Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, everyone was either rescued or died to save someone else. This week, a solution to that Lifeless army is finally identified and put into action, and Our Heroes are poised to begin the next phase of life on Nalthis.
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, Siri, Vasher, Siri, Vivenna
Setting: A closet in, and the roof of, the God King’s Palace
Timing: A few minutes after Chapter 57
Take a Deep Breath
Vasher, dragging a sheathed Nightblood, retrieves Vivenna from the closet where Denth stuffed her. Nightblood has devoured most of the Breath she’d given him, but chirpy-sword doesn’t remember this at all. Vasher catches her up: Denth is dead; Tonk Fah and Jewels have scarpered with the money; because of those distractions, forty thousand Lifeless are charging for Idris, and everyone who knew their Command phrases is dead. The war has started and can’t be stopped.
Siri follows Susebron down into the dungeons. Amid the corpses of scribes and fake priests, they find the bodies of Blushweaver and Lightsong. Llarmiar holds Lightsong’s head in his lap, smiling even with tears in his eyes, as they tell Siri how Lightsong gave his life to heal the God King. Now they must find a way to keep the Lifeless army from destroying Siri’s people.
Vasher fumes at his inability to stop the war, just like he couldn’t stop it “last time.” Nightblood volunteers that they used to call him Talaxin… which Vivenna recognizes, shocked, as the name of one of the Five Scholars, who lived three hundred years ago. Vasher admits that BioChroma can keep a person alive for a long time. Vivenna suggests various ways to stop the army, each of which Vasher shoots down with his greater knowledge of Lifeless; basically, they don’t have the necessary resources, even if they had access to Susebron’s vast store of Breath. Nightblood chimes in, reminding Vasher that he left an army behind last time. Vasher prevaricates, but suddenly Vivenna realizes that Nightblood means the legendary “Kalad’s Phantoms.” Vasher reluctantly admits that they are here, in the city. They could, perhaps, stop the Lifeless, but it would a terrible, powerful tool in the hands of her enemies. She insists they try, and Vasher agrees to try to find the God King; maybe it can be done.
From their vantage point on the roof of the palace, Siri and Susebron can see the dust stirred up by the Lifeless army moving toward Idris. Susebron wants to go tie them all up, but the guards dissuade him from this vain attempt. Siri suggests sending messengers telling her people to hide, though she knows it would only be a partial solution. They are interrupted by the arrival of someone with the Royal Locks requesting an audience. As they turn to look, a woman wearing tunic, trousers, and sword, bleeding from a shoulder wound, steps up onto the roof. Her hair turns yellow with joy as she sees Siri; despite her appearance, it is beyond doubt Vivenna. The sisters rush to embrace, with Vivenna apologizing for her inability to rescue Siri, and Siri saying she doesn’t need rescuing. Siri introduces Vivenna and Susebron to each other, and Vivenna is clearly shocked by the man she expected to be a monster. They turn to urgent issue of the day, and Vivenna says she has a solution, if they will trust her. Siri hesitates for a moment, but Susebron says he will do anything he can to save Idris.
Vivenna waits with Susebron as his guards search Vasher for weapons; she is surprised to find herself chatting pleasantly and even liking this God King. He tells her that he loves Siri, and Vivenna considers how much Siri has changed and how well she fits her role. Finally, Vasher approaches and identifies himself as the one responsible for getting Susebron’s tongue cut out; he closes his eyes and accesses his Divine Breath, taking on the full aspect of a Returned. Susebron knows instantly who he is and drops to one knee, leaving the sisters completely confused. Vasher tells Susebron to stand up, but reprimands him for losing control of the group of rogue Lifeless; Susebron apologizes. Vivenna says she trusts Susebron (!), and Vasher says that it’s not about trust, but he’ll do it anyway, to stop this war in much the same way he stopped the Manywar. Admonishing him to use it only to protect, never to attack, and only in an emergency, Vasher gives Susebron the Command phrase to give new orders to the D’Denir statues—stone bodies with human bones. Vivenna is stunned, thinking through the implications, and recognizes the truth of what he had said earlier about them. He directs Susebron to imprint them with a new security phrase and send them out to stop the other army, cautioning him to do better with them than he himself had done.
“Lightsong gave his life to heal me,” the God King said. “He somehow knew that my tongue had been removed.”
“The Returned can heal one person,” the priest said, looking down at his god. “It’s their duty to decide who and when. They come back for this purpose, some say. To give life to one person who needs it.”
“I never knew him,” Susebron said.
“He was a very good person,” Siri said.
“I realize that. Though I never spoke to him, somehow he was noble enough to die so that I might live.”
The priest smiled down. “The amazing thing is,” he said, “Lightsong did that twice.”
He told me that I couldn’t depend on him in the end, Siri thought, smiling slightly, though sorrowful at the same time. I guess he lied about that. How very like him.
How many times have I read this? I still cry.
In the final chapter’s annotations, Sanderson first addresses the feeling that this is a bit anticlimactic—but it’s still a necessary closure to the story. He then addresses Nightblood’s peculiarities, including why it can’t remember being drawn. Next is a question we asked last week: did Blushweaver and Lightsong fulfill their purposes in Returning? Answer: sort of; more in the discussions below. Then there’s a section on the revisions involved in making sure the D’Denir reveal was set up adequately. Finally, he looks at this last set of character revelations—Siri and Vivenna in the same place for the first time in the book, Susebron’s personality changes, and Vasher’s disclosure as a Returned. This last includes some explanation of Denth’s “all-or-nothing” lie, as well as the fact that they had both learned how to suppress and hide their Returned Breath.
Point of View: Vivenna
Setting: The road north from T’Telir
Timing: The following day
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna leans against the outer wall of T’Telir, watching the Phantoms charging off after the Lifeless army and thinking about the statues they’d been. To her query, Vasher affirms that they will most likely be able to stop the Lifeless, what with running on stone feet and being mostly impervious to normal weapons. His mission here accomplished, he picks up his pack and starts walking; Vivenna catches up and walks with him. He tries to convince her to go home to Idris, or return to Siri in T’Telir, but she’s determined—neither life has any appeal, and she wants to get away from the expectations that had ruled her life. He shrugs, and they walk on.
Eventually, she asks about his real identity, and learns that he is both the guy who started the war, and the guy who ended it; history just doesn’t quite get the story right. Then she asks where he got the Breath to he’s stay alive all this time, and he explains about the single Divine Breath that grants the fifth Heightening. Whereas Nightblood only needs to feed on Breath when it’s drawn, a Returned needs a Breath every week. If they realized it, they could build a stock of Breath and live on that or use it as a buffer—though that would certainly make them less dependent on their priests and worshippers. She teases him about being expensive to keep, but quickly returns to questioning. While he won’t tell her how he keeps from looking like a Returned or why he doesn’t die when he gives his Breath away, he gives her something to think about for herself: with the blood of a Returned in her lineage, she may be able to do more than merely change the color of her hair. Returned do, after all, have the ability to appear as they think they should.
They walk on, each holding half of the Breath Vasher recovered when they retrieved the clothing Denth had taken from him. Finally she asks where they’re going, and he says some tyrant has recruited his old friend Yesteel (Arsteel’s brother) to help restore Kuth and Huth. Reminded of his former life as a Scholar, she asks what his real name is, but he doesn’t know, since he doesn’t remember his pre-Return life. He finally admits that those who found him, in the tradition still maintained, gave him a name: Warbreaker the Peaceful. He doesn’t know if the name was prophetic, or if he’s just tried to live up to it. Mostly, he still doesn’t know for sure whether there’s a real reason for Returns, or if it’s just chance. She suggests that maybe they should have named him Wartlover the Ugly, and to his suggestion that such immature comments aren’t fitting for a princess, she’s delighted to think that she never has to care about that again.
“So,” she asked as they walked along the jungle road, “I can’t figure it out. Which one are you? Kalad, who started the war, or Peacegiver, who ended it?”
He didn’t answer immediately. “It’s odd,” he finally said, “what history does to a man. I guess people couldn’t understand why I suddenly changed. Why I stopped fighting, and why I brought the Phantoms back to seize control of my own kingdom. So they decided I must have been two people. A man can get confused about his identity when things like that happen.”
Which… doesn’t answer the question, you know. It’s clearly implied that the answer is Yes—but his actual answer raises further questions, which he never answers.
The last annotations clarify several things here. First, the Lifeless were indeed destroyed, while losing only a couple of the phantoms. Second, Vivenna’s ending is as it was always planned—a setup for her continued growth into a fitting heroine for a sequel, as well as the completion of the sisters’ role reversal. Finally, while Vasher’s refusal to explain his secrets could be considered a violation of Sanderson’s First Law, it’s really not: he didn’t use his Returned nature to solve any problems. So that bit of lore will have to wait for the sequel. Someday.
Snow White and Rose Red
Well, there we have it. The final (sequel pending) transformations of the royal sisters are established, and they really are reversed. As Sanderson says in the annotations,
Siri has become the queen; Vivenna is running away from responsibility, out into the wilds.
Put that way, it’s pretty blatant! I do like the way it’s set up in Chapter 58. Vivenna makes her entrance so changed that Siri has a hard time recognizing her—clothing, hair, wound, sword, all of it is just so un-Vivenna-like. Much more like the Siri of the first chapter, in fact, except more so. By contrast, we have Vivenna’s first look at Siri:
She’s changed so much, Vivenna thought. When did she become so regal, with that commanding bearing and ability to keep her hair black? Her little sister, no longer quite as little, seemed to wear the expensive dress well. It fit her. Odd.
Odd for Siri… and very much like the Vivenna of the first chapters.
Siri, the one who rejoiced in her unimportance, flouted all the rules, dressed any-old-way, and couldn’t be bothered with controlling her emotions, much less her hair, has become the poised, self-controlled, well-dressed, regal Queen of Hallandren, and is ready to take up the challenges for the sake of her people and her husband. Vivenna, the one with the perfect education, the self-control, the always-appropriate dress, the drive to sacrifice herself to the hated Hallandren for the sake of her people? She’s the one dressed in Vasher’s old clothes, carrying a sword, disheveled hair changing color at the sight of her sister—and she’s the one who turns her back on everything everyone ever expected of her and walks away, grateful to not even think of herself as a princess any longer, wanting nothing more than to be unknown as she learns who she can become.
One wonders where she’ll go and what she’ll do in that sequel…
As I Live and Breathe
Last week there was some discussion of the believability of Susebron’s instant ability to Awaken things, once he gained the ability to speak. One of the things we see this week is a limitation. (Oh, those Sanderson Laws of Magic!) He may have mastered the fabrics with extreme ease, but … while the Ars Arcanum indicates that he would be able override the Lifeless Commands (8th Heightening), Awaken stone or steel, and Awaken objects he is not physically touching (9th Heightening), he doesn’t yet know how, or even realize that he is able to do so. When he considers ways to stop the Lifeless, he thinks of tying them up with his assorted tapestries and banners, not Awakening more durable objects to interfere with their passage. A couple people suggested last week that, having had ample opportunity to see and hear his priests do things like raise and lower him using Awakened ropes, it was a natural transition to being able to awaken all the fabrics he could find in the palace to do his bidding—and I think this makes a lot of sense. I’m also amused at the way the palace décor played into this—since all the color schemes were created with draperies and hangings and such, there was plenty of fabric at hand when he needed it.
About that epilogue, though… Vasher has enough Breath (if he doesn’t use it to kill Yesteel) to live for about four years. In this proposed sequel, how is he going to get enough more Breath to last him until he decides to move to Roshar? I’m still disturbed at the number of Drabs created in order for him to: Awaken Nightblood (1000), create the D’Denir (unknown, but if each took 50 Breaths to create and there are 1000, that’s 50K), give the first God King the Treasure (also 50K), live for 300 years (15K), kill both Arsteel and Denth by dumping enough Breath on them to incapacitate them (minimum 100), and have enough left over for himself and Vivenna to walk away at the second Heightening (total of 400). You also have to assume that over the years, some of it got frittered away by Awakening things that he couldn’t recover, right? That’s like… 117,000 Breaths, probably more, and most of them used within a few years of the Manywar. Where did they all come from??
There’s one small clarification thrown into all this grand revelation that I wanted to mention. In Siri’s first POV of the chapter, there are a few of Susebron’s priests who survived and whom they recognize as the real thing; any “priests” they didn’t recognize are temporarily imprisoned until there’s time to sort them out. One of these verified priests explains that they had heard rumors of an attack on the palace, and that’s why they were trying to lock Siri and Susebron away – to protect them from the attack if it turned out to be real. (Where did that rumor come from? The Pahn Kahl were pretty thoroughly prepared and extremely secretive.) Anyway, while I can respect their intention to protect Susebron and Siri, I still want to smack them for giving their own acclaimed “God King” the mushroom treatment. If they hadn’t treated him like a child and Siri like a virtual slave, but had instead kept him informed like a real king, a whole lot of deaths would have been prevented—their own included.
Then again, that wouldn’t have made as exciting a story, would it?
In Living Color
Welp. The Returned have a lot of issues to address this week! So…
First note: While Vasher is willing to explain that Nightblood devoured most of his Breath, he doesn’t say anything about what happened to the last of it, the 50 or so he dumped on Denth. Is he deliberately keeping his secret, or does he just not feel like talking about it?
Next note: Lightsong’s choice to heal Susebron directly resulted in Susebron’s ability to defend himself and rescue Siri. I love the way this works itself out. Susebron was being forced down so the Pahn Kahl fake-priests could kill him, and Lightsong couldn’t stop them directly. What he did instead was to heal Susebron’s tongue… and that somehow brought with it the complete usability of that tongue. All the usual necessity of learning to form specific sounds was bypassed, and Susebron was instantly able to speak clearly and Awaken whatever was at hand to stop the priests. Part of me wants to say, “Well, gee, isn’t that convenient!” But the more I think of it, the more I find it highly probable that Endowment would put more into that supercharged Divine Breath than mere physical healing. I’m betting it involves Connection, with both Cognitive and Spiritual aspects accompanying the Physical. Which is… pretty cool. And because Lightsong gave him all that, Susebron was able to save himself and then go save Siri.
Third note: In the epilogue, Vasher confirms what Siri figured out in Chapter 55—that the priests have semi-deliberately kept their gods from realizing that they could stockpile Breath and survive for as many weeks as they had Breaths in reserve. Not that most of the current crop of gods have enough drive to want to do anything that takes them out of the Court anyway, but what would happen if they did? I can see abuses, of course, but I can also imagine gods who would go out and about in the country, finding and (hopefully) correcting some of the difficulties their people face. I wonder if that will happen in the sequel, since it was mentioned twice in the last few chapters.
Beyond all that… Wow. I’m pretty sure that the first time I read this, I didn’t manage to sort out all the implications of the things Vasher says and does in this chapter & epilogue. By now we’re used to it, but it really is quite the twist to have scruffy-face Vasher turn out to be a Returned who’s lived for 300+ years, was (partially) responsible for both the beginning and ending of their War to End All Wars, and is considered to be the god above all the gods of the Iridescent Tones. I wonder if he remembers anything of his decision to Return. And I wonder if it had anything to do with Roshar…
Speaking of reasons to Return… going back to more of last week’s discussion, we do indeed get some better answers about Blushweaver and her purpose in Returning, as well as Lightsong’s purpose. While there’s nothing on what percentage of the gods actually do fulfill their purpose, Sanderson clarifies that they do indeed see the future and come back for a specific purpose, but there’s no guarantee that by Returning they will necessarily be able to change anything. That said, though, we now have three examples of those who did exactly what they came back for—or at least came close. We already knew about Calmseer, who came back to prevent her daughter from dying of the same disease that killed her. In the annotations, we learn that Blushweaver was assassinated for exposing the criminal practices of some merchants, and she Returned because she saw invaders taking over T’Telir after Bluefingers’s revolt. While I have to think that gathering the armies into only two contingents instead of four played into the hands of the Pahn Kahl, allowing them to send the whole mass off to cause destruction and making the Lifeless unavailable for defense of the city, she did succeed in stirring things up to the point that the right people were involved and ended up in the right place to stop war from breaking out. So, okay. Plus, Sanderson says she’d be pleased with the result of her efforts.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
In this chapter, chirpy-voice Nightblood is back; if you read the annotations, you hopefully understand a little better why it doesn’t quite believe the harm it does to Vasher when they “destroy evil!” It’s sentient, but the limitations to the magic are, quite literally, killer. Don’t ask me to explain it, though.
It’s worth pointing out that Vasher makes no mention of Clod when he says that Tonk Fah and Jewels are gone. We know from the Chapter 57 annotations, though, that Jewels took Clod with her and was going to seek out Yesteel to see if he could help her find a way to restore more of Arsteel’s personality. Given that Vasher and Vivenna are headed in the same direction, it’s fairly obvious that they’ll meet again in the sequel.
One of my favorite passages comes near the end of Chapter 58:
“You have a group of rogue Lifeless,” Vasher said. “You’ve lost control of them.”
“I’m sorry, my lord,” the God King said.
Vasher regarded him. Then he glanced at Vivenna. She nodded her head. “I trust him.”
“It’s not about trust,” Vasher said, turning back to Susebron. “Either way, I am going to give you something.”
“My army,” Vasher said.
If it’s not about trust, what is it about? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. My best guess is that it ties to the very last line of the chapter:
“They are your responsibility now,” Vasher said, turning away. “Do better with them than I did.”
Vasher doesn’t feel like he’s done a very good job with the knowledge he gained, the things he developed, and the way those things were used. He’s spent the last 300 years kicking himself for the Manywar (even though several of the other Scholars contributed pretty heavily, by all accounts), knowing that a lot of people died because the five of them were having so much fun discovering Commands and creating new technology. They sort of introduced tanks to cavalry warfare, you know? And he’s felt guilty about it ever since. That’s my theory, anyway.
And with that, we finish Warbreaker. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, maybe learned a new thing or two, and are a little more familiar with Vasher and Nightblood going into the Oathbringer release.
As I mentioned in the comments last week, the next short reread project—also aimed at preparing for Oathbringer—is the novella Edgedancer. This is currently only available as part of the Arcanum Unbounded collection (a collection well worth owning, by the way, because it’s got all the short Cosmere works plus a ton of extra information). I’m told it will be available as a separate e-book in early October… which doesn’t do much for participating in the reread if you can’t get hold of Arcanum Unbounded. Still, I highly recommend you read or reread it very soon.
I’d intended to give you a quick outline of the Edgedancer format, but… I still don’t know what it will look like. Hopefully, it will involve some sort of team effort with Lyndsey Luther, Ross Newberry, and/or Paige Vest. Also hopefully, we’ll get started next week; at two chapters per week, we’ll finish very shortly before Oathbringer is released. Watch these spaces!
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. She is currently very much looking forward to the beginning of the Oathbringer preview chapters next week, so she can have fun discussing it with y’all a few chapters at a time. Along with that Edgedancer project, she’s working on a few other refresher articles, which you should see soon.