Books: Warbreaker

After reading Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia, I thought about looking for one of Brandon Sanderson’s earlier books, written not for children but adults. I had enjoyed the unique flavor of the Alcatraz books so much, though, that I was afraid I would be disappointed by his other books.

Then I came across Warbreaker while looking for something in large print to take with me to Cub Scout camp (so I wouldn’t need to pack my reading glasses). It turned out the book wasn’t a large print edition – the “new books” shelf abuts the large print section in our library. But I managed to read several chapters anyway while at camp, and eagerly devoured the rest once I came home.

Fantasy is such a popular genre these days, with so many titles being published every year, that relatively few fantasy novels seem to have much originality. As I haven’t read a lot of them, I can’t say that no other books use colors in the way Sanderson does – not just to describe but as a major plot element – but BioChroma sure seemed like an original idea to me.

Original ideas don’t make great books, though – that requires good characterization, interesting plot twists that are still believable, a meaningful theme (i.e. ideas, not just action) – plus good writing. I don’t know whether Warbreaker is a great book, but it’s certainly a very good one (IMHO).

The story is told primarily from the point of view of three different characters (and occasionally a fourth), which provides some very different perspectives but does not jump around so much that it gets confusing. The conflict between two very different societies creates conflict at a personal as well as societal level. The action doesn’t stop for the author to moralize, but the characters give voice to good questions about how to evaluate competing truth claims, what to do when there’s no clear right course of action, how to know whom to trust, and how pervasively we are shaped by the kind of culture we live in.

At one point (near the climax) it occurred to me that there was something familiar in the dilemma facing the main characters. After thinking about it somewhat, it occurred to me that I was reminded of Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia. It took me another bit of thought to remember that both books were by the same author.

The similarities are not in the details (though in both books certain people have special abilities – a pretty common situation in fantasy novels). The parallel was in how cleverly Sanderson got his hero(es) completely stymied by their circumstances – and then resolved the situation in a way that was unexpected yet fit perfectly with what was known from the beginning.

Some of my favorite authors write books that are very good until the end, which doesn’t ruin the book but is less than satisfying. Sanderson writes books that are good right through to the last page. I think I’ll have to see what copies the library has of his earlier books.

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