Author : Brandon Sanderson
Published : June 09, 2009 by Tor Fantasy
So often in the fantasy genre books come in series, which is not a bad thing at all. But sometimes it’s nice to read a self contained, stand-alone story that doesn’t require a commitment of 2, 3, 15, or 30 books. Warbreaker is a stand-alone fantasy novel by highly acclaimed fantasy author Brandon Sanderson.
Look, a lot of people LOVE this book. I decided to pick it up and read it as part of a read along with the Book Reviews Kill podcast(which you should also check out by the way) and so going into it the hype was real.
I’ll cut to the chase here – it didn’t live up to the hype for me. Not that it was bad or that I didn’t enjoy it, but it was not a 5 star masterpiece for me.
The only Brandon Sanderson work I’ve read prior to this was, first, his conclusion to one of my favorite series of all time, The Wheel Of Time, and then after that his terrific Mistborn Trilogy. I haven’t read a TON from him, but what I’ve read I’ve enjoyed and he’s one of those authors I always think about as someone I NEED to read more from, and in Warbreaker his writing didn’t disappoint.
We get terrific world building that really brings you into the setting of Hallandran and the world of the gods. I mean this as a compliment, but it made me wish there were some sort of open world style video game that takes place in the city he’s created. From the luxurious palaces of the gods to the nastiest slums of the city to even a dank, rundown shack serving as a home for the night, Sanderson pulls you in so you are there with his characters.
His character work is on full display in this book as well, with multiple moving parts that all have their own unique arcs and growth. As the sisters Siri and Vivenna move further down their own unique paths, we see them learning, growing, and changing as people and it’s never a heavy handed, eye roll inducing, forced plot feel. Which is good because as a fantasy story, this is one driven almost exclusively by characters with often fairly little action actually happening. Not to mention the whole story is contained within the walls of this city, which while a large and vibrant place, is still but one small spot on the larger map of his world.
Of course we have a pretty interesting magic system, though at times I still don’t quite understand it… which I guess is ok because at one point we’re told that even those that wield the magic don’t understand more than a small fraction of how it works.
And on top of all of that we have a multi-layered mystery that will twist and turn and surprise you until almost the very end.
All in all, it SHOULD be amazing.
But while I did enjoy the story, something about it didn’t quite click for me. I think what it is, and this may sound strange, but it’s the fact that Sanderson is so good at building out these amazingly detailed worlds that truly shine in a trilogy or longer series, but in a stand-alone novel like this his world building was too good. It made me want to explore more of the world, more of the lore, more of the expansive magic system, and we are only given a taste of it.
It’s a very fine line between too much world building and not enough, but I think Warbreaker suffers from a case of “terrific worldbuilding suited to a longer series so that we could spend more time exploring the world and the people within it but it’s only a stand alone book so it feels like we are missing part of the story all the time”. In short, sometimes his terrific worldbuilding/character building skills became a bit of a distraction that drew attention away from the story he was trying to tell.
Couple that with long stretches without any real action happening and there were parts of this book where I’d stop and wonder when SOMETHING would start happening.
But, by the time you hit the final third of this book, all the pieces begin to fall into place as the layers of mystery begin to unwind and suddenly that last 200 pages are FLYING by, with tons of action and story twists on nearly every page. Again though, it left me feeling like so many things were basically glossed over after being set up earlier(often times with the magic system and the gods) that it felt like something was left out.
Much the same way as if you are speeding down a road and loving the feeling of the wind through the open windows as you enjoy the rush of feeling that speed, yet you keep seeing cool places and things on the side of the road but you’re unable to stop and enjoy them as you fly towards your destination.
Anyways, I’m rambling now.
Warbreaker is a solid fantasy story from a storyteller that excels at his craft. It’s almost entirely character driven in it’s approach however, so if you are looking for an action packed fantasy romp, it may let you down.
If you love a good character driven story however, you’ll love it.
Sanderson does a fantastic job with his world building, his characters, and of course a unique magic system. Unfortunately trying to cram all of it into a stand-alone novel vs a series is what seemed to stall the momentum through an otherwise excellent tale of mystery and intrigue in a terrific fantasy setting.
Even though I was left wanting more from so many aspects of it, the main thread of this story and the mystery that unfolds as Siri, Vivenna, and so many others discover the depths of treachery hidden in Hallandren, is pretty damn fun.
It’s definitely worth a read if you enjoy fantasy.
Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson gets 3.5 out of 5 stars(rounded to 4 on Goodreads)
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