’s always another secret…

Seriously, though, this is one of my favorite Lightsong moments. I personally believe the Hallandren were incredibly stupid to set up a system of worshipping the Returned. Should they be attended to? Of course—they came back for a reason, and it seems to be in everyone’s best interests to enable them to fulfill their purpose. But giving them all this power so that they have a vested interest in merely extending their grasp and lifespan? Not so sure. I guess the saving grace is that when their big moment comes, and they recognize it from their death vision, the majority of them will most likely do the thing they Returned in order to do. Or at least that’s the theory…

But Lightsong knows in his heart that he’s not truly a god. He’s a Returned, yes, but not really suited to be an object of worship, and not able to affect the ordinary lives of his ordinary devotees. He’ll have one shot to fix something major, and heal someone whose death would be catastrophic (as it turns out), but praying to him is… pretty useless, all in all.

Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)

Hey, look! Squirrel is back! (Honestly, I think I love Squirrel as much as Stick. Almost, anyway.)

Lightsong’s reasoning is pretty spot-on regarding the squirrel, though. Creating a Lifeless isn’t easy anyway, and this one…

“The point is that whomever made this squirrel held quite a bit of Breath and knew what he was doing. The creature’s blood has been replaced with ichoralcohol. The sutures are perfect. The Commands controlling the rodent were extremely strong. It’s a marvelous piece of BioChromatic art.”

“And?” she asked.

“And he released it in Mercystar’s palace,” Lightsong said. “Creating a distraction so that he could sneak into those tunnels. Someone else followed the intruder, and this second person killed a man to keep him from revealing what he’d seen. Whatever is in those tunnels—wherever they lead—it’s important enough to waste Breath on. Important enough to kill for.”

The intruders’ identities are actually more critical than the tunnels themselves, which are only a means of accessing fairly mundane places these two characters would otherwise have difficulty entering. (Unlike… oh, Lightsong and Blushweaver, for example.) But otherwise, he’s not wrong: the fact that someone would take such a perfect Lifeless squirrel and use it simply to distract everyone from his actions means that those actions are worth noticing.

There’s another unrelated point made in passing, too, when Lightsong talks about the difficulty of taking over control of a Lifeless if you don’t have the security phrases. Blushweaver tries sidetracking Lightsong over to her preferred focus—get the Commands from Allmother!!—by pointing out how long it would take to break and reprogram ten thousand Lifeless if something happened to Allmother. Interestingly, he brushes it off with the comment that the God King and some of Allmother’s priestesses have the Commands too, meaning that a single assassination couldn’t impact their ability to fight a war for long. So… Either Lightsong is wrong about the God King knowing the Commands, or he and Blushweaver ignore protocol when they change the security phrases and don’t pass them on to Susebron. I suppose the latter is probable.

Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall

“You know,” he said, “it’s always struck me as strange. When we say oaths like that, we use the colors. Why not use our own names? We are, allegedly, gods.”

“Most gods don’t like their names being used as an oath,” Blushweaver said, sitting beside him.

“Then they are far too pompous for my taste,” Lightsong said, tossing a pebble. It missed, and a servant deposited it. “I, personally, should find it very flattering to have my name used as an oath. Lightsong the Brave! Or, by Lightsong the Bold! I suppose that’s a bit of a mouthful. Perhaps we could shorten it to a simple Lightsong!”

“I swear,” she said. “You are getting stranger by the day.”

“No, actually,” he said. “You didn’t swear in that particular statement. Unless you’re proposing we should swear using the personal pronoun. You! So, your line at this point is ‘What in the name of You are you doing?’ ”

Okay, it’s not a Significant Moment, but it made me laugh—especially when she used the suggested phrasing.


Well, I don’t really have any more to say, and this is more than long enough already. So dive into the comments, and then join us again next week. We’ll cover chapters 40 and 41, in which Siri and Treledees contend for power, and Vivenna reaches rock bottom.

Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. She finds it worth noting that the progress bar on the latest Oathbringer revision is now at 85%, meaning that Sanderson is almost done with Part Four. Woot! No updates on other pre-release awesomeness at this time, though.


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