Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Warbreaker Read-through: Midpoint, pt. 2

Alright, now I spent quite a bit of time talking about Warbreaker yesterday, but I've still got some thoughts. I may have come across as a bit too negative. So this is my effort to correct that impression.

Make no mistake, despite it's seeming lack of luster when compared with other Sanderson works, Warbreaker is still a Sanderson novel. What this means is that a) There are certain things one comes to expect from it, and b) It is a fantastically solid novel.

Warbreaker is still one of the most inventive pieces of fantasy to be written in the genre. (Slight caveat. With fantasy experiencing something of a renaissance right now, I recognize that the genre as a whole has been growing steadily [by leaps and bounds] more inventive than it was during the post-Tolkien years. That being said, Sanderson is doing it more consistently than any other author that I know of right now.) Its worldbuilding stretches previously-explored ideas geographically and thematically, and its characters are all engaging and entertaining. We're exploring ideas in ways that haven't been done before, and we're using tools that have been otherwise unnoticed in order tell the story. We're building up to a great twist, and we've had some interesting character development already. So yeah, it's a good book. Better than most of the generic stuff to be written in the genre (just... not quite as good as Sanderson's best. That's all.)

But there's one thing that sticks out to me as being especially enjoyable in Warbreaker.

As a Sanderson fan, there are things I've come to expect from his books. I expect a high learning curve. I expect to spend the prologue going "Woah, that's awesome. What's going on?" and then spend the first few chapters scratching my head with a "Wait, where are we?" expression on my face. I expect to be a bit underwhelmed by the characters at first before falling head-over-heels in love with them by their second or third perspective chapter. I expect to spend hours ruminating over the magic system, the various world elements and societies, and the eventual plot twists. Oh, yeah, that's right. I expect a HUGE series of plot twists at the end. I expect for the book to feature prominent religious figures and organizations having influence on the plot, and I expect there to be a sense of "all religions are the same" arising at some point along the way. I expect everything we know to be a lie. I expect his characters to show levels of depth and have them reveal things to us that we never would have expected.

All that being said, I did not expect to find within the pages of Warbreaker a trio of characters that make the most compelling philosophical arguments in defense of being a mercenary that I've ever seen.

Denth, Tonk Fah, and Jewels are the most enjoyable part of the book. Yes, Siri is a delight and is doing sweet and important things with the GodKing. Of course, Lightsong is hilarious. Vasher has the mysterious past; and Vivenna is the most admirable one of them all (also has the most room for growth, arguably). But the mercs... they're just fun. Even when they (and by "they" I mean Denth) reveal surprising levels of philosophical and cultural depth with their humorous arguments for why everyone hates mercenaries, they're still fun. Of course, by this point in the story, we know that they're no mere mercenaries and they're probably more involved in the greater plot than we initially anticipated and they've got a mysterious tragic past connected with Vasher and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That's all well and good, but the reason I like these guys is because of moments like these:

...uhm... moments to be added later, as I seem to have misplaced the book. ~sheepish~ Sorry.

Oh, and also, props to Sanderson on one of the other "plot" twists I called. I didn't mention this one, but pretty much as soon as Jewels and Clod the Lifeless walked on stage and they started talking about their dead companion Arsteel, I said "I'll bet the Lifeless is Arsteel and that's going to be a major revelation later on in the book."
Turns out, I was right, but it doesn't matter in the book. Sanderson mentions it offhand in his annotations (which are fantastic, by the way. If you're a Sanderson fan and haven't read these... well, do so.) So apparently it never comes up in this book, which I kind of see as a missed opportunity, but I'm also glad that it wasn't obvious foreshadowing or anything like that. So I guess that's a point in the books favor on the subtlety department.

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