Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Lightsong sent his newly-acquired Lifeless squirrel on a successful mission, and Vivenna was at last brought up out of the gutters again. This week, Siri capitulates, Lightsong dreams, and Vivenna learns.
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: Undetermined, but at least a few days after Chapter 40
Take a Deep Breath
Siri and Susebron enjoy their nightly post-bouncing picnic; Siri is reminded that Returned appear as they wish to appear, so Susebron can eat as much dessert as he likes. She wishes he would be a little less obedient to his priests, but is disconcerted when he reveals that he has talked to his priests using the artisans’ script. He asked why his father died right after he was born; their responses were so evasive that he begins to think Siri may be right about them.
Siri reminds him of Treledees’s reverence for Susebron’s Breath, and together they reach the conclusion that perhaps the entire purpose of the Hallandren monarchy is to be a vessel for that treasure. Suddenly, they realize that the new God King might not be the son of the old one: perhaps a baby has Returned, and the priests are using Siri to create the fiction of a royal baby preparatory to killing Susebron after forcing him to give his Breath to the baby.
Susebron sadly realizes that if he was not the son of the previous God King, the woman who raised him may not have been his mother. His sense of loss brings him to ask Siri about her family, and they distract themselves with the Idrian royalty. He notices that her hair doesn’t change color as much lately, and she admits that she has learned to control it to reduce her own vulnerability. This reminds them to worry over the rumors of war.
Susebron returns to personal issues, and confesses that his mother was not the only person to ever have loved him: Siri has. Hesitantly, he kisses her, and in spite of all the rational objections, she responds. A small part of her fears that they will give the priests the excuse they seek, but she ignores that. Susebron doesn’t know what to do, but Siri does, and the scene fades to black.
They had to make my family kings because of how much Breath was in that treasure. And they had to give it to a Returned—otherwise their king and their gods might have competed for power.
“Perhaps. It seems awfully convenient that the God King always bears a stillborn son who becomes Returned…”
She trailed off. Susebron saw it too.
Unless the next God King isn’t really the son of the current one, he wrote, hand shaking slightly.
What a frightening insight that would be, for both of them. All the things they thought they knew, and the things they thought they could control, just collapsed on them.
The annotations go directly to that question, and we’re told that Siri is right in recognizing that the next God King isn’t necessarily the son of the current one. The spoiler section explains that it is possible for a Returned to have children, but it requires special knowledge that we won’t learn until the sequel. The priests know, but since it’s not 100% reliable, they sometimes do what Siri guessed. If an infant Returns, the priests take it as a sign that it’s time for a new God King; if his wife can’t get pregnant (which they’d really prefer), they will use the other infant.
Susebron was one of those infants who Returned and triggered a replacement, and they really did bring his mother with him to raise him.
There is, right now, an infant Returned; that his Return coincided with the fulfillment of the Idrian treaty, the priests take as both vindication of faith, and deadline for a pregnancy. BUT:
Note that there’s not, in fact, any danger to her either way, no matter what Bluefingers says. She and Susebron, following the change in power, would have been taken to one of the isles in the middle of the Inner Sea and kept in a lavish lifestyle as long as they lived.
So… the current political situation does threaten Siri’s homeland, and Bluefingers’s plans threaten Siri and Susebron directly, but not in the way she has assumed. Sigh.
And yes, after the fade, Siri and Susebron finally consummate their marriage.
Point of View: Lightsong
Setting: Lightsong’s palace
Timing: The same night as Chapter 44
Take a Deep Breath
Well, there’s not much to say about this chapter. I think I’ll just copy and paste.
That night, Lightsong dreamed of T’Telir burning. Of the God King dead and of soldiers in the streets. Of Lifeless killing people in colorful clothing.
And of a black sword.
Well, there’s a right nightmare for you.
Sanderson’s annotations are way longer than the chapter, and talk about how he’s always wanted to do a super-short one like this. Also, this is where he’s most bummed about the need to have more tension earlier in the book; while it strengthened the story as a whole, it weakened the impact of this chapter. It’s also noted that this is specifically, and not coincidentally, the same night as the previous chapter; the possibility of Siri actually having a child just went up (!) and it affects the future. Lightsong, as a Returned, is sensitive to such changes, and so his dreams just took a turn for the worse.
Point of View: Vivenna
Setting: A small rented room in T’Telir, and its environs
Timing: Undetermined, but at least a few days after Chapter 43
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna eats alone, choking down yet more fish, so exhausted that it’s difficult to sleep. Vasher has been working them both very hard, meeting with one group after another, all working-class men and women, who can influence their friends and family not to participate in activities that will push Hallandren to war.
In this rare solitary moment, she considers a subject she’s been avoiding: her identity. No longer the confident princess, but not the beaten-down wretch either, she’s not truly even the penitent princess she’s playing for her people right now. Her personality is still the same—still determined, still committed to the Five Visions, but with a better understanding of herself and the world around her. She wants to learn to Awaken; she hates being helpless. So she begins to practice.
After various experiments resulting in completely gray clothing, Vivenna has learned many things that don’t work, and a few that do. Vasher returns and gives her a few practical bits of advice, then points out that the gray clothing is a little obvious in T’Telir. They return to their tiny room, where he remarks on her un-Idrian desire to learn Awakening, though he doesn’t understand why Austrism suddenly condemned Awakening after the Manywar. He also comments that she is not what he expected. Finally, he begins to explain Awakening Theory to her in a very scholarly manner, even as he insists that BioChroma is complicated, and humans understand very little about it.
He abruptly ends the lecture by refusing to explain a Type Four BioChromatic entity, and tosses her a package which turns out to contain a dueling blade, telling her that she needs to learn to defend herself. With that, they’re off to meet another group.
“All right,” he said. “I guess this is for the best. I’m getting tired of you walking around with that bright aura of yours that you can’t even use.”
“Well, I think we should start with theory,” he said. “There are four kinds of BioChromatic entities. The first, and most spectacular, are the Returned. They’re called gods here in Hallandren, but I’d rather call them Spontaneous Sentient BioChromatic Manifestations in a Deceased Host. What is odd about them is that they’re the only naturally occurring BioChromatic entity, which is theoretically the explanation for why they can’t use or bestow their BioChromatic Investiture. Of course, the fact is that every living being is born with a certain BioChromatic Investiture. This could also explain why Type Ones retain sentience.”
Vivenna blinked. That wasn’t what she had been expecting.
This cracks me up all over again, every time I read it. She was just looking for a little training, some practical how-to instructions… and all of a sudden it’s BioChromatic Theory 401 up in here, and she’s wondering just when this street turned into a college campus.
The annotations focus mostly on why Sanderson wanted to do certain things, but he starts with Vivenna’s need to figure out who she is at the core, now that most of her trappings are gone. Then he goes into why he waited until this point to explain the magic, and how long he’d planned to write this scene with Vasher-the-scruffy-curmudgeon suddenly talking like a scientist—and also that there are Clues as to who he really is. Then there’s a chunk on the origin of Awakening as a magic system, which is cool but you should just go read it.
Snow White and Rose Red
Well, our girls are in very different places now, but at least they’re both progressing in positive directions now. Siri, thanks to Mab’s instruction, is now exactly where she didn’t want to be, but she also did…
To back up a little, I’ll confess to a good bit of irritation with Siri’s line about wishing Susebron were more reckless, impulsive, and independent. While I understand what she’s getting at, and it might indeed be better for him to question his priests, or at least insist on a better education and real answers to his questions… at the same time, she’s got a very juvenile assumption that somehow recklessness and impulsiveness would be a good thing, even in a man who is more powerful than she registers. With that kind of power, would you really want the God King to be reckless and impulsive!! Independent, yes; willing to think for himself, yes; able to advocate for himself, absolutely. But not reckless just for the sake of being reckless. Kids these days.
I do, however, have to acknowledge her sense of fairness. On the one hand, she doesn’t think Susebron is very capable when it comes to getting information from his priests, but she realizes how inconsistent it would be to chastise him for doing the exact thing she just said he ought to do. So there’s that much.
While Siri is more and more focused on Susebron and his potential danger, Vivenna is taking a large step backwards from her former persona. She’s very reflective in these chapters, because she has to figure out who she is besides an Idrian princess. She’s not 100% there yet, but her self-evaluation has become much more honest since Denth betrayed her trust. She recognizes the value of her inherent determination; even though it was long directed at becoming the perfect Idrian princess to marry the Hallandren God King, and that goal has been overcome by events, it’s always been part of her. She’s just realizing that perhaps her definition of “the perfect Idrian princess” had a lot of false standards:
She was also a hypocrite. Now she knew what it was to be truly humble. Compared to that, her former life seemed more brash and arrogant than any colorful skirt or shirt.
She did believe in Austre. She loved the teachings of the five Visions. Humility. Sacrifice. Seeing another’s problems before your own. Yet she was beginning to think that she—along with many others—had taken this belief too far, letting her desire to seem humble become a form of pride itself. She now saw that when her faith had become about clothing instead of people, it had taken a wrong turn.
Poor Vivenna; she’s realizing that a set of rules is far easier to follow than a general admonition to humility and selflessness.
I also think it’s pretty awesome that, just as she decides that she really wants to learn Awakening despite the tenets of her religion, Vasher casually mentions that Austrism didn’t always forbid it. That’s a relatively recent event, even—only 300 years ago or so. (In the annotations, it’s mentioned that this is partly because Awakening was still a fairly new thing at the start of the Manywar, and that part of the reason for the Idrian mistrust is that they had some bad experiences with it.)
As I Live and Breathe
Vivenna’s practicing reveals a number of the limitations of the magic system, though Vasher’s instructions does little to address them immediately. But I do so much love the fact that what we call “magic” is, for a scholar on Nalthis, something to be evaluated, measured, and studied as a science. That just makes my little engineer’s heart happy! And of course I’m amused at the way most people assume that because they can do it, they “understand” it… when one of the greatest scholars on the planet is fully aware that they really know very little at all. Again, the annotations point out that Vasher, as a scholar, not only has a lot of good information, he also has a pretty good understanding of what, and how much, he doesn’t know yet.
In Living Color
Returned, Returned everywhere. Proceeding in order:
Susebron—and the reader – is gradually learning about himself and his situation, but the conclusions he and Siri are reaching are wrong at least as often as they’re right. They made a good catch this week, when they figured out that the succession doesn’t necessarily have to be literally father to son. But at the same time, Siri’s absolute distrust of the priests goes too far; she attributes far more sinister motives to them than they actually have. Of course, to be fair, they do absolutely nothing to reassure her: their determination not to trust her or Susebron with the truth, and their high-handed treatment of her, would be enough to make anyone at least question their trustworthiness. Keeping their own God King in such ignorance has finally convinced even him that they might not have his welfare at heart. And naturally, Sanderson plays with the readers’ expectation that the priests are corrupt, because priests are always totally corrupt and power-hungry vultures, aren’t they?
Lightsong gets far more action in the annotations than in the chapter, but it all boils down to the connection a “Spontaneous Sentient BioChromatic Manifestation in a Deceased Host” has to the cognitive and spiritual realms. So he has horrid dreams which really, really are prophetic—at least in terms of “these things are likely to happen.”
Vasher. I wonder what I thought about Vasher by this time on my first read-through. The contrast Vivenna thinks about, between his tattered appearance and his obvious scholarship, should be setting off alarms everywhere… at least once you know it should. Let’s pretend we all saw this, right? Anyway… I do like the way he gives her credit for integrity when he acknowledges that she’s not what he expected, and promptly decides to go right ahead and give her the full fire-hose BioChroma education. I also like that the annotations tell us he’s right, because reliable narrators are not all that common in Sanderson’s writing.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
Vasher’s categorical refusal to even talk about the fourth type of BioChromatic entity is a major cluebat. I suspect most semi-savvy readers are making the connection to Nightblood, at least once Vivenna voices her suspicions in her own mind; the fact that Vasher tells her never to ask again should make it clear that there’s something seriously dodgy about the sword and his connection to it.
Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall
“Spontaneous Sentient BioChromatic Manifestations in a Deceased Host.” Austre, Lord of Colors, what a mouthful. I can’t decide whether it’s hilariously ostentatious or awkwardly accurate!
I find myself more and more frequently wishing I could remember my reactions to this book the first time I read it. By now, between skipping forward and backward to check on things, and reading all the annotations several times and often out of order, I have real trouble remembering what I should know with confidence, what I should be figuring out, and what ought to be just a faint glimmer of suspicion. Too bad you can’t go back in time…
Well, that’s enough anyway. Let’s hear your comments! And be sure to join us again next week, when we will cover chapters 47 and 48, in which Lightsong remembers Calmseer and collects Allmother’s Lifeless soldiers, while Siri and Susebron plan how to reach out beyond the priests.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. As the Oathbringer preparations continue to ramp up, look for an article next week on the beta read. Behind the scenes, the copyedit review stands at 71% (or a bit more by now), and the gamma read is expected to start in early or mid-July.