One of the big reasons I tend to avoid epic fantasy is the notion that I’m so far behind on every epic fantasy series out there today, that I just don’t have the time or inclination to invest in catching up on them. Either that or the times I’ve dipped my toes into the epic fantasy universe, I’ve found myself frustrated by first or second installments that are more content to tread water for much of their page count and could easily have seen the plot condensed down to one really solid book.
Then along comes Brian Sanderson with "Warbreaker." Published as a self-contained, epic fantasy story with a lot of rave reviews, I decided to put aside my pre-conceptions and give the story a try.
And I’m glad I did.
"Warbreaker" is the story of two sisters. The oldest has been brought up to marry the god King of a rival kingdom in order to fulfill the terms of a treaty signed years before. As the date of the wedding looms larger, her father decides to send his more rebellious younger daughter in the stead of the older one. It’s not done out of a political maneuver but instead out of the fact that he can’t bear to see his eldest daughter given in marriage in such a way. But that doesn’t mean those in the court and surrounding it don’t see it as a political move and the pre-cursor to an impending war.
Also in play are the Returned–people who have died and come back as god-like beings. Each Returned is granted one Breath that can be used to heal or restore a person. Many of the days of the Returned are spent hearing the petitions of people who want that Breath. The only problem is that in giving up the Breath, the Returned will likely cease to exist. Of course, the various Returned are also involved in the politics of the world and the potential ramping up to the war.
In "Warbreaker" having Breath–and the amount you have–is a pivotal part of the universe. Some people sell their Breath to save their families while others hoard it in an attempt to consolidate power. The magic system of the novel works around the various levels of Breath characters have and if and how they can use it.
Weighing it at just over 600 pages, "Warbreaker" never feels that long. Sanderson has created a fascinating, compelling universe and magic system within the pages of the story. He also has a set of compelling characters to follow. And while the novel occasionally follows the tropes established in other novels, it still throws in enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested and keep the pages turning.
The biggest point of the story is that its all complete within one story. You can the entire story from start to finish and while there is a door open for Sanderson to possibly revisit this universe in a future story, it would be a nice addition rather than a necesssity.
If you’re not usually inclined toward epic fantasy (like I can be), this one is worth your time and attention. I enjoyed it enough that I’m willing to take a chance on Sanderson’s current epic fantasy series. And for me, that’s saying a lot.