Many fantasy fans have been wondering what to expect from Brandon Sanderson since he was chosen from relative obscurity to complete Robert Jordan’s mega-bestselling Wheel Of Time series. So it’s worth noting how much his newest standalone fantasy novel, Warbreaker, is focused on expectations. The characters are constantly forced to reexamine their images of themselves, their roles in the world, and the other individuals around them as the story itself plays with readers’ impressions of what’s going on.
Set in a world where people periodically return from death to be worshipped as gods, and magic users can drain the color from items or life from their own bodies in order to animate objects, the story focuses on a brewing war between two kingdoms. The writing follows the same structure as Sanderson’s first standalone novel, Elantris, splitting the narrative between the perspectives of three main characters. It also explores the same major themes of political intrigue and conflicting views of divinity between cultures and individuals. But the narrative is richer, spinning together hilarious dialogue, descriptive action sequences, and genuinely sweet romance.
There are still flaws, but the strengths easily outweigh them. It can be a little hard to take a book seriously when it prominently features princesses whose hair changes color depending on their moods, but the book actually manages to make a silly effect into a genuine weakness. Some of the plot outcomes are predictable, especially for readers familiar with Sanderson’s love of tying everything together in the end, but other twists are truly shocking, particularly once the comic relief is cut off during the last third of the book. The constant tension eventually starts to wear, but the developing drama is compelling.
Most impressive in a genre dominated by series that drag on as long as people keep shelling out for the books: Sanderson knows how to wrap things up cleanly. He spins a world that’s easily complex and mysterious enough to warrant sequels, but prefers to end it climactically, answering many of his biggest questions, while leaving others to the imagination.