Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, those in positions of theoretical authority moved toward taking actual responsibility. This week, Vivenna and Vasher rescue an innocent victim and spike one of Denth’s plans.
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: Vasher, Vivenna
Setting: Various neighborhoods of T’Telir
Timing: Indeterminate; several days after Chapter 46
Take a Deep Breath
Vasher watches through the window as Vivenna, unaware of his presence, practices Awakening. He muses that despite her mistakes she’s learning much faster than she should be, even at the third Heightening. His use of the Awakened rope by which he’s dangling outside the window demonstrates the vast gulf between their skill levels, however. Nightblood comments that he likes her and she’s pretty, having decided that he can tell even if Vasher says he can’t.
Vivenna stops her practice when Vasher enters the room, embarrassed to have him watch her. Vasher tells her that Denth has vacated both the houses Vivenna knew of, probably figuring that she’d give him away. Both are frustrated by their lack of progress, but as they prepare to go meet with another group of laborers, Vivenna asks about contacting the priests. Vasher shakes his head, replying that even the solidly anti-war Nanrovah has changed sides. Vivenna remembers, and tells Vasher about the time Denth and his gang used a coach owned by Nanrovah as a distraction in one of their robberies. Thinking it might be connected, Vasher leaves her there again while he goes to see what he can learn.
Annoyed but accepting, she waits, and spends her time thinking about judgement and misjudgment because she’s too exhausted to practice Awakening any more. When Vasher returns, he’s learned that the robbery was a distraction for the coach, instead. Vasher spends a few minutes Awakening most of his clothing in various ways, and gives Vivenna the opportunity to come with him this time. After briefly coaching her on how to hold a sword so she looks like she knows what it’s for, the two stow their Breath in their clothing and go out searching for some thieves to capture and question.
Eventually, they reach their destination, where Vasher disposes of the guards and Awakens a few straw figures to find a trapdoor (trapped, of course) leading to a tunnel. Vasher and Vivenna quietly move through until they reach the room where men are drinking around a fire. They slip along the dark edge of the room to another tunnel mouth, and find a small cage imprisoning a little girl. Vivenna is shocked and grieved; Vasher is furious. While Vasher and Nightblood disable the gang Vivenna Awakens a thread to unlock the cage. The terrified girl shrinks away from her, and Vivenna turns to look at Vasher. Larger than life, he is on the edge of drawing Nightblood fully when she shouts at him that the girl won’t come. Her distraction works, and he snaps the sword back into the sheath. The child immediately goes to him, and the three of them leave before further fighting is needed.
They make their way from the slums to the mansions, Vasher carrying the unresponsive girl. Eventually he sets her down, tells Vivenna to back away, and speaks with the child alone. Though she can’t hear them, she can see that Denth lied to her—Vasher just gave the child a very small amount of Breath from his own large store. Restored to rationality—and apparently having forgotten the entire two months of captivity—the girl climbs back into Vasher’s arms and chatters at him as they continue to her home. Vasher kicks the gate of Nanrovah’s mansion open, setting off a couple of guard dogs who go happy-puppy when they see Vasher. They reach the mansion, where a man guarded by soldiers has emerged. When he sees the child, he rushes forward, weeping and thanking Vasher, whom he doesn’t quite recognize. Vasher says that those responsible have been punished, and urges Nanrovah to make certain the kingdom doesn’t use the Lifeless for a slaughter.
As Vasher and Vivenna make their way back to their rooms, he credits her with saving the girls life by remembering the raid at the right time, and he apologizes for losing his temper with the thieves. She is merely grateful to have righted a wrong and removed a pawn from Denth’s power, but comments on the obvious wealth of the priest. Vasher corrects her misunderstanding of the situation, and once again she considers the need to make judgements even though they are sometimes wrong. This time, though, she judges both Denth and Vasher by their deeds rather than their words, and realizes that in spite of his roughness, she truly feels safe with Vasher.
“I wish I hadn’t seen that lavish mansion. Doesn’t raise my opinion of the Hallandren priests.”
Vasher shook his head. “Nanrovah’s father was one of the wealthiest merchants in the city. The son dedicated himself to serving the gods out of gratitude for their blessings. He takes no pay for his Service.”
Vivenna paused. “Oh.”
Vasher shrugged in the darkness. “Priests are always easy to blame. They make convenient scapegoats—after all, anyone with a strong faith different from your own must either be a crazy zealot or a lying manipulator.”
Vivenna flushed yet again.
Vasher stopped in the street, then turned to her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to say it that way.” He cursed, turning and walking again. “I told you I’m no good at this.”
“It’s all right,” she said. “I’m getting used to it.”
He nodded in the darkness, seeming distracted.
He is a good man, she thought. Or, at least, an earnest man trying to be good. A part of her felt foolish for making yet another judgment.
Yet she knew she couldn’t live—couldn’t interact—without making some judgments. So she judged Vasher. Not as she’d judged Denth, who had said amusing things and given her what she’d expected to see. She judged Vasher by what she had seen him do. Cry when he saw a child being held captive. Return that child to her father, his only reward an opportunity to make a rough plea for peace. Living with barely any money, dedicating himself to preventing a war.
Sorry about the extensive quote in an already-long chapter, but I needed the whole thing. I almost added a section from earlier in the chapter, too, when Vivenna thinks that she has to stop judging people, and then realizes how impossible that is, and decides that judgements must be held mutable.
Anyway, this seems highly relevant to life, the universe, and everything. One of the favorite phrases on social media these days is “Don’t judge me!” Even when used humorously, there’s an undercurrent of defensiveness; in other contexts the intent is aggressive and, oddly enough, judgmental of those who disagree with one’s opinion and can therefore be accused of being “judgmental.” It’s pretty twisted when you look at it objectively. Anyway, the point is that you can’t function without judging, and it’s not a bad thing. It’s the foundation for the judgement that determines its validity, and what you do with the judgment, whether approval or condemnation, that matters in the long run. So Vivenna is learning that someone can be outwardly pleasant and still be a complete scum, and on the other hand it’s possible to be rough and unkindly-seeming, and still be an absolute jewel underneath.
In the annotations, Sanderson talks about the balance required to give a character realistic personality flaws without making them completely unlikable—and also not giving them “flaws” that are sort of back-door advantages. Then he talks about the salt caper being one of the few of Denth’s subtle schemes that they figured out in time to counter it, and how Vivenna’s musing on making judgments reflects his own. (Come to think of it, this seems to be an area where we very much agree!) Then there’s Vasher’s use of Awakening to show how amazing he is, and that he probably thanks the straw people because he suspects that he makes them just a little bit sentient. There’s a whole chunk on Vasher—his temper, how he lost all his Breath before the book started (think Nightblood), the way he seems larger when Vivenna looks at him (because he is), and the very subtle hint about children and animals instinctively liking Returned. He concludes with a note on Vivenna scapegoating the priests—how easy it is to divide ourselves by what we believe, and convince ourselves that those who believe differently are by definition hateful.
Snow White and Rose Red
Vivenna is making progress, I’d say. She’s still working through the mental disconnect between how easy it was to trust Denth, and her guilt over trusting him, to say nothing of her humiliating realizations regarding all the things she “knew” that were so very wrong. Her basic personality hasn’t changed, but she’s learning to hold her knowledge lightly, even while rediscovering what her core convictions are.
This gives us a Vivenna who is learning to be confident again, but determined to have more basis for her confidence than mere assumption. She’s working hard to learn Awakening, so that she has some ability of her own rather than relying on her position. And as noted, she’s learning—and deliberately striving to learn—to judge the quality of a person by what they demonstrate rather than what they say.
She still needs to learn how to handle that sword of hers, though.
As I Live and Breathe
The chapter begins with Vivenna being frustrated over her inability to Awaken a strip of cloth to fetch a cup of water, but since she doesn’t know Vasher is watching, she keeps at it until she gets it right. The funny thing is that she’s embarrassed to practice in front of him, because he seems stern and unforgiving of errors, and she dislikes being seen to fail—but from his perspective, she’s learning incredibly quickly. I forget where it says this, no doubt in some chapter’s annotations, but if I recall correctly, this is partially due to her descent from the first Returned. She only holds enough regular Breath to reach the third Heightening, but she also holds a fraction of a divine Breath, and it increases her instinctive ability. It’s all related to that instinctive ability to change her hair color.
Anyway… later, when it becomes more than a matter of practice, her tenacity stands her in good stead. She needs to unlock the little girl’s cage, and the lock itself is metal and can’t be Awakened. Well, if that won’t work, grab a thread and tell it to unlock. Okay, that’s too complicated for a thread. Visualize the lock very clearly, and Command the thread to twist things. Bingo.
On the other hand… Vivenna is progressing very well as a beginner, but Vasher is a professional. At the beginning of the chapter, he’s got an Awakened rope that obeys Commands relayed by tapping it in certain ways. Now that’s a complicated Command! Then later we see him use little men made of straw and thread again, like in the prologue, to carry out an incredibly complex Command. Vivenna was thinking about the way he explained Awakening, and realizes that he has very clearly studied this process—not just practiced and gotten good, but done serious scholarly work to determine how and why it works.
In Living Color
If I remember right, this is the first time Vivenna sees Vasher shifting toward his actual Returned appearance, but she dismisses it as a trick of the light. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but if it weren’t for the annotations or previous reads, we wouldn’t know that he’s a Returned yet, would we? Much less one of the Five Scholars?) So we have Vasher losing his temper and Hulking out, after a fashion—and then we see him back to normal size, with a little girl who’s never seen him before flinging herself into his arms with absolute trust. As if that weren’t enough, the guard dogs at Nanrovah’s place go from hostile to fawning in a split second. Per the annotations, children and animals sense the Divine Breath of a Returned, and find it comforting, so these are all indications that there’s Something Special about Vasher, even if he is grumpy and has anger management issues.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
This is one of the rare times we’ve seen Nightblood in a bloodlust, and the contrast of his two voices in this chapter is… weird.
I like her, Nightblood said. I’m glad we didn’t kill her.
Vasher didn’t respond.
She’s very pretty, don’t you think? Nightblood asked.
You can’t tell, Vasher replied.
I can tell, Nightblood said. I’ve decided that I can.
He’s so cute and ingenuous when he’s like this! And then he goes dark:
Vasher’s other hand was on Nightblood’s hilt. The sheath clasp was undone, and black smoke crept out, off of the blade, some pouring toward the ground, some floating up toward the ceiling. As if it couldn’t decide.
Vasher’s arm was quivering.
Draw… me… a distant voice seemed to say in Vivenna’s head. Kill them…
Many of the men still twitched on the ground. Vasher began to slide the blade free. It was dark black, and it seemed to suck in the firelight.
This isn’t good, she thought. “Vasher!” she yelled. “Vasher, the girl won’t come to me!”
He froze, then glanced at her, eyes glazed over.
“You defeated them, Vasher. No need to draw the sword.”
Yes… yes there is…
And it’s creepy. Totally creeeeeepy. And also deadly.
Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall
“Colorless monsters.” That… just really says it all, doesn’t it? Men who would kidnap a little girl and keep her in a small cage for two months—and Vasher is so absolutely furious, it makes you think a little about what “colorless” means in this world.
Wow. So, yes, only one chapter this week. Sorry about that; blame it on a combination of a long chapter, a holiday, travel, and my newly discovered inability to use my computer in the car without getting a splitting headache. So now I’m in the Rockies, out in the woods, but fortunately with a good internet connection… and without any interest in trying to do a second chapter!
But here we are. The pebbles are already rolling, stones are beginning to shift, and next week the Avalanche starts to rumble in earnest. Chapter 50 will have the gods gathering for the Assembly where Siri and Susebron are planning to reveal what his priests had done, with Vivenna and Vasher in the audience. Chapter 51, if I can make it that far (!), gets even more intense as Vasher and Nightblood begin an attempt to rescue Siri.
Join us in the comments, and when you’ve read the next two chapters, I just dare you to stop…
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. She is currently on a brief vacation to the wilds of Montana.