Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Siri was taken captive, Lightsong withheld his vote on the war proposal, and Vasher was captured when he went to rescue Siri. This week, Vasher is tortured physically, and Lightsong psychologically. The Avalanche is at full steam now.
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, Lightsong
Setting: Lightsong’s Palace, the God King’s bedchamber
Timing: The same evening as Chapter 50 and 51
Take a Deep Breath
Lightsong drinks and watches his servants bring in and pile up the things he’s been given by his worshippers over the years, and engages in philosophical discussions with Llarimar. He is stewing over the decision he must make which will so drastically affect the fate of those same people: whether or not to go to war. Llarimar presents a fairly balanced evaluation of the pros and cons, and Lightsong pushes him—if he had to choose, what would he do? He removes his priestly headgear and speaks as a friend, offering a suggestion which just might work out well for everyone.
Siri waits alone in the black bedchamber, terrified of what’s going on and how she’s being guarded and kept isolated. Susebron has not been allowed to come to her; the only person she has seen is a crass soldier type who checks on her periodically, and who apparently replaced the Lifeless and the priests who had guarded her at first. With no information and no idea when this imprisonment might end, she has to hope that Susebron will somehow break free and rescue her.
Lightsong and Llarimar peer through the bushes toward Mercystar’s palace, and Lightsong recognizes the scene from his dream. When the guard patrol passes, they run for the wall and sneak in through a window. Once in, though they’re forced to brazen it out when the indoor guards see them. They make their way to the trapdoor, watched by a helpless guard, and follow their noses to the Lifeless barracks. Moving farther, they find lights and hear voices—Denth and another man talking about the war and having captured Vasher. As they confer, they hear a scream, and then Blushweaver shouting at someone to let her go. Lightsong finds himself dashing off to the rescue, and bursts out into a dungeon where Blushweaver is now gagged and bound to a chair. Lightsong charges, taking the men off guard, and seizes the sword of the man he knocked down. Unfortunately for him, when the soldiers engage, he turns out to have no skill with the sword whatsoever; he and Llarimar are promptly taken down.
He was interrupted by a loud scream. Lightsong jumped. The sound came from the same place he had heard the voices, and it sounded like…
“Let go of me!” Blushweaver yelled. “What do you think you’re doing! I’m a goddess!”
Lightsong stood up abruptly. A voice said something back to Blushweaver, but Lightsong was too far down the tunnel to make out the words.
“You will let me go!” Blushweaver yelled. “I—” she cut off sharply, crying out in pain.
Lightsong’s heart was pounding. He took a step.
“Your Grace!” Llarimar said, standing. “We should go for help!”
“We are help,” Lightsong said. He took a deep breath. Then—surprising himself—he charged down the tunnel.
This is such a heroic moment… momentarily. Of course, it leads into one of the gut-wrenching twists so characteristic of Sanderson’s climax scenes, but it’s nice to enjoy it while it lasts. Last week, Siri and Vasher were captured just at the moment they looked like breaking free; now it’s Lightsong’s turn. I haz a sad.
I highly recommend that you read the annotations for this chapter. They’re full of spoilers, but so is the rest of the reread, so… go for it. To quickly summarize: Lightsong subconsciously chafes at the way all the intangible things he used to value have been replaced by all the stuff that he’s given as a god. The relationship between Lightsong and Llarimar is meant to be a parallel of sorts with Vivenna & Siri, and knowing Lightsong so well as Stennimar necessarily complicates Llarimar’s religious beliefs. Siri is going to be stuck for a while in “damsel in distress” mode, but it’s sort of needed in the plot right now, and she hasn’t been built as a character who can do armed combat.
Having built dreams & prophecy into the magic/religious system, it made sense to use a prophetic dream to get Lightsong to the right place at the right time—if it were sheer coincidence, it would be a bit too convenient. (There’s a nice long section on the history of the tunnels, and how the Pahn Kahl finagled their way into the system. Go read it.) Finally, the twist wherein we expect to find that Lightsong is an expert swordsman and he turns out to be a complete tyro is needed partly to be unexpected, partly because it makes a better story, and partly because given his backstory, it wouldn’t make sense for him to be any good at combat.
* * *
Point of View: Vivenna, Siri, Old Chapps, Vasher, Vivenna, Lightsong
Setting: Various locations in T’Telir and the Court of Gods
Timing: Into the early morning hours of the same night
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna paces, anxious because Vasher still hasn’t returned from his “quick scouting mission.” Wondering why she worries, she realizes that Vasher is the only person she knows besides Siri who never wears a false persona.
Siri wakes to the sound of a second round of fighting outside her chamber. Suddenly Treledees enters, urging her to come with him. Since she assumes he’s the villain, two of the city guardsmen with him have to bring her forcefully. She screams toward the sound of more fighting down the hallway as they carry her away.
Old Chapps, disposer of inconvenient corpses and sometime fisherman, follows the advice of the sea to drop his weighted net in just the right place. It snags on something too heavy, and he pulls it in to find a sword tangled in the net… silvery, with a black handle. It speaks to him, and Old Chapps admires his find.
Vasher regains consciousness, wrists tied with his own rope, hanging from a hook in the ceiling. He’s been stripped to his undershorts, and everything around him is drained of color. It doesn’t matter, since he has no Breath remaining. Denth is waiting; along with his anger over Shashara, he wants to know how Vasher killed Arsteel. They snarl back and forth for a bit, ending with Denth pulling out a knife and claiming he’s always wondered what Tonk Fah enjoys so much about causing pain.
Vivenna gets dressed as dawn approaches; it’s clear that something has gone wrong for Vasher. She thinks about how she’s failed at everything she’s tried since leaving Idris, but realizes that she has to deal with failure if she’s ever going to do better. Determined to try even if she fails again, she puts on one of Vasher’s tassel-cuffed outfits, followed by his spare cloak, then Commands the clothing as she heard Vasher do: the cloak to protect, the sleeve tassels to grip when she does, and the leg tassels to strengthen her legs. Tying on her sword, she sets out.
Lightsong sits in a cage, watching Blushweaver cry. She admits she’d been working with the God King’s priests, but they have betrayed her, accusing her of withholding things. Lightsong turns to Llarimar, in the cage next to his own; he believes that if he can just get the right tool in his hands, his instincts will let him pick the lock on the cage. Llarimar suddenly shouts at him, revealing the truth about Lightsong’s former life—a scribe and his own trouble-maker brother. Before Lightsong can respond, a priest approaches and demands the Command phrases. When Lightsong refuses, the other priests pull Blushweaver from her cage and, without further ado, cut her throat. Lightsong frantically strains at his cage, unable to reach or aid her, as she dies. The priest explains simply that they needed him to understand that they were serious and would do whatever it took to get his Command phrases. Lightsong says they can beat them out of him, but their torturer is busy elsewhere; they simply move to Llarimar’s cage, promising to kill him. As they hold a knife to his brother’s throat, Lightsong breaks and gives them the “Red Panther” code. The priests leave, and Lightsong is left staring at Blushweaver’s corpse, trying to convince himself that it’s all a hallucination.
“I still owe you for Arsteel’s death, too,” Denth said quietly. “I want to know how you killed him.”
“In a duel,” Vasher said in a croaking voice.
“You didn’t beat him in a duel, Vasher,” Denth said, stepping forward. “I know it.”
“Then maybe I snuck up and stabbed him from behind,” Vasher said. “It’s what he deserved.”
Denth backhanded him across the face, causing him to swing from the hook. “Arsteel was a good man!”
“Once,” Vasher said, tasting blood. “Once, we were all good men, Denth. Once.”
I thought this was sadly profound, and a timely reminder of who they used to be. Once, the Five Scholars were worthy of honor and respect. Once, they were good people who sought knowledge and understanding for the good of humanity. We don’t entirely know what happened to change that; probably Nightblood, along with several other things.
There are about forty brief annotations here… The first scene is just a quick update on Vivenna, and the second is a quick glance at Siri being retrieved by Treledees, who has taken advantage of Denth’s preoccupation with Vasher to regain control of that corner of the palace. Then there’s Old Chapps—a random, unhinged old dude with a seriously creepy way of looking at life death, who is therefore open to Nightblood’s touch.
The next bit is longer, concerning the conversation—if you can call it that—between Denth and Vasher. Mostly it clarifies that Vasher was wrong about Arsteel, whose motives were actually good even if his understanding wasn’t, and that Arsteel had never intended the duel to be deadly. He just wanted to talk some sense into Vasher, as he saw it. Also, there is some slight measure of good left in Denth, as shown by his effort to limit Tonk Fah’s proclivities to animals instead of people.
There’s a short note about Vivenna & Siri—they’re both out of their depth and ought to be useless, but they still do what they can, because they’ve matured that way. Sanderson also notes this moment of decision as Vivenna’s first step toward becoming her new self.
Then there’s another longer comment about Lightsong and Llarimar. Horrible as it was, the priest was sort of right about killing Blushweaver—it’s one of the very few ways they could have destroyed Lightsong’s assumption of invincibility. Also, the story about the only other time Lightsong landed them both in prison is… funny, in a cringe-making sort of way. He ends the annotations with a bit of philosophy: the need to allow the bad guys to do the smartest thing just because it’s smart, not because they necessarily like doing it. While he assures us that the priests wouldn’t have killed Llarimar right away—and lose their last bargaining chip—they’d probably have started cutting off his fingers. Anyway, the big effect of the whole scene was to turn Lightsong’s arc from fun-and-games to deadly serious.
* * *
Snow White and Rose Red
Siri and Vivenna, once again, are mostly bit-parts right here, but there are things worth noting. We’re supposed to still be unsure of the priests motivations, and I’m sure on the first read, we still were. On a reread, it’s a little sad to see Siri’s response to Treledees—though, of course, he never gave her reason to react any other way. Vivenna doesn’t actually do much this week, but she’s setting up for next week. So… we’ll talk about the girls more next week.
As I Live and Breathe
Oddly enough, the only person do even use Awakening this week is Vivenna. I have to wonder if she realizes just how difficult the Commands are that she used in this scene—“Protect me;” “Upon call, become my fingers and grip that which I must;” “Strengthen my legs.” Vasher used them quickly and apparently casually, but these should be way beyond her ability… and I’m refusing to look ahead and see if she was successful or not. However… it makes me wonder if objects can become habituated to Commands which are given them multiple times.
We know that the Pahn Kahl are behind all of this mess, but of course no one in-book (besides Denth and the Pahn Kahl themselves) knows that yet. Lightsong, though, notes several times that something is “off” about the priests. Again, I’m not looking ahead to get the answer—I’ll get there soon enough—but it’s impossible not to assume that something about either the look or the demeanor of the priests is more Pahn Kahl than Hallandren. Like this bit:
“No,” the priest said, shaking his head. “We’re actually new to all of this. We don’t know how to torture very well, and it would take too much time to force you to talk that way. Those who are skilled at torture aren’t being very cooperative right now. Never pay a mercenary before the job is done.”
I can’t quite see any of Susebron’s priests—or anyone else’s, from what we’ve seen—being humble enough to admit that they don’t know how to do something. It just seems terribly out of character, right? So… just pointing that out.
In Living Color
If you’ve been reading the spoiler annotations—or for that matter, if you’ve been reading the reread!—this wouldn’t have been as much of a shock, but on a first read, Blushweaver’s murder was like lightning out of a clear sky. WHAT??? It isn’t unbelievable, especially by the time you read the next page or so, but it’s blindingly unexpected, even if you thought she might die somewhere along the line. It was just so abrupt. No lead in. I don’t know about you, but as a way to make Lightsong’s arc take a sudden turn, I found it frighteningly effective.
In these two chapters, Lightsong goes from adventurous would-be sleuth and hero to a broken shell of himself. He thought (with some reason, of course) that he was pretty well invincible, but suddenly he finds that he’s a completely inept fighter, in his former life he was scribe to a local moneylender, Llarimar is his brother, and gods are terrifyingly susceptible to murder by someone who doesn’t want their Breath. Ouch.
Then there are our former Scholars, Vasher & Denth, and Vasher isn’t doing too well in this particular encounter. Denth has all the advantages: along with having his whole team against Vasher alone, now he has physical freedom while Vasher hangs by his wrists from a hook. On top of that, Denth just has a lot wider moral latitude—he’s way better at lying to himself (as well as others), while Vasher acknowledges the truth about himself to himself. As a result, Denth even manages to win the ethics argument—or at least Vasher doesn’t try very hard to defend himself because he still feels guilty about the things he did. I have to grant that having your sister killed by her husband, who was also one of your best friends, would tend to sour a person, but Denth seems to be one of those people who justify their own heinous behavior by pointing out all the things other people do wrong instead of taking any personal responsibility.
As per the annotations, Arsteel probably wasn’t as far gone as Denth; he didn’t really understand Vasher, but he didn’t intend to kill him in that duel. This makes me wonder what role he and Yesteel played in the balance of the Five Scholars. The recent annotations, though, make me think that Yesteel is functioning either like Denth—“Revenge for my brother!!”—or like Shashara—“Cool new technology!! Let’s see what we can make!! Teach it to everyone!!” Speaking of which, I’d really like to know more about Shashara’s motivations, beyond that one note about how she felt she had something to prove when one of the others came up with improvements to the Lifeless.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
Then there’s Shashara’s most notable creation… Nightblood. I was amused by the comment in the annotations: “Really, Denth, you should have known to toss Nightblood someplace far deeper than the shallow bay.” It’s almost funny; Lightsong hears Denth’s voice, clearly on his way back upstairs after pitching Nightblood into the water, and then the “priests” lose their skilled torturer because he’s too focused on settling old scores. Apparently he figured that removing Nightblood from Vasher’s immediate vicinity was good enough. Hah.
You always know when you get four or five POV characters in a single chapter that Sanderson has launched the Avalanche. In this particular case, it starts with such a rush that there is hardly time to realize what’s happening. In the span of four chapters, five major characters are captured: first Siri, then Vasher, and suddenly Lightsong, Llarimar, and Blushweaver all at once. Before you have time to assimilate that much, Blushweaver is dead, Lightsong’s past is revealed, his lightheartedness is forcibly crushed, Siri is hustled off by the priests again, and Vasher is being tortured. Vivenna is probably going to go try something she’s not capable of doing, and we have no idea what’s happened to Susebron. Welp.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. The gamma read of Oathbringer is about half done (though the progress bar only shows 32% as of this writing), Lyndsey Luther has launched a series of articles on cosplaying the Stormlight Archive, more Stormlight articles are soon to come, and we’re not far from the beginning of the early-release excerpts. Speaking of avalanches…