Breaker, breaker...

I've managed to find time to (re)read several books lately. Something in the middle of watching Aladdin with my daughter made me want to re-read Judith Tarr's excellent Alamut. And my son playing with my copy got me to re-read Lawrence Watt-Evans' nearly-as-excellent The Misenchanted Sword (the cover on that page, btw, is absolutely terrible.  Unforgiveably so, since the printing I have, from 1985, is quite good). I also recently managed to squeeze in Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker, and found it very interesting.

And it's the latter that I want to talk about here.  I can't remember what originally got me interested in it. It wasn't finding out that Sanderson was the one who'd be finishing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, because I remember making that connection well after I'd bought the book. Perhaps it was seeing the book in the bookstore some time ago. Or maybe seeing it in Amazon's recommendations.

In any event, it centers around two adjacent countries that were, several hundred years previously, one kingdom. But a rift driven by magic split them, as the kings were driven out of Hallendren, and took a portion of the country with them (which became Idris, also known as the Highlands). Hallendren then developed a very strange governmental system. But the two countries have managed a peaceful, if suspicious, existence since then.

As the book starts, war is threatening to break out between them. So the book follows some of the most prominent people who are trying to incite or prevent that war. The two main proxies for following it are daughters of the king Dedelin (I chuckled at one of them being named Siri), who have very different perspectives. One is locked in the main palace of Hallendren, while the other is wandering T'Telir, the capital of Hallendren. The third proxy is one of the 'gods' of Hallendren.

The book is not really the sort of thing I generally go for, insofar as much of it is trying to figure out what is actually going on. And there were several things that surprised me quite a bit (although the biggest mystery to the characters seemed quite obvious to me).

One of those big surprises is that the first character introduced disappeared for at least half the book after that introduction. That made for several interesting situations.

The other big thing about the book, of note, was how magic worked. All of it is driven by Breath, which is intimately linked with color. Everyone is born with one Breath, which doesn't allow doing much. But Breath can be given, and with possession of large numbers of Breaths come innate abilities (a table at in an appendix lists them, although that table rather irritated me through a bizarre combination of omniscience and declaimed lack of knowledge). But, aside from the abilities that come just from having Breath, people can also use it to animate objects for specific tasks.

I'm not going to get more specific here, because specifics of that (or, more specifically, lack of character knowledge of those specifics) drive some of the plot, but I did find the magic itself quite interesting.

The other big thing, that was never well explained, was that sometimes people could Return from the dead. These people come back with some number of the innate abilities of Breath, despite still only having one. But these Returned are worshipped as gods in the larger country, and charged with ruling it. There are other important things about them, but those might spoil parts of the story.

Overall, I liked the book quite a bit. I was a little disappointed in the ending, as I would have liked to have seen a bit more about Siri. And my other slight disappointment was that I would have liked to get a bit more explanation (or, perhaps more to the point, more accurate explanation) on why Returned come back. The only explanation given definitely wasn't right, as it couldn't explain some of the Returned who appeared in the book. But those were very minor issues; I'll probably look for other books by Sanderson.

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