Spend any time talking fantasy with folks and you will inevitably come up with the name Brandon Sanderson. Over the past year or so, this is usually followed up by "Oh, the guy who's finishing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time." The fact that such a statement is made should give you a good indication of his ability, but it also serves to overlook that Sanderson is a first-rate fantasy storyteller in his own right.
WARBREAKER, the latest epic from Sanderson, is another fine entry in his growing catalog of work. In this stand-alone volume, we follow the story of the sisters Vivienna and Siri, princesses of Idris. Vivienna is slated to marry the Susebron, the God King in the land of Hallandren, but at the last moment her father makes the decision to marry off Siri instead. Siri is told never to look Susebron in the eyes or touch him, and that she must yield to his will in all things.
Vivienna comes to Hallandren in an attempt to rescue Siri from her fate, falling in with mercenaries and brigands. In the slums and back alleys of the city, she is trapped in a vicious rivalry between the mysterious swordsman, Vasher, and the gang leader, Denth. Her safety is at far more risk than it would have been had she married Susebron, and a web of political subterfuge begins to become exposed, all leading to the God King at the core.
Perhaps the most intriguing character in WARBREAKER is Lightsong, one of the Returned. When people are killed in heroic acts, they are brought back to life as gods, to live amongst the mortals and act as models of power. With this new life comes the loss of the memory of the past: there is no telling who you were, what you did, or how you died. Lightsong does not believe his own press, so to speak, essentially refusing the deification bestowed upon him as a Returned, and he seeks answers to the questions about his past life. Sanderson has written him in a thoroughly engaging way, and readers will also want to know just who this man was, and his growth through the novel is great to behold.
WARBREAKER's other interesting element is its system of magic. In Sanderson's incredible world, color is magic. BioChromatic magic. Using an essence known as "breath," users can draw out power from other individuals, and power can also be pulled from colors in just about anything in the world. It is an interesting and well-defined system of magic that pays off with some incredible moments, and it is this "breath" that each person possesses that is one of the centerpieces in a long-standing dispute between Hallandren and Idris.
Though clocking in at nearly 600 pages, WARBREAKER is a roller-coaster ride. Readers will have the initial excitement and anxiety as the book opens and climbs toward its drop point. And when that point is reached, the story will fly. Twists and turns keep the excitement high, and the action is relentless. Sanderson has really delivered with a solid and intriguing novel full of magic and mayhem, and worthy of addition to your personal library.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 24, 2011