Princesses, an atheistic god, two near immortals who have history, a zombie army, and an interesting magic system that involves color can only result in something very interesting happening. Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker follows two princesses in a strange land, a grumpy near immortal, and a god that doesn’t believe in himself as politics, religion, and personal conflicts swirl together to either bring peace or war.
Idrian princess Vivenna has been prepared her entire life to marry the God King but at the last moment her father sends her unprepared and carefree youngest sister Siri instead. Vivenna follows hoping of save her sister and meets with Lemex, her father spy in the city, and a team of mercenaries in his employ led by Denth. However, Lemex dies shortly thereafter, though not before bequeathing his large sum of BioChromatic Breath to her. Vivenna and Denth’s team begin making guerilla attacks against Hallandren's supply depots and convoys that will hopefully give the Idrians an advantage in the seemingly inevitable war all the time watched by one Vasher, a mysterious man who can use his Breath to Awaken objects and wielder of a sentient sword called Nightblood. Siri, after spending many terrified nights waiting for the God King to consummate the marriage, finds that he is not actually the feared entity that she thought, but has actually had his tongue cut out by his priests, making him nothing more than a figurehead. They bond as Siri teaches the God King to communicate, however she comes believes that the priests are secretly plotting to kill her and the God King if she produces an heir, and fears that Hallandren will soon launch a war against Idris. Siri finds potential allies in the unorthodox god Lightsong, who is plagued by nightmares of war and is struggling to discover his purpose, and the Pahn Kahl servants headed by Bluefingers. After being temporarily kidnapped by Vasher, Vivenna discovers that Denth is not working for her but against her, having been hired by an unknown third party to instigate the war with Idris, and she barely escapes their custody with her life. Vasher finds her after weeks hiding and living destitute in the Idrian slums of Hallandren. Together, Vivenna and Vasher work to undo the damage done by Denth and avert the war before Vivenna convinces Vasher to try and save her sister. However, Vasher is captured and tortured by Denth, who is revealed to have been working for the God King's Pahn Kahl servants, who are trying to incite war between the Idrians and Hallendren so that they can take gain their freedom. The servants capture Siri, kill many of the God King's priests, and throw the God King in the dungeon along with several gods including Lightsong. The Pahn Kahl, having gained the Commands to control the city's undead Lifeless army, send them to attack the Idrians and start the war. Lightsong sacrifices himself by giving the God King his Breath, which heals the king, giving him his tongue back and allowing him access to his godly cache of BioChromatic power and save Siri from being murdered. During this Vivenna uses her own budding powers to break into the God King's palace and free Vasher, who kills Denth. Vasher reveals that he is actually one of the Five Scholars, ancient beings who originally discovered the Commands for using BioChromatic Breath, and bestows upon the God King the code to awaken the city's secret army of nearly indestructible D'denir Lifeless soldiers that sent to destroy the Lifeless army before it can reach Idris. While Siri and the God King begin a new rule and life together, Vivenna joins Vasher as he sets out on another quest to a distant land.
The narrative of the story is divided between point-of-views of Siri, Vivenna, Lightsong, and Vasher thus giving a wide swath of the two distinct cultures and religions that have vast misunderstandings not only with one another but within themselves. Sanderson’s creation of such a unique magic system is by itself a reason to read the book because of just how innovative it is and how it’s still not completely understood by those who use it even a long-lived individual like Vasher who helped shaped what is already known. Sanderson’s princess swap at the beginning of the story caused instant character reexamination and growth that helps drive the narrative while at the same time Lightsong’s quest to figure himself out while the populous believes him to be a god was another unique perspective that helped pushed the narrative forward in many locations. There is so much that was good, that it’s hard to find something to criticize.
Warbreaker is a unique standalone book within Brandon Sanderson’s larger Cosmere that blends fascinating characters and cultures with a stunning magical system to create an amazing narrative. If you’re interested in reading a Sanderson book and don’t want to be stucked into a series, this is the book you should read.