My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Finally got around to reading this book. For those of you who don’t know, I used to be in Brandon’s writing group. The nice thing about this is that I got to read all of his material before it was published. The not so nice thing is that I never got to consume it “whole”–all at once, all fresh. Until this book. Brandon released many versions of it online for free, and the final version was published a month or two ago. (Maybe more–I admit I’ve lost track of time.) This was the first time I’d read even a sentence of it, and I’m happy to report that it really was a fantastic read.
Brandon writes what I’d term “Science Fantasy.” His magic systems typically have very hard and fast rules, rules which the characters in his novels explore in much the same way that scientists explore natural laws of physics in our world. As such, new abilities in Brandon books come about not by some sort of mumbo jumbo, but by characters gaining a better understanding of how the magic they’ve been using all along can be manipulated to do something else cool. (Again, just like scientists we know and love can come up with some new innovation that has the power to change the world we live in.)
In a Brandon book, he will throw you into a world and let you figure it out as you read. There’s a learning curve involved, but it’s worth it. In Warbreaker, the setting is a world where color and life are magic. Each person has a Breath, and they can sell that Breath to others for money. If someone collects enough Breaths in this manner, he or she can get special abilities–perfect pitch, resistance to disease or age, or the ability to use that Breath to bring other things to life.
Within that setting are two countries at the edge of war. They have largely religious differences, but also socio-political ones. Two princesses of the smaller country have to figure out how to stop that war from happening. That’s the basic setup–the whole book is, of course, much more complex.
What did I like about it? First off, it’s a standalone novel. You begin and end the epic journey within a single cover. In fantasy these days, you don’t see that too often. Second, the characters are very well written. You know and understand them, and you sympathize with them. Third, there are no “villains” per se. People aren’t evil just for the sake of being evil–motivations are fleshed out, and you understand why people are doing what they’re doing. Fourth, the book isn’t predictable. Each time I thought I’d “figured it out,” something else popped up to make me reevaluate my expectations. In a good way. The book is a quick, fun read, and the magic system is very well done–very interesting.
What didn’t I like? I’d say my one complaint was that the book felt a little too smart for me. I know if I read it again, there would be things in there that would become clearer than they are right now. That’s usually a good thing, but I find myself still not being 100% sure of everything that happened in the book and why it happened. Not in an awful way, but in a way that I feel could have been handled a little more clearly. I know that’s sort of muddled, but there it is. I wanted the explanations to be about 5-10% more clear. Picky picky, I know.
In any case, you should pick this book up and give it a go. Highly recommended.