Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Siri sparred with Treledees, and Vivenna got kidnapped a couple more times. This week, Lightsong re-employs his Lifeless squirrel, and Vivenna learns yet more uncomfortable truths – but some comforting ones, too.
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
Setting: Allmother’s Palace
Timing: Immediately or very shortly after Chapter 38
Take a Deep Breath
Lightsong is again denied permission to see Allmother, and his persistence results in orders that none of her priestesses may bring her a request for any form of communication with him. He refuses to move until she meets with him, and as encouragement sends his Lifeless squirrel into the palace. The squirrel leaps to do his bidding, though Llarimar assures Lightsong that the mind of a squirrel will be inadequate to follow all those orders. After a few hours, a priestess finally comes to summon him.
He pauses at the entrance to Allmother’s audience chamber, where she listens to a petition and grants a solution that will provide the needed help. Lightsong facetiously pretends that the squirrel got away from him; in a private chamber, she reprimands him for his conduct, which reflects badly on all of the Returned. He asks if that’s why she puts on the “show,” and she retorts that once, all of the Returned did their best to help their petitioners.
Before she can leave, he says that he came to give her his Lifeless Commands. He explains that since Blushweaver has two sets, he thinks another Returned should too, as a rein on Blushweaver’s power. Allmother muses that Calmseer had trusted him, and Lightsong abruptly tells her his core security phrase. She refuses to let him off so easily; as he turns to leave, she gives him her core phrase. He demands to know what’s wrong with her, entrusting him with her soldiers when she thinks him a fool. Calmseer’s trust and her dreams convinced her that it was the right thing to do, and she suggests that he, too, would benefit from some soul-searching.
The room fell still, and Allmother looked over, meeting Lightsong’s eyes. She nodded to the side, where a priest stepped up, holding a small bundle of fur tied tightly with ropes.
“That is yours, I am told?” Allmother asked.
“Ah, yes,” Lightsong said, flushing slightly. “Terribly sorry. It kind of got away from me.”
“With an accidental Command to find me?” Allmother asked. “Then run around in circles screaming?”
“That actually worked?” Lightsong said. “Interesting. My high priest didn’t think the squirrel’s brain would be capable of following such complicated Commands.”
Allmother regarded him with a stern look.
“Oh,” Lightsong said. “I mean, ‘Whoops. It completely misunderstood me. Stupid squirrel.’ My deepest apologies, honored sister.”
You know, there’s absolutely nothing profound to be said about this conversation. There’s no reason to make it the big quote of the chapter. Just… I love it.
This chapter’s annotations touch on the reason the squirrel is so capable, the development of Allmother as a character, and the backstory connections between her and Lightsong. (It was quite organic, compared to what one often expects from Sanderson.) In more detail, he addresses the difficulty of getting this scene right. Lightsong had to surprise us by giving his Commands away, but at the same time he couldn’t get out of his responsibilities (and the plot) that way. So Allmother – who dislikes Lightsong and thinks he’s useless – needs a valid reason to trust him with her Commands. Hence the dream, and her belief in the legitimacy of Returned dreams. (Maybe it’s cheating, as he says, but as far as I’m concerned, legitimizing the dreams legitimizes the Returned, so IMO it’s well worth the risk!) Anyway: the dream, combined with Calmseer’s trust, works as a reason to trust him.
Also, the man petitioning Allmother was an Idrian who has basically converted from Austrism to the Iridescent Tones; having gods you can see and talk to convinced quite a few of the Idrian transplants. (And if you have one like Allmother, who might actually do something for you, that would be pretty persuasive!) Anyway, it’s not in the text, but it seems that the non-converts call the converts “scrapes.” Huh. Worldbuilding FTW. Also, Allmother’s actions are not a new thing for the gods, but a return to an old thing. All the gods used to try to really help their petitioners, but the current crop is too lazy and self-centered. (My interpretation.)
Point of View: Vivenna
Setting: Vasher’s lodgings
Timing: A week after Chapter 41
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna awakes, still sick and exhausted, but clean and in a comfortable bed. Vasher is eating nearby, sheathed sword leaning against the table. He paid the woman who runs the place to bathe, dress, feed, and care for her while she’s been unconscious; she had contracted a local disease which caused the dizziness and dementia. He understands what she’s been through, but is unsympathetic – he says she deserved it for being foolish enough to trust Denth.
When asked, she admits she put all her Breath in the shawl she’d been carrying. He leaves the room, and she promptly begins scarfing down his food – even the hated seafood. He returns with the now-clean shawl; she’s startled that he’s giving it back, but he tells her she’s the only one who can recover the Breath she put in it. Surprised at how little she knows, he gives her the Command to recover her Breath from the shawl, and the shock and pleasure of regaining her stock of Breath is so strong she falls out of her chair. Of course, the Breath heals her of disease completely, and the past few weeks suddenly seem surreal. She reminds herself never to forget what she was willing to do in her desperation.
Vasher tosses her a bundle of clothes in shades of blue, and tells her to get dressed; it’s time to go. It’s men’s clothing, but it’s sturdy and Vasher refuses to spend a lot of money buying her fancy dresses. She wonders what Vasher intends to do with her, and he says they’re going to stop Denth. She admits that Denth played her, and when Vasher laughs at her, the Royal Locks respond for the first time since Parlin’s death, going from white to red. She defends herself, saying that she was doing her best to help her people in the upcoming war, and he rather brutally points out that everything Denth had her doing was aimed at intentionally starting that war.
As they walk through the slum, she realizes that she had simply accepted the assertion that war was inevitable. Vasher claims that war has always been close but never inevitable; the Returned would have to be convinced that it was more important than their current ease. Vivenna begins to wallow in her failure, but Vasher reminds her that Denth has been working on this for a long time, and she was nothing more than a convenient tool. What he doesn’t know is who employed Denth, much less why they want a war. Vivenna asks Vasher why he cares, but he shuts down the conversation.
At their destination, Vasher stomps into the meeting of Idrian workers, refusing pleasantries, and requires Vivenna to change her hair. The men present are naturally convinced of who she is, but wonder why she’s suddenly changed sides; she apologizes that she had been manipulated into believing that war was inevitable. Vasher then ignores her and asks the men what they’re doing to stop it. Vivenna listens, beginning to understand both them and herself better than before. The Idrians are afraid and angry, and are moving toward desperate measures. Vasher is angry at them for not understanding what he sees so clearly; Vivenna realizes that she could present better arguments than he can, but wonders if she should help him or not. Concluding that her people are more important than any other considerations, she moves forward and proposes other ways to resolve the situation. In shame and humility, she speaks of diplomacy, and promises that Idris will no longer forget them but will be their ally, even if they choose to stay in Hallandren; with Siri’s possible help and the support of Dedelin, she promises that they will be seen as heroes in their homeland if they can help stop this war. They agree, and leave to see what they can do.
Vasher thanks her for her help, but she didn’t do it for him. She asks why she should obey him, how she can know he’s not just using her like Denth did, and whether he will force her to help him anyway. In frustration, he tosses her a bag of coins and tells her to go back to Idris. She doesn’t pick it up, though, confessing that she is just so confused by Denth and by Parlin’s death and… everything. Vasher finally concedes that Denth, however evil, is charismatic, and many people have been taken in by him. Vasher himself is just about as uncharismatic as it gets, but he promises not to lie to her. Ruefully acknowledging the similarity of their inner contractions, Vivenna agrees to do what she can to help stop the war.
I know that anger, Vivenna realized. I felt it. Feel it still. Anger at Hallandren.
The man’s words rang hollow to her now. The truth was, she hadn’t really felt any ire from the Hallandren people. If anything, she’d felt indifference. She was just another body on the street to them.
Perhaps that’s why she hated them. She’d worked all of her life to become something important for them— in her mind, she’d been dominated by the monster that was Hallandren and its God King. And then, in the end, the city and its people had simply ignored her. She didn’t matter to them. And that was infuriating.
This is, I think, very insightful, and reveals a lot about human pride. In general, it takes an awful lot of beating down to get to the point where we’d just rather not be noticed, either as individuals or as a culture, and there are always some who never get to that point. Don’t get me wrong; I think that last is a good thing, to a point. No one should have to simply accept being considered subhuman, as we’ve seen happen in earth history multiple times. But all too often, we can’t stand being ignored, and we convince ourselves that we have it worse than we really do – or make things worse for ourselves because we can’t believe that we just don’t matter to other people all that much.
You need to go read the extensive annotations for this chapter. Sanderson addresses: 1) The two distinct parts of Vivenna’s plot arc, as opposed to Siri’s more gradual progression, and the resulting difficulty in getting readers invested in Vivenna at all. 2) Vasher as a non-standard hero who has trouble relating to people. 3) Vivenna’s time as a Drab and the effects thereof, and that a member of the Royal Line has a fraction of a divine Returned Breath. 4) The trick of writing a good character who is working for the wrong side for a long time without knowing it. 5) What Vasher has been up to – trying to stop the war – and why we couldn’t be allowed to see it sooner. 6) Vivenna’s understanding of the Idrian resentment toward Hallandren, and some of its real-world parallels. Go read the notes, because I can’t even begin to address it all.
Snow White and Rose Red
As noted above, we’ve now come to the rather abrupt shift in Vivenna’s character arc. She started out as an arrogant princess, denying anything that didn’t fit her understanding of the world – and there were many things that didn’t, like Jewels’s devotion to the Iridescent Tones and Clod’s apparent protectiveness toward her. Then it all fell apart, with Parlin’s murder, the discovery of the dead Idrian agents, and the realization that Denth & company playing her rather than working for her. Then came the plunge into living on the street, starving and sick, learning that all her high standards would mean nothing if she were hungry enough. Now… now we start the upward climb.
It’s actually a fairly miserable way to start, though, in my opinion. Yes, being clean again is marvelous, and regaining her Breath even more so. But now she’s trying – from a rather abject position, too – to undo all the things she spent the last few months doing. Vasher doesn’t have much sympathy for her, because she’s caused him a lot of trouble so far; the fact that she was being used by Denth is only a minor mitigating factor. She’s going to be apologizing at every turn for her lack of understanding, and for company she gets grumpy Vasher… At least he’s honest with her, even if he does think she’s incredibly stupid.
The issue central to the new Vivenna gets mentioned in passing a couple of times, but I do think it’s vital for the reader to recognize it: she is really unsure of who she is now. The first mention is shortly after she’d recovered her Breath, and they were preparing to leave the lodgings.
It felt so surreal. Two weeks on the street? It felt so much longer. But now, suddenly, she was cleaned and fed, and somehow she felt like her old self again. Part of it was the Breath. The beautiful, wonderful Breath. She never wanted to be parted from it again.
Not her old self at all. Who was she, then? Did it matter?
Her old self had felt so guilty about that Breath, and wanted so much to be rid of it in the right way. It was an abomination to her old self, but now the thought of losing it again is terrifying. Then Vasher throws another wild thought her way:
“… Princess, you say every man thinks he’s on the right side, that every man who opposed you was deluding himself.” He met her eyes. “Didn’t you ever once stop to think that maybe you were the one on the wrong side?”
Which clearly she hadn’t. Not once. It hadn’t occurred to her to even question Denth’s counsel. Okay, a lot of that was because she was so naïve, and a lot was because he’s a very clever and charming man who presented everything as if he were following her orders. But now she knows she was wrong. “Wrong, wrong, out of the hunt, and wrong.”
She continued to kneel, ashamed before these men. Ashamed to be crying, to be seen in the immodest clothing and with ragged, short hair. Ashamed to have failed them so completely.
How could I fail so easily? she thought. I, who was supposed to be so prepared, so in control. How could I be so angry that I ignored my people’s needs just because I wanted to see Hallandren pay?
So she wasn’t at all who she thought she was when all the supports were knocked away. Who is she, at heart?
A pacifist with temper-control issues, she thought ruefully. What a combination. A little like a devout Idrian princess who holds enough BioChromatic Breath to populate a small village.
Well, that’s at least an acknowledgement of what she is. For the rest, we’ll wait and see.
Also? I was mildly amused that last week, Siri was carefully tasting Hallandren foods, and concluding that seafood was still revolting. This week, Vivenna wolfs down the remains of Vasher’s fish, with the thought that “seafood didn’t bother her anymore.” Hah.
As I Live and Breathe
There’s not a lot of active magic this week; mostly just Vivenna regaining her Breath from the shawl. There’s one bit worth noting, though; Vasher mentions it and the annotations expand on it. As a member of the Royal Line, Vivenna holds some fraction of a Returned Breath, and it’s what gave her the instinct to Awaken the rope Vasher had used to bind her. It’s probably also what gives her the technicolor hair trick; I think that gets clarified eventually.
The lack of understanding between cultures is such a critical part of this book as a whole, and it’s especially critical to Vivenna’s efforts on both sides of the war debate. The lot of the Idrian population in T’Telir is, of course, the means Denth has been using to manipulate them into “sabotaging the Hallandren,” and it’s also the means by which Vivenna finally understands how to change their approach. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Vasher’s inability to figure out who’s behind it all is in this same chapter, because the lot of the Pahn Kahl is not so different from that of the Idrians. And in both cases, the thing that makes it tick is the indifference of the Hallandren people as a whole. It’s not that they go out of their way to put down either the Idrians or the Pahn Kahl; they just… don’t really notice them one way or another, except in the ways their own cultures set them apart.
In Living Color
Lightsong and Allmother are quite a pair, aren’t they? Unlikely allies, to say the least! As Lightsong notes, it was only their respective relationships with Calmseer that brought them together; in fact, he hasn’t been to Allmother’s palace since the last time the three of them shared a meal… the night before Calmseer gave her Breath away. I’ll admit that I find the Returned as a whole a rather sorry lot, but this chapter gave me a certain respect for Allmother. She’s not very nice to Our Boy Lightsong… but I honestly can’t blame her, the way he acts. It’s only when you get to be inside his head that he becomes an admirable character, after all. (Well, and later on, of course, but that’s many chapters away yet.) Anyway, these two are such opposites. She’s diligent, he’s indolent. She believes they have Returned for a purpose, he’s skeptical of their divinity. She believes their dreams are prophetic, he believes they are irrelevant. Or… he always has, until recently, but no one knows that his mind is starting to change.
Anyway, I love the way they shock one another here, by each giving the other their Lifeless security codes.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
My squirrel returns again!! Such a clever little squirrel, to find Allmother and run around in circles screeching, just like he was told. Heh. I think I’ve said it before, but Squirrel and Stick have their own special little niches in my heart.
Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall
“I must ask, Allmother, and please think me not rude. But what in the name of the Colors is wrong with you?”
We’ve pretty well established by now that everyone on Nalthis swears by some variation on colors. Idrians use something about Austre, Lord of Colors; Hallandren use the Iridescent Tones, or merely “colors” in general; and of course there was Lightsong’s goofy attempt to get the gods and goddesses to swear by themselves. But… I liked this one, in context, and I haven’t found one different enough to be worth quoting for a while now. So, there we are.
Once more, we see right out in plain sight the effect of suddenly taking on a lot of Breath. Sometimes I still can’t believe I didn’t figure out how Sanderson was going to use this… Since I’ve been actively looking for foreshadowing, this time it really stands out – this effect is referenced so stinking many times, it should have been like a stick beating on my head for notice, but I just didn’t catch on. Vivenna notices a couple of times what an unnerving effect it has, and Vasher thinks about it and talks about it repeatedly. How did I not see it coming??
Well, that got long-winded. There’s just so much buried in that Vivenna chapter!! So… come play in the comments, and be sure to join us again next week. We’ll be tackling chapters 44, 45, and 46, in which Siri capitulates, Lightsong dreams, and Vivenna learns.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. In Oathbringer updates, the progress bar is now at 91%! Watch these spaces for new articles, including a soon-to-come post about beta-reading Oathbringer. Spoiler-free, of course.