Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson is a complex fantasy novel that, thankfully, is not part of a trilogy. I don’t have anything against trilogies, but it’s nice to read a self-contained fantasy novel without waiting a few years for the follow-up books to come out. Point-of-view and rapid pace make Warbreaker such a compelling read. As a reader, entering a fantasy world is a shift in perspective. It takes time to figure things out and understand the system the world is built around. For instance, take the novel Dune, while not a fantasy, it establishes a world in which spice is the dominant currency. The system in Warbreaker is that of religion, as occasionally, people come back from the dead.
Sanderson doesn’t explain how this happens. It’s a mystery to the characters as well. These people who have “returned” do not remember their prior lives and, at some point, a group of people began to worship them as gods. The Returned can only live for a week unless they draw the breath of another person. Again, this isn’t really explained, but it works. Is it part of a person’s soul? Is it something like the force from Star Wars? Whatever it may be, people’s breath acts as magic. Everyone starts with one breath and some people sell theirs, thus becoming diminished in some way. As breath is gained by an individual they are able to experience the world in richer, more nuanced ways. It’s a cool idea and vast departure from stale fantasy novels.
Point-of-view plays an important part in this novel, because the bulk of the sections are from the perspectives of two outsiders. These characters are trying to decipher the city and the system much like the reader. The disadvantage for the reader though is that they are dependent on naive characters and must suffer the same betrayals. As the web unfolds, it becomes clear that Sanderson is a master of plot.
Writers may find Sanderson’s website interesting, because he lays published the novel and all of the previous drafts for free. You can view the site here. It gives an idea of how the novel took shape and what the writing process is like for Sanderson.
If you’re a fan of fantasy, I strongly recommend Warbreaker. It’s original, fast-paced, and clever.