Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Vivenna and Vasher spiked one of Denth’s guns by rescuing Nanrovah’s daughter. This week, the priests debate, Siri is trapped, Vivenna is worried, and the gods vote. Well, most of them do. Then Vasher attempts another rescue, which goes… poorly.
Can you say Avalanche?
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, Siri, Vivenna, Lightsong
Setting: The arena and Susebron’s palace corridors
Timing: A few days after Chapters 48 and 49
Take a Deep Breath
Lightsong and Blushweaver walk together on the gods’ level of the arena, where all the gods will soon be in attendance for the war vote. Lightsong is preoccupied with his own thoughts of godhood and dreams, until Blushweaver suggests that they should share the Lifeless Commands with one another. He doesn’t answer, and she shifts to a semblance of her usual flirtation. The typical banter ensues, but it’s a bit forced, and comes to an abrupt end with Lightsong’s bitter reference to the absurdity of his position in the pantheon. Blushweaver, in a rare moment of candor, points out that he’s one of the very few who takes his responsibilities to the people—not the gods—seriously. They part, Lightsong going to his own box, wondering why Siri is later than usual, but highly aware of Blushweaver watching him before she goes to her own place.
Siri walks through the palace, going over the plan one more time on her way to the arena. As she approaches the outer door, a group of priests with several Lifeless are waiting for her; turning to go another way, she finds another group of priests approaching from behind. She tries to brazen it out, but the priests insist that due to her “condition” it has been decided that exertion is not good for her. Suddenly, she realizes that they didn’t need an actual pregnancy—they only needed enough time for her to have theoretically become pregnant. The lead priest assures her that it’s for her own good; though she doesn’t believe him, she allows herself to be escorted back to her rooms.
Vivenna waits for Vasher in the arena, but when he arrives he has been unable to ascertain whether or not Denth is in attendance. They listen to the priests’ debate; since the return of his daughter, Nanrovah is again speaking strongly against the war, but this second sudden reversal has greatly reduced his credibility. Vivenna is irritated to see that Siri is absent; she’d hoped to check on her sister. Vasher stews about leaving Nightblood locked in a closet so long, though he agrees when Vivenna points out that bringing the sword would make him conspicuous. He absentmindedly comments that Denth used to make fun of his inability to be unobtrusive, too, and Vivenna is surprised to learn they were once friends. Vasher leaves to see if he can find out what’s taking the God King so long; Vivenna waits again, pondering the sensations of being in a crowd while holding so much Breath, and senses Vasher’s approach before he reaches her. He congratulates her on her pending aunt-hood, and her fear for Siri’s safety sharply increases. Vasher agrees to try to get Siri out, and they realize that the priests are all leaving the arena floor. It’s time for the gods to vote.
Lightsong watches the priests seek their respective gods, irritated that Susebron hasn’t bothered to show up at an assembly so critical to the future of the nation. Llarimar approaches, and begs Lightsong to favor him with a decision. Lightsong refuses to answer, watching as the gods register their votes. He is cynically amused, since the only votes that really count belong to the gods who hold the Lifeless Commands—Blushweaver and himself. Blushweaver, of course, waits for a dramatic moment to reveal her decision, though Lightsong can sense her anxiety. She finally sends her priestess down with a vote for war; Lightsong knows that she will now be central to the planning and execution of the war, and he could be as well. He turns away, and returns to his palace without casting his vote.
“Our brothers and sisters aren’t as bad as you imply,” she said quietly.
“Only a matchless group of idiots would give me control of their armies.”
“They trust you.”
“They’re lazy,” Lightsong said. “They want others to make the difficult decisions. That’s what this system encourages, Blushweaver. We’re all locked in here, expected to spend our time in idleness and pleasure. And then we’re supposed to know what is best for our country?” He shook his head. “We’re more afraid of the outside than we’re willing to admit. All we have are artworks and dreams. That’s why you and I ended up with these armies. Nobody else wants to be the one who actually sends our troops out to kill and die. They all want to be involved, but nobody wants to be responsible.”
I think he’s quite right. For that matter, so is she. As she points out a few minutes later, his reputation for frivolity is belied by the fact that he’s one of the few who reviews all the offerings and hears all the petitions of his worshippers. The other gods know that he’s more trustworthy than they are.
The annotations for this chapter cover the same variety of subjects as the chapter itself. There’s a piece on the relationship between Lightsong and Blushweaver, their last episode of banter (deliberately forced), and the wisdom of the observations they make about the situation and one another. There’s a bit of clarification on the priests actions toward Siri—they really are concerned about her safety, but since Bluefingers doesn’t know their rationale he overreacts, as we’ll see soon enough. Then we get a quick note about the arena scene mirroring the one at the beginning of the book (as closely as it could, given Siri’s capture), and Lightsong’s characteristically frustrating behavior in refusing to vote.
Point of View: Vasher
Setting: The court wall, Susebron’s palace corridors
Timing: Evening of the same day as Chapter 50
Take a Deep Breath
Vasher walks the wall around the Court of Gods, with Nightblood busily admonishing him over being locked in the closet, and notes that Lightsong’s palace is one of the few with lights still shining. He does not think highly of Lightsong’s reputation, and Nightblood eagerly suggests that they go kill him. Vasher muses on Nightblood’s Awakening and sentience, and Nightblood leaps to various conclusions—all of which mean they should go kill someone, or at least throw it into Lightsong’s palace, so if he’s evil he’ll kill himself.
Vasher defers this possibility and makes his way to the God King’s palace instead, thinking of the fortress/outpost it used to be. He uses various Awakened objects—very skillfully—to climb into a window in a deserted room. Nightblood chatters about Vivenna, whom it very much likes for reasons it can’t quite articulate. The rooms and passageways have changed somewhat since last time Vasher was here, but he concludes that Siri’s supposed pregnancy means she’s likely in a larger upper complex of rooms. Eventually, he senses someone coming and grabs a passing maid with his Awakened rope, forcing her to tell him where Siri’s rooms are.
To his surprise, the door indicated by the maid is guarded by several brutish-looking soldiers, rather than servants, indicating that they are likely holding the queen captive. He can’t possibly take them all without a racket, but decides to risk the standard Nightblood protocol. The moment he tosses the blade, however, he is grabbed by an Awakened rope. Fighting with all his Awakened items, his attackers are too many and they pile on top of him. Bound by the Awakened rope that first seized him, he sees Denth emerge from a room nearby.
After a brief exchange of hostilities between Denth and Vasher, Tonk Fah interrupts with Nightblood, wrapped in a blanket. Denth whacks him upside the head and takes the sword away from Tonks to keep him from falling under its influence. Then he orders his men to remove all of Vasher’s Awakened clothing and hang him up in a nearby room, where they are going to have a long talk about what he did to Shashara.
Vivenna. The source of a lot of his troubles. His work in the city had been easier when he’d been able to assume that she was working willingly with Denth. Then, at least, he’d been able to blame her.
Where is she? Is she here? She doesn’t like me, but I like her.
Vasher hesitated in the dark hallway. You do?
Yes. She’s nice. And she’s pretty.
Nice and pretty—words that Nightblood didn’t really understand. He had simply learned when to use them. Still, the sword did have opinions, and it rarely lied. It must like Vivenna, even if it couldn’t explain why.
She reminds me of a Returned, the sword said.
Ah, Vasher thought. Of course. That makes sense. He moved on.
What? Nightblood said.
She’s descended from one, he thought. You can tell by the hair. There’s a bit of Returned in her.
Nightblood didn’t respond to that, but Vasher could feel it thinking.
As has happened so many times, Nightblood is aware of concepts that should be meaningless to it, and seeks meaning for them from its own context. As has also happened frequently, I find myself really wanting to read that sequel!
There’s a priceless bit of background in this chapter’s annotations about what kind of behavior is acceptable in a fictional hero: Sanderson tells of a book he was reading once, where the heroes decided that a bunch of peasants needed to be killed because they’d seen the good-guy army’s hiding place. For story purposes, since the “peasants” were their friends in disguise, it didn’t actually happen, but he could no longer see those characters as valid heroes. (He also didn’t finish reading the book.) This, among other things, is why Vasher can’t give in to Nightblood and go simplify matters by killing Lightsong. It wouldn’t have simplified things anyway, of course, but they couldn’t know that.
Anyway. The rest of the annotations have to do with Nightblood’s capabilities (which are greater than Vasher believes), some of the past history of Awakening, and what Denth has been up to. It’s worth noting that Denth was so far successful that the priests believed they were fighting against Idrian rebels and had no clue it was all the Pahn Kahl.
Snow White and Rose Red
Our Sweet Sisters don’t have a lot of action this week; Vivenna mostly sits and thinks while she waits for Vasher, and Siri is “protected” by the priests right out of any opportunity to speak for herself and Susebron at the assembly. In context, though, this section marks another sudden switch in their roles. Just as Vivenna comes out of her fog and begins to redevelop her character and a certain amount of independence, Siri has all her independence rather forcefully removed. It’s really quite frustrating.
It is not uncommon to rail against “lack of communication” as a plot device; many authors use it—because there’s not much plot if everyone knows everything—but some do it better than others. In this case, as irritating as it is, I have to admit that it’s fairly realistic for Siri, the priests, and Bluefingers to all look at the same situation, make vastly different assumptions, and reach wildly dissimilar conclusions. And unfortunately, because I really want to smack their heads, it’s perfectly realistic for Siri and Treledees to irritate each other the way they do, resulting in an almost complete lack of communication—or trust—between them. If the priests had ever developed a habit of explaining themselves to anyone, maybe they could have worked with her instead of sending her running headlong to the one person most likely to kill her. But that’s yet to come.
As I Live and Breathe
Vasher slid Nightblood into a strap on his back then jumped from the wall toward the palace. Awakened tassels around his legs gave him extra strength, letting him leap some twenty feet. He slammed against the side of the building, smooth onyx blocks rubbing his skin. He twitched his fingers, and the tassels on his sleeves grabbed on to the ledge above him, holding him tight.
He Breathed. The belt at his waist—touching his skin, as always—Awakened. Color drained from the kerchief tied to his leg beneath his trousers. “Climb things, then grab things, then pull me up,” he Commanded. Three Commands in one Awakening, a difficult task for some. For him, however, it had become as simple as blinking.
Vasher’s mastery of Awakening is pretty astonishing after watching Vivenna struggle to get simple Commands right—and we’re told that she progressed much faster than normal. I guess that’s what 300+ years of practice does for you, eh?
It seems to be a theme in the Cosmere, that intent has just about everything to do with a person’s ability to wield the local magic. Here on Nalthis, a second critical element seems to be the ability to accurately visualize your intent. Whether that’s a feature of Nalthis itself, or of Endowment’s character, we really don’t know. Rats anyway.
In Living Color
Lightsong and Blushweaver, apparently, really are in love with one another, but neither is quite sure about the other. (For that matter, we’re only sure because of the annotations.) Their relationship makes a curious counterpoint to the Susebron/Siri romance, which flourishes because they’re neither one capable of dissembling for very long. Lightsong and Blushweaver spend a lot of time sparring, hiding their real thoughts behind their deliberate personas—and even when they’re honest, they disguise the truth as pretense. The realization that this is the last time they’ll do so, though, was a bit sad-making.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the first time the text comes out and says that Shashara was Denth’s sister. We knew it from the annotations and from previous reads, but if I’m right, on a first read this revelation would have suddenly placed the Denth-Vasher tension in a very different light. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Vasher spent time pondering on the work Shashara had put into figuring out how to create Nightblood, and how they’d worked together on the project, in the same chapter that we learn she was Denth’s sister. While it doesn’t justify starting a war just for the fun of it, it does make Denth’s hatred of Vasher seem less unreasonable.
Also, and almost irrelevantly, did you notice the cut text? That line just about killed me when I actually thought about it for a second.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
There’s a whole boatload this week about Nightblood’s creation and abilities, which I can’t cover very well without just quoting lots and lots. So… here’s a good piece:
Nightblood should not be alive. And yet he was. Shashara had always been the most talented of them … She had studied, experimented, practiced. And she’d done it. She’d learned to forge the Breath of a thousand people into a piece of steel, Awaken it to sentience, and give it a Command. That single Command took on immense power, providing a foundation for the personality of the object Awakened.
With Nightblood, she and Vasher had spent much time in thought, then finally chosen a simple, yet elegant, Command. “Destroy evil.” It had seemed like such a perfect, logical choice. There was only one problem, something neither of them had foreseen.
How was an object of steel—an object that was so removed from life that it would find the experience of living strange and alien—supposed to understand what “evil” was?
I’m figuring it out, Nightblood said. I’ve had a lot of practice.
That “simple, yet elegant, Command’ turns out to be not-so-simple. And I have to say it: Nightblood’s attempts to carry it out are rarely what could remotely be described as “elegant” even if you were the Marquis de Sade himself. Thorough, yes… but extremely messy.
There are hints in the text, and more in the annotations, about the ways Awakening was used during the Manywar. It comes across a bit like the idea of using nuclear bombs—it sounded like a good idea at the time, but the results were far more devastating than anyone expected, and mostly people don’t want to ever see anything on that scale again. Let’s just keep it contained over here, hold the Lifeless as a threat over anyone who gets uppity, but otherwise let’s only use it for small things—making life a little easier, but not doing anything serious with it. At least not until people get really, really used to it and no longer distrust it quite so much.
Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall
Kalad’s Phantoms! she thought in frustration. One of these days, someone in this Colors-cursed city is going to tell me the whole truth. I’ll probably die of shock.
Vivenna’s a little peeved, don’t you think? Hilarious, though, that the first curse is inadvertently aimed at the exact person who created “Kalad’s Phantoms” and the second seems more fitting to the Hallandren beliefs than Idrian.
Sometimes I think that one of the biggest clues to the start of an Avalanche is the number of POV characters in a chapter. We’ve had a few multi-POV chapters before in this book, but not on this scale. When the perspective changes between four different characters in a single chapter, it’s time to settle in and hang on for the ride! Except that in this case, the ride is slowed because I can only summarize so many chapters at a time before my head tries to explode. So we’ll keep our plodding pace despite the rolling of the hillside under our feet.
Join us in the comments, and again next week when we will cover chapters 52 and 53 (hopefully), in which Lightsong asks pertinent questions, Siri is terrified, and lots of other people do lots of other things that would take too long to list. The avalanche rolls on.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. This week’s Oathbringer update is that the gamma read has begun, and will be completed by July 26. Also, the first Apocalypse Guard book is in the works; the progress bar says 11% at the moment.