(This is a repost of my review that appeared on SF Signal recently - reposted here for posterity)
Mass Market Paperback: 688 pages
Publisher: Tor Fantasy; First Edition edition (March 30, 2010)
Warbreaker is an epic story of a kingdom in peril, a god that is more AND less than what he seems, a sister’s love and jealousy, magical breath, and an army of the walking dead (and running, and slashing, and stabbing...).
I went into Warbreaker with some of that remaining curiosity about this fellow Sanderson that was finishing up the Wheel of Time. How was he doing in his craft? Had he grown? Would he manage the reigns well? I was nervous after enjoying, but not being impressed by Elantris and Mistborn. Warbreaker turned out to be the last book I read of his before The Gathering Storm. It was good, alleviated my concern a little more, but TGS was amazing! If I ever do a review on it I’d rank it near the top, that’s for sure.
The story starts strong in the city of Hallandren, with a mysterious character that just oozes personality and conflict. He’s dark, uncompromising and he fights for what is right—we hope. The setting expands, we find ourselves in Idris, spend a little time building the world and the conflicts at hand, including a very personal one for the King. All is well...then some strange things happen. Some good for the story and one that derails a new character.
Let’s talk about magic: It’s Sanderson’s signature, something original. While I haven’t read all there is in the fantasy universe, the magic of BioChromatic breath used by Awakeners in Warbreaker felt different and well done. But...I didn’t like how specific he sometimes got with the expenditure. Just didn’t seem quantifiable to that degree and made it feel like I was playing a video game or table top—kicking me out of the story each and every time.
Great characters are what really holds a story together and drags us hapless readers along. Warbreaker delivers. Lightsong in particular is delightfully irreverent and conflicted. But Vivenna never quite holds up to reader expectations with inconsistent decisions that uproot her character motivations. Maybe Sanderson was trying to show the uncertainty of growth as Vivenna grew in her awareness of the world, changing through her arc. I just wasn’t convinced.
The twists and reveals in Warbreaker came off flat and underwhelming. Sure, the foreshadowing was always there, but the execution lacked and kept stealing that WOW moment. Primarily, I think, the motivations of the antagonists lacked the punch needed to make these moments shine.
Despite a strong start, the story meandered for the rest with some good points and bad, until reaching for the sky towards the end. I know that a good beginning can sell a book, and a bad beginning can almost kill it, so it makes sense to focus your energies. I will grant that he writes epic fantasy, writes them long, and writes a lot, so it is hard to make sure each one shines from head to toe. But it still feels like a cheat. The Gathering Storm was an exception and I have hopes for Way of Kings. We’ll see. Ultimately I think Sanderson bit off more than he could tell in a book of this size and it would have been better with a narrower focus.
This book ended up better than good, but not quite great and I rate it a 3.5 out of 5. It shines sometimes and other times it drags. Overall well conceived, but lacking in consistency. Not something to drag me back for a second read any time soon.
If you’re curious, go read it, you’ll find enjoyment. If not, there are plenty of other books in the sea.
So what did you think?