Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week was full of chaos and terror: Siri and Susebron were captured, briefly reunited, and then separated again; Vasher was tortured while Vivenna searched for him; and Llarimar revealed Lightsong’s past as they awaited their fate. This week, Vivenna frees Vasher, Lightsong remembers his purpose, and Siri & Susebron are reunited yet again. The Avalanche is nearing a smashing conclusion.
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: Vivenna, Vasher
Setting: All over and around the God King’s palace
Timing: Immediately following Chapter 55
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna, unsure whether she can stop both Denth and Tonk Fah but determined do it or die trying, rearranges her Awakenings as she hangs outside the third-floor window. Once ready, she pulls herself through the window and flings Awakened ropes at both men. Tonks is entangled, but Denth is too quick; he cuts the rope with his dagger and has his sword out by the time she reaches Vasher. Vivenna draws her sword (properly); Denth’s surprise gives her just enough time to slash through the rope holding Vasher, though she ends with Denth’s sword through her shoulder.
As Denth turns to free Tonk Fah, Vasher quickly tells Vivenna of the invasion plans, telling her to get back to the highlands and warn her people to flee. Instead, she gives Vasher her entire, considerable stock of Breath. With unexpected strength, Vasher stands, wrapping the rope around his waist and picking up her sword. Denth is clearly excited by the chance to duel Vasher, and the first exchange of blows proves that Denth is by far the better swordsman.
Vivenna stands, trying to think how she can help, but Tonk Fah stops her. That close, she realizes that he’s wearing the same cloak she tried to Awaken before, and it still holds the Breath from that attempt. She quietly recovers the Breath, then Awakens the cloak—properly, this time—and Commands it to attack Denth. Tonks is yanked toward the fight, lurching into Denth… and knocking Vasher out the window. Denth sends Tonk Fah to collect their Lifeless squad and slow Vasher when he comes back.
Vasher falls, frustrated with the interruption after being so close to completing his plan. He Awakens the rope—using color from the blood on his chest—descends to the ground, and races for the entrance. Scooping up a sword from one of the fallen soldiers at the gate, he Awakens a couple sets of clothing to fight for him. He has nearly outmaneuvered the guards when a squad of Lifeless barrel around the corner. Cursing furiously, he suddenly hears Nightblood and realizes that there is black smoke coming from under the closed doors. He recovers the Breath from the clothing, and when the soldiers stand back to let the Lifeless in, Vasher takes advantage of the moment to charge into the gate and smash it open. Snatching Nightblood from its sheath, he ignores the pain and turns to attack. In a matter of minutes, half of the Breath Vivenna gave him is gone, and fifty Lifeless are destroyed.
Using Nightblood to remove walls, ceilings, and anything else in his way, Vasher charges back toward Denth, Breath draining all too quickly. He finally reaches the room again, and finds it empty. In anguish, he throws the sword aside, trying to recover from its effects; he’s down to barely enough Breath to reach the first Heightening. Then Denth is there, dropping a dueling blade in front of him.
“My life to yours,” she said. “My Breath become yours.”
Her world became a thing of dullness. Beside her, Vasher gasped, then began to convulse at the bestowal of Breath. Denth stood up, spinning.
“You do it, Vasher,” Vivenna whispered. “You’ll be far better at it than I will be.”
“Stubborn woman,” Vasher said as he overcame the convulsions. He reached out, as if to restore her Breath to her, but noticed Denth.
Denth smiled, raising his blade. Vivenna put a hand to her shoulder, stopping the blood flow, and she began to push herself back toward the window—though, without Breath, she wasn’t certain what she intended to do there.
Vasher stood up, taking her sword in his hand. He wore only the bloody, knee-length underbreeches, but his stance was firm. He slowly wrapped the rope he’d been hanging from around his waist, forming his characteristic belt.
How does he do it? she thought. Where does his strength come from?
All the foreshadowing packed into that page! Just before this, when she cut Vasher down and Denth was distracted with Tonk Fah, she noted that his voice sounds far more solid than his body looks. Then he convulsed when she gives him her Breath. Then his stance was all firm and strong. And I have to force myself to remember that we don’t know yet—we don’t know Vasher and Denth are Returned, or two of the Five Scholars, or that Vasher has learned to take advantage of the effect of a sudden influx of Breath.
The annotations explain a little more about why Vivenna was sort of successful: Denth had gone Drab to avoid the feels, he’d rather kill Vasher in a duel, and he actually does care about Tonks for some reason. Also, Denth is the better swordsman, the author wonders if the readers remember the Breath Vivenna put in the cloak, and Denth is sarcastic—along with knowing just how hard it is to kill Vasher.
Then there’s a good section on focus scenes—the kind of scene that an author visualizes before he even writes the book, and that drive both the effort and the narrative. The Vasher sequence was a major focus scene for Warbreaker—falling, Awakening the rope, Awakening the clothing to fight, and finally drawing Nightblood. Finally, the Denth confrontation: Denth has been hoping for a long time to force Vasher to draw Nightblood, hoping the effect would consume him completely as a sort of poetic justice for killing Shashara with it. But he’s just as happy to kill Vasher in a duel in revenge for Arsteel.
Point of View: Siri, Lightsong, Vasher, Siri, Lightsong, Vasher, Siri
Setting: The God King’s palace dungeon, third floor, and fourth floor.
Timing: Immediately following Chapter 55 and 56
Take a Deep Breath
Siri is hauled off by Bluefingers and his Lifeless, up to the fourth (top) floor of the palace, though she insists that her people won’t let themselves get pulled into this war. The room she’s taken to contains a stone block that looks like an altar, and she sees that the Lifeless behind her have brought the bodies of several of the priests. Bluefingers assures her that her people will be angry enough to fight…
Lightsong looks up as another Returned is put in the cell next to him. It’s the God King, but Lightsong is too busy wallowing in his failures to care.
In the empty hallway, Vasher weakly picks up the sword and stands to face Denth. Refusing to answer Denth’s taunts about Arsteel, Vasher simply defends himself… but not all that well.
Siri forces herself to remain calm, her hair black, trying to convince Bluefingers that her death won’t help his cause. In traditional villain style, he explains how Idrian mercenaries will reach the room and discover that Bluefingers’s people were too late to prevent Susebron’s priests from killing her in a ritual sacrifice. The Idrians in the city will riot, the Hallandren troops will kill the peasants to try to regain order, and those who escape will return to Hallandren with the stories, fulfilling all the superstitions they hold. Siri knows too many will believe it; Bluefingers claims to be sorry.
Lightsong weeps, and the God King is weeping too, though he doesn’t speak against his captors. Lightsong keeps hearing Llarimar’s words, and suddenly is in a memory from his previous life. He and Llarimar are on a ship, the Red Panther, borrowed for a pleasure trip but now caught in a sudden storm. As they struggle to tie things down, a girl runs across the deck as if to help, but is washed overboard. Holding the end of a rope he’s just tied to a davit, Lightsong jumps into the water; when he touches the girl’s foot, he loops the end of the rope around her ankle and pulls it tight. Everything goes dark, and then it fades and he finds himself sitting in his cell.
Susebron is yelling incoherently, and Lightsong can see that he has no tongue. He turns and sees Blushweaver’s body and Llarimar weeping, recognizing a dream where he assumed she was blushing and Llarimar was sleeping; he realizes he had also seen Susebron in prison. Most of all, he remembers choosing to Return, to prevent the terrible destruction he saw coming.
Suddenly he realizes the divine power he holds. He realizes that Susebron loves Siri just as much as she loves him. As the fake priests force Susebron face down on the stone, Lightsong realizes that he came back for exactly this moment. He reaches out to grasp the hand of his king, smiles broadly at the fake priest, and gives his Breath to Susebron.
Vasher is repeatedly wounded by Denth, stumbling, falling, unable to strike, barely able to keep Denth’s blade at bay. Denth attacks verbally, too, reminding Vasher of his past, the thousands of people dead because of him. Vasher tries to tell Denth that he (Denth) was a good man, but Denth can’t forget his own terrible deeds any more than he’s willing to forget Vasher’s. Vasher offers to make him forget, to take it all away, but Denth decides he doesn’t deserve that respite—neither of them do. As he raises his blade for a final strike, Vasher touches his leg and dumps all his remaining Breath into Denth. In that moment of distraction, Vasher snatches a dagger and slits Denth’s throat. As Denth loses control, his hair changes color, finally going white with terror; Vasher tells him that now he knows how Arsteel lost.
Bluefingers promises that he will kill Siri himself, making it quick and painless; they can do all the horrible-ritual-looking stuff later. She refuses to let herself be tied to an altar to die, challenging Bluefingers to at least have the decency to let her die standing up. He seems to somehow submit to her authority, and agrees. She tries once more time to persuade him to keep her as a hostage instead, but he is adamant on that score. Suddenly the building begins to shake, and the floor starts to turn white. The fake priests are confused and unsure what to do, but Bluefingers moves toward Siri again. As he raises his knife, she sees the whites of his eyes begin to refract into a rainbow of color, and then the newly-white stones follow suit. Bursting through the door, a mass of fabrics churn the air, pushing aside Lifeless, snatching priests, and immobilizing Bluefingers. Finally, they are able to see a figure at the center, and Susebron commands Bluefingers to stop. He uses his Awakened cloths to lift himself over everything to Siri’s side and to untie her hands, then lifts her into his arms.
“My life to yours, my Breath become yours.”
Denth froze, then stumbled. Fifty Breaths fled from Vasher’s chest and surged into Denth’s body. They would be unwelcome, but he couldn’t turn them away. Fifty Breaths. Not many.
But enough. Enough to make Denth shake with pleasure. Enough to make him lose control for just a second, falling to his knees. And, in that second, Vasher stood—ripping the dagger free from the corpse beside him—then slashed it through Denth’s throat.
The mercenary fell back, eyes wide, neck bleeding. He shook amidst the pleasure of gaining new Breaths even as his life flowed from him.
“Nobody ever expects it,” Vasher whispered, stepping forward. “Breath is worth a fortune. To put it into someone, then kill them, is to lose more wealth than most men will ever know. They never expect it.”
Denth shook, bleeding, and lost control. His hair suddenly bled to deep black, then blond, then an angry red.
Finally, the hair turned white with terror and stayed there. He stopped moving, life fading away, new Breaths and old both vanishing.
“You wanted to know how I killed Arsteel,” Vasher said, spitting blood to the side. “Well, now you do.”
I’ve said it so many times… but this was one of the great twists of fantasy. It was foreshadowed so many times, even in just the previous chapter. After the number of times we’ve seen someone react to the influx of Breath, expected or not, and after the number of times Denth stewed over how Vasher managed to kill Arsteel… I can’t believe it never occurred to me that this was the answer.
Hopefully someone figured it out. I’m a bit dense that way; or I can claim that at the time I first read this, I wasn’t entirely accustomed to Sandersonian twists… There. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
The annotations of the climax chapters are always entertaining! This one starts with how the scene of “sacrifice Siri on an altar” was a driving image for the book—and then how it simply had to be changed to avoid the clichéd Snidely Whiplash effect. Interestingly enough, another change that resulted from writing this sequence was that he went back and seeded the Idrian superstitions about human sacrifice to make Bluefingers’s scheme something that would actually be convincing.
The next section regards the implications of a long history between Vasher and Denth without actually giving a lot of detail to it. Even though we haven’t quite figured out who they are (unless we’ve been reading the spoiler annotations…) this section basically has Denth accusing Vasher of starting the Manywar, which should make us wonder about them both. Also, the sequel probably won’t tell us much more about these two, but will likely give us a lot of insight into Vasher’s relationship with Yesteel and Arsteel.
The scene where Lightsong remembers everything and fulfills his purpose is Sanderson’s favorite in the book. It’s a conclusion that many (not me, as I recall) readers expected, when Lightsong heals Susebron, proving that in the end he was a lot more dependable than he thought he would be.
Finally, there’s the Vasher/Denth climax. It’s worth noting that, had Denth killed Vasher as he expected, he would very likely have gone and picked up Nightblood, and deliberately let it leach his life away. But that didn’t happen, because yes, in a way Denth was right and Vasher cheated. The fact that the two scenes end with Breath given was intentional—the first Breath gives life and healing, the second gives death and terror. Ouch.
Finally, Sanderson apologizes (unnecessarily, IMO) for letting Siri need to be rescued, but he also recognizes that without her teaching, Susebron would never have been able to rescue her. So there’s that. Also, he wanted to have the super-high-level Heightenings give super-impressive powers compared to the lower ones, which is why Susebron can do all the things with the fabrics so easily. It’s not deus ex machina if you build it into the magic system logically, right?
Snow White and Rose Red
I realize I’m probably in the minority on this, but I love the fact that Siri and Vivenna remain within their natural skill set in these climax chapters. By that I mean that they don’t become expert fighters and whatnot—their contributions are natural to their character development throughout the book. Some will object to the damsel-in-distress implications for Siri, and Vivenna doesn’t really do a lot besides deliver Nightblood—though she does climb a wall to do it—and inadvertently knock Vasher out the window at the worst possible time.
So here’s the thing. Siri spent the book primarily on two things: self-control, and useful rebellion. She’d spent her childhood being carefree, rebelling in trivial things, always a little proud of the way it just didn’t matter what she did. Over the course of these few months, she learned a lot of self-control, yet in a way that was consistent with her personality. She channeled her rebellious spirit into a useful tool: she spent her time teaching Susebron to read, provided him with information, encouraged him to think for himself—basically, helped him become the kind of person that could make the most of Lightsong’s sacrifice (see below!). In the climax, her own growth shines in her ability to control not only her hair, but also her fear; she is able to speak with the authority of a Queen in some very adverse circumstances. It would be inconsistent for her to suddenly be able to defend herself by any other means, and so I love that she is physically helpless against the Pahn Kahl and the Lifeless, but she never gives in mentally or emotionally. She’s toughened up a lot in the process of learning to control her hair.
Vivenna is oddly both more and less helpless. She’s gained more physical defense skills than Siri has: she has become a fairly skilled Awakener (yay for Returned blood!) , and while she’s not very good with a sword, she’s learned enough of the correct stance and positioning to make it look like she is—at least enough so that Denth’s surprise gives her the opportunity to free Vasher and give him her Breath. At the same time, her primary accomplishments come from taking advantage of someone else’s surprise or distraction, and the fact that Nightblood happens to like her. It works, though; while she’s learned a lot, and quickly, due to her Returned blood and the third Heightening, she can’t reasonably be a match for Denth. Tonk Fah, yes, sort of, but not Denth. So… she’s very helpful, but she still ends up locked in a closet.
As I Live and Breathe
So much magic! As I just mentioned, Vivenna has come a long way on her Awakening skills. I think it’s a good thing Sanderson built in a couple of tricks that logically work in her favor, or she’d be far too good to believe. She pushes it, as is, especially with using Tonks’s cloak the way she does; it’s kind of a relief, then, that Vasher still is light years ahead of her. Awakening his rope belt as he finds himself falling from the window is just … well, from anyone but Vasher, it would be hard to accept. The trick with the Awakened clothes-people is a pretty funny image, as well as demonstrating the level of experience that lets him do such complex Commands with barely a thought.
I can’t begin to do justice to the complex cultural implications of these chapters—and they are implications, more than clear-cut explanations. The way the Idrians will believe almost any terrible thing of those pagan Hallandren; the way the Pahn Kahl have worked their way into positions that have little prestige but great practical authority; the way they have studied and manipulated the prejudices of both peoples to their own advantage; the way Vasher and Siri both recognize how important it is to keep Idris from direct engagement; Vasher’s further understanding of what would happen if Idris drew other nations into the conflict… If Lightsong hadn’t healed Susebron in time to stop the “sacrifice” scene, it’s hard to see how Manywar II could have been avoided.
And all because the Pahn Kahl—or some of them, anyway—decided that the best way to gain freedom from Hallandren was to get everyone else in the world fighting. The discussion in last week’s comments about the justification for the Pahn Kahl perspective was excellent. I can understand why the Pahn Kahl resented their situation, but somehow, I still can’t see that it’s reasonable to instigate the kind of mass slaughter that was being set up here.
In Living Color
Finally, finally, we find out Lightsong’s real story—right along with him. In his former life, he was quite an ordinary guy with an ordinary job and an ordinary life—if a slightly extraordinary sense of humor—right up until his beloved niece needed the kind of help that risked it all, and then he didn’t think twice. At that moment, crossing into the Cognitive realm, Endowment gave him the choice to do the same thing for an even greater cause, and he took it. We don’t know whether she gives everyone this kind of opportunity, and only the rare few agree, or whether she chooses only the ones who show a certain level of selflessness in their living and dying. It’s still a matter of debate, even, whether Lightsong is correct in deciding that he really is a god because he has the power to do this one thing. What’s not up for debate, IMO, is that in both cases, he was willing to place someone else’s life above his own. Greater love hath no man than this.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
And then there’s Nightblood. This is one of only a few times that we’re given a glimpse of its … alternate personality, for lack of a better term. Most of the time, we get the sheathed version, where it’s a bit more chirpy and cheerful than a deadly weapon has any business being, and this is the personality so many readers find endearing. (I assume so, anyway.) The drawn blade, though… that gets creepy. It goes all hollow and booming and “kill, kill, KILL!!” in quite a horrifying way, completely unaware that it is sucking the very life out of whoever is carrying it. That contrast is the thing that has suddenly made me much less fond of this weird construct.
Wow. It’s so hard to recap this kind of action scene without feeling like you’re just rewriting the story, poorly. Makes it really difficult to find anything else to say in the commentary, too, because it’s all there already. Still, I can always come up with a few more words… as demonstrated.
I thought it worth noting that, as Sanderson connected the Lightsong and Vasher Breath-gifting, I also apparently found some parallels as reflected in the Breathtaking sections. Except I was looking at different things, and in both cases noting the effect of unexpected Breath. In the first one, Vivenna’s gift shakes Vasher but gives him what he needs to survive; in the second, Vasher’s gift shakes Denth and distracts him long enough to die. And in the one I didn’t quote, we don’t see the immediate effect of Lightsong’s gift – just the results.
For some reason, I went into this week’s selection thinking we were on the last chapter; every time I started looking ahead, I would start reading faster and faster, and completely not notice the chapter breaks! Ah, well. We will finish up next week, though. Chapter 58 and the Epilogue will wrap up the story, and we’ll take a brief look at the Ars Arcanum before we move on to the next thing. There’s always a next thing, eh?
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. In Oathbringer news, the copyedit is complete; look for a refresher on Our Story So Far coming in the next day or three, to be followed by a brief series of other refreshers on subjects like the Knights Radiant, geography, storms, and another great cosplay article. Over on Facebook, be watching for news of the soundtrack project for The Way of Kings; it’s got some excellent music.