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Warbreaker: A Spoiler-free Review


Little Blue

 

Warbreaker: A Spoiler-free Review

Post Description: Little Blue discusses her decision to begin reading Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere and her (spoiler free) thoughts on his stand-alone Cosmere novel, Warbreaker

 

The Cosmere

If you haven’t heard of him, Brandon Sanderson is an internationally renowned author famous for writing several fantasy and sci fi series, including finishing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. He’s sci-fi fantasy’s modern day big cheese and, after falling into a booktube rabbit hole last week, I decided I’d give his books a try. I hadn’t picked up any epic fantasy since devouring A Song of Ice and Fire years ago and I was keen to get back into the genre.

Oh boy did I not know what I was getting myself into. I’m currently one book down and I can feel a new obsession looming. The urge to run out and buy matching prints of his entire works is being held in check only by my ironclad self-control. 

Okay fine, by my wallet. But whatever.

Choosing your first Sanderson can be an intimidating task. I wanted to start with the Cosmere, his self-contained fantasy universe. Think Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, but novels. Once I’d decided to start there, I had two stand-alones, two trilogies, a collection of short stories, and a ten-novel saga (three of which have been published) to choose from. Right. Not like I’m terrible at decisions or anything. 

It was tempting to begin with publication order, which would lead me to read the stand alone novel Elantris first. After a bit of background reading, carefully navigating potential spoilers, I opted for Warbreaker instead, for the following reasons:

  • Sanderson’s writing style has developed over time and fans generally find his later works more palatable. If I wanted to really get a feel for his writing rather than taking it on faith that it gets better, Elantris supposedly wasn’t the place to start.

  • Warbreaker is also a standalone book, which eliminated the need to commit to a trilogy right off the bat. 

  • Of all of his books so far, Warbreaker is the most light-hearted, which potentially makes it a good starting point.

  • Starting with Warbreaker wouldn’t spoil any of the other Cosmere series for me. Nor would I be missing out on anything major that I needed to know from earlier publications, apparently. 

Decision made, I picked up a paperback copy of Warbreaker and began reading… 

Warbreaker

I finished it in two days. I’m a slow reader, so that’s a big deal for me. Before I delve into why I found this book such a page-turner, I’ll explain the overall premise of the book. 

Warbreaker is a story of political intrigue that centres on two princesses, Siri and Vivenna. As part of a treaty formed twenty years earlier, Vivenna is betrothed to the ruler of a nearby kingdom, Hallandran. This ruler, the God King, is an immortal tyrant whose subjects both worship and fear him, along with a pantheon of other gods called the Returned. The plot follows Siri, Vivenna and a lesser God named Lightsong as they try to navigate the political minefield that is Hallandran society in order to prevent a seemingly inevitable war. 

Due to this book being a political mystery in a fantasy setting, it can be a bit difficult to go into detail without strafing into spoiler territory, but I’ll do my best to explain what I loved about this book and to cover some ground on why it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. 

+ The Positives +

When it comes to the strengths of this book, I’m of the opinion that we’re spoiled for choice. However, I’ll try to focus in on the key things I enjoyed. 

The Main Characters

The majority of Warbreaker is told from the perspective of three characters: Siri, Vivenna and Lightsong. An immortal being revered as a God, but who doesn’t buy into his own religion, Lightsong was probably my favourite character. His chapters are full of humour that nicely offset the political machinations that drive the plot and I was surprised by the amount of affection I had for this character by the end of the novel. 

Sisters Siri and Vivenna were also enjoyable to follow as they try to navigate the complex Hallandran society from two very different perspectives. Even down to simple descriptions of T’Telir, the city that provides the main setting for the story, I enjoyed seeing the world that Sanderson has built through the eyes of these two very distinct characters. On top of that, the way that Sanderson used adversity to push his characters out of their comfort zone and force them to grow made this book a real page-turner, especially in Vivenna’s case.

Beyond these three characters, we are introduced to an interesting and detailed cast of side characters. Not all were as flushed out as I would have liked, but many had surprising depth and impact. A warning regarding character spoilers: annoyingly, the blurb on the back of the book gives an indirect spoiler for one of the character arcs. I’d recommend giving the blurb a miss if you want a fully spoiler-free reading experience. 

The World Building

‘Magic as you have never seen it before’ - The quote from the front cover certainly wasn’t wrong. Perhaps someone who’s more well-read in high fantasy will be less impressed by the magic system in Warbreaker, but I loved it. There’s a lot to it, especially once you factor in how magic has shaped the various kingdoms of this world. The basics are very nicely outlined by Sanderson in what is easily the most engaging opening chapter I’ve ever read. 

In essence, magic operates using colour, sound and BioChromatic Breath. Everyone is born with one Breath and so some cultures equate it to a person’s soul. By accumulating Breath, speaking appropriate Commands and drawing colour from nearby objects, Awakeners can breathe life into inanimate objects and have them carry out their will. These principles form the bedrock of two very different civilisations: the extravagant, magic embracing nation of Hallandran and the conservative nation of Idris, who believe that the use of Breath is a violation of the soul. Since Siri and Vivenna are both Idrisian princesses attempting to represent their homeland in Hallandran’s capital city of T’Telir, we get to dive into how vastly different and interesting these two cultures are. 

Perhaps the greatest contrast between these nations lies in their religions. In prideful Idris, modesty and good deeds stand as a testament to an individual’s piety. On the other hand, Hallandran citizens demonstrate virtue by offering up their skills and wealth so that the Gods who walk among them can live in luxury. Whilst one society seems vastly superior in morals, Sanderson walks his characters (and his readers) into the grey areas where they are forced to confront the shortcomings and saving graces of both ways of life. 

The Intrigue

I really can’t go into this one in any detail without giving too much away. The pages kept turning for me because of the characters and the world, but where this story goes and the twists it takes to get there made for a satisfying conclusion. The ‘twists’, if we can go so far as to call them that, weren’t completely out of left-field; Sanderson gives us enough information to a least suspect where things might be going. However, there’s so much that could potentially be going on that even twists I had considered felt satisfyingly unexpected. 

- The Negatives -

I’ll be honest, I had no major criticisms of this book. It wasn't perfect, but any issues I had were easily overshadowed by the things I enjoyed. To help provide a more balanced review, I took to the internet to discover what issues people who didn’t enjoy this book had with it. I came up with a handful worth discussing, and whilst I don’t personally agree with them, I can certainly see why some of them would affect someone else’s opinion of the book.

The Pacing

Whilst I found Warbreaker to be an engaging read, it by no means action-packed. There are a few well written action scenes, but the chapters of this book centre on key conversations more than anything else. Sanderson fans who are used to his high-action stories may find this jarring, and if you’re a big fan of action over talking, this may not be the book for you. 

The Characters

As with any book, if you don’t engage with the main characters, you’ll likely walk away from it unsatisfied. Though I didn’t necessarily like Vivenna, I admired her strength and enjoyed seeing her develop. Others found her irritating and her chapters too slow. Lightsong’s attempts (some successful, some not) to outwit and irritate his peers made his chapters an entertaining read for me. If you don’t like that sort of humour, his chapters are going to get old real fast. It’s all a matter of preference. 

The Moralisation of Sexuality

I feel somewhat underqualified at this point to provide a full perspective on this, but essentially some readers argue that Sanderson allows his beliefs as a Mormon to cloud his writing of sexuality in his books. I’ll speak generally about all of his novels to avoid indirect spoilers for Warbreaker but apparently chaste characters in his books tend to get a much better deal of things than characters who are promiscuous or more sexualised. Having only read one of his novels, I can’t speak to this. Perhaps over time I’ll come to see what people mean but based entirely on Warbreaker, I don’t hold this point of view. Yes there is a character in the book who uses her sexuality to manipulate, and whilst I found her a bit tedious (I really don’t care where a character's boobs are at any given time), I don’t see why her behaviour is any different from similar characters in other books. Cersei Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire, for example, uses her sexuality as a weapon for political gain. Until I’ve read more of Sanderson’s books, I won’t jump to the conclusion that any sexualisation he writes is a reflection of his religious beliefs. Instead, I’ll assume that promiscuity is a product of characterisation and plot driving, as I do with many other authors. 

*

Overall, I loved Warbreaker and would highly recommend it. I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts on the book, especially if you’ve read other novels by Brandon Sanderson first. How does Warbreaker hold up in comparison? Does the argument regarding promiscuous characters hold any water? Let me know what you thought! 

Thanks for reading. Be kind to yourselves. 🙂

Little Blue

 

Discussing Endgame

Incredible moments, plot holes, and where we go from here.

Post description: Little Blue discusses her favourite moments from Avengers: Endgame, some potentially contentious plot holes, and the future of the MCU.

 

*** Major Endgame Spoilers Below ***

 

As the 22nd installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Endgame had a lot to live up to. Eleven years of storylines, character development and world building set this movie up to be perhaps the most anticipated film in cinema history.

Incredibly, it did not disappoint.

Fans and critics worldwide have lauded Endgame as a cinematic achievement that, whilst not flawless, has largely managed to live up to expectations that few movies have ever had to contend with. With launch records being broken in over a dozen countries, Endgame became the first movie to gross over $1 billion in its opening weekend and is currently the 3rd highest rated movie on IMDb.  

And of course the internet is going crazy over the sheer amount of content this movie has to unpack. From exhilarating moments to the mechanics of time travel, Endgame leaves a lot of wiggle room for fan discussion. High points, potential plot holes and questions yet unanswered have been served up since launch night. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet and fans are happily gorging themselves. So if I may, it’s time to grab a plate and get stuck in.

Below we’ll discuss a few of the many amazing scenes in the movie, address some potential plot holes, and try to work out how on Earth we move on from here. Enjoy!


The High Points

With such a variety of well-timed jokes and rich character moments, it’s hard to narrow down the best scenes in Endgame’s 3 hour run-time. Even so, there are some that simply tower over the rest.

If He Be Worthy

There may not be a moment in cinema that I love more than Steve Rodgers wielding Thor’s hammer. Since Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America fans have wanted to see this in the MCU. Many of us wrote this off when Mjolnir was destroyed in Thor: Ragnarok. Judging by the shouts, gasps and sheer excitement that erupted from midnight screenings across the globe, I wasn’t the only one who completely lost it when this finally happened.

In the aftermath of Endgame’s launch, online debates about Cap’s worthiness have been rekindled. He’s able to move Mjolnir slightly in Age of Ultron before conceding to being unable to lift it.  Some fans maintain that Steve was worthy of the hammer even then, but because our heroes were making a game of lifting it, Mjolnir (which is partially sentient) chose to stay put. Others maintain that he was almost, but not quite, worthy. Either his lack of self-belief or that he was hiding the truth about Tony’s parents could have prevented him from lifting the hammer. Consequently, people in this camp see Cap’s Mjolnir scene in Endgame as a triumphant moment of character redemption.

Then there are the fans, myself included, who believe that Cap could have lifted the hammer in Age of Ultron but chose not to. Why? Because he’s a nice guy and he didn’t want to embarrass his friend, that’s why. After all, it wasn’t his choice to reveal to Tony that Bucky killed his parents, and he doesn’t appear to regret the events of Civil War. But of course, it’s all up for interpretation.

Regardless of where you stand on his worthiness (or if you don’t care at all), watching Captain America smash Thanos in the face with Mjolnir, throw his shield at him, and then use Mjolnir to hit the rebounding shield straight back at him again was intensely satisfying. It was everything I ever wanted from the most climactic battle in superhero media, and it’s staying with me for the long haul.

She’s Not Alone

Whether you found the final battle of Endgame exciting or lackluster, there will doubtless be at least a few stand out scenes. For many, one such moment is when the Avengers women assemble. During the battle, Captain Marvel stands ready to take on Thanos’ forces when she is joined by Scarlet Witch, Okoye, Mantis, the Wasp, Nebula, Gamora, Shuri, Valkyrie and Pepper Potts in her Iron armour.

A full scale female superhero charge like this one has been long overdue in the MCU and damn it was satisfying. It was amazing to see so many powerful, female characters on screen, demonstrating how utterly badass they can be. My first thought went to how much this would have meant to me when I was a quiet, nerdy teenager with no self-confidence. My second was excitement for all of the young women and girls who'll get to grow up with scenes like this existing more often in their popular culture.

Unfortunately, my third thought was ‘Ah, here we go. I can hear the Internet complaining already’.

Contrived. Heavy-handed. Ham-fisted. Forced. Unrealistic. Out of place.

That’s a handful of descriptors I’ve seen so far, from men and women . It seems ‘PC gone mad’ has been cried so many times that when the Avengers women finally get their big MCU moment, audience members ask themselves ‘Was that a bit too much?’

No, it wasn’t.

Was it engineered? Yes, but no more than the ‘Original Six’ circle in Avengers Assemble. Was it unrealistic? Far less believable things have happened in this superhero fantasy franchise. Was the dialogue cheesy? Yes, but no more than ‘We are the Guardians of the Galaxy’ or ‘Avengers assemble’. It was awesome. Let’s just try to enjoy it.

On Your Left

It’s moments like this that make Endgame a cultural milestone for cinema. Comic book movies may not carry much weight in the film industry, and Endgame may not even be the best movie in the MCU, but how often can a movie boast of scenes like this? As Captain America gets back onto his feet, shield broken, defeat imminent, Sam Wilson’s voice echoes through Cap’s radio in a call back to a line from The Winter Soldier. Portals begins to appear and dozens of characters pour out, all backed up by years of world building, individual backstories and interpersonal relationships. This is the climax of the Infinity Saga, and it returns fans’ emotional investment tenfold. Beautiful.

I am Iron Man

I’m not sure my poor heart can take discussing this in detail. We all know why it was incredible, heartbreaking and memorable. Now excuse me whilst I go curl up into a ball in the corner.

 

Plot Holes and ‘Plot Holes’

We all know no movie is perfect and even when fans enjoy a film, the temptation to crack it open and examine all of it’s moving parts is practically irresistible. This has led to several plot holes in Endgame being pointed out, some legitimate, others that can be explained with further inspection of how the MCU operates. Not every issue that’s been raised in the past few days warrants discussion, but let’s address some that do.

Plot Hole: Captain Marvel Finds Tony and Nebula in the Middle of Nowhere

The thing about space is... It’s big. Really big. Yet somehow Captain Marvel stumbles upon the Benetar mere hours before the oxygen runs out? It isn’t explained how Carol Danvers finds the ship, which is stranded out in space somewhere between Titan and Earth. She’s been on Earth since responding to Nick Fury’s pager. From there, a few explanations are possible: Rocket may have been able to track the Benetar; Pepper may have had some way to track Tony’s suit; it’s even possible that Danvers stumbled across the Benetar by accident whilst heading to Titan to search for Thanos.

Those of us who enjoy watertight science fiction could have done with a throwaway line about a distress signal, or one of the explanations above, but admittedly not every cinema-goer cares about the minutia. By this point Marvel Studios have earned their stripes enough for most of us to let the little things slide.

Not a Plot Hole: Captain America Using Lightning

According to some, Cap lifting Mjolnir is fine, but he shouldn’t be able to use it to control lightning. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially because Thor’s entire character arc in Ragnarok emphasised that it’s Thor who’s powerful, not the hammer. His hammer simply serves as a way to channel his power.

So how can Captain America throw lightning, if it’s Thor’s power? Well, if we cast our minds back to the early days of the MCU, we remember that the inscription on the side of Mjolnir reads:

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.

Problem solved.

Plot Hole: How Does Thanos Get To 2023?

The climactic battle of the movie begins when Thanos arrives in 2023, having travelled there from 2014, but it’s not explicitly stated how he does this. In 2014, past Nebula takes our Nebula’s vial of Pym particles. Presumably she uses these to travel to 2023, where the Avengers are regrouping with all six infinity stones. She impersonates her later self and hacks the platform terminal with her weird, USB fingers and Thanos’ ship is brought through the platform into the sky above the Avengers’ facility.

In the same way that we were left to make our own assumptions about how Captain Marvel found the Benetar, the audience just has to fill in the blanks for how Thanos got his hands on some Pym particles, or an alternative to them. Though it’s not a major focus of his character in the MCU, comic book readers will know that Ebony Maw is a genius and is probably more than capable of replicating pym particles using the resources that Thanos has available to him. Whatever USB-Nebula did to the platform controls in 2023 was likely a solution to this problem. The film-makers may simply have felt that there wasn’t enough time to show a scene where Maw figures it out. Unfortunately, without an explicit explanation, this scene comes across as a massive deus-ex-machina. 

Not a Plot Hole: The Captain America ‘Paradox’

Any movie involving time travel needs to set out some clear rules and stick to them if it expects to stand up to scrutiny. For the most part, Endgame does this. It establishes early on that time in the MCU does not operate under a Butterfly Effect. If the characters travel back in time and interfere with events, it doesn’t change the future they return to. Instead, interfering in past events creates a new timeline/reality in which events are different going forward. The quantum bridge that the team use to time travel keeps them anchored to their home timeline, so that they are able to steal infinity stones without altering the present that they return to. If they didn’t return the stones to where and when they stole them from, then it would be the new realities they created that would suffer, not their own.

Being a good guy, Bruce agrees to make sure the stones are returned so that no realities suffer, and at the end of the movies Cap leaves to carry out this mission.

Now that Hank Pym is alive again, Cap presumably has enough Pym particles to pull it off. However, instead of returning when he’s done, Cap chooses stay in the past and live his best life with Peggy Carter.

This is the part that has caused a lot of confusion. At first glance, Cap’s ending seems to fly in the face of the movie’s previously established rules because Cap misses his check in and is discovered sitting on a bench nearby as an old man. Understandably, some people assumed Cap had been living in his own timeline, creating the type of paradox that had otherwise been avoided during the film’s many time shenanigans.

By the movie’s own logic, this can’t be the case. Steve’s decision to stay in the past would have created an alternate timeline and it’s that reality that he grows old in. We have to assume at some point he returned to his original timeline, several decades older than Bruce had planned.

So how does he end up on the bench then? Well, this is the real problem. Cap should really have returned to the quantum platform, albeit years old than anyone was expecting. For the dramatic reveal, Cap returns home nearby. On a bench.

By moving him 50 yards to the left, the Russos have created a situation where it’s not clear that he lived in an alternate reality and then returned to his own. You can find dozens of online discussions debating this ‘time paradox’, when actually the problem is one of location.

Either that or I’ve completely misunderstood the movie. Fight me.

 

Going Forward

Although Avengers: Endgame is end of the Infinity Saga, the greater MCU will carry on into a new phase. The direction it takes and which heroes will play lead roles could be a discussion all of its own, but the implications of the events of Endgame will still be felt going forward. Future installments will undoubtedly have to address the five year gap that 50% of the population experienced after the snap. Hopefully we’ll see this tackled in Spiderman: Far From Home, along with the more personal impact that losing Tony Stark will have on our friendly neighbourhood web-slinger.

Though it’s not immediately obvious, Endgame altered the state of the MCU going forward in another subtle but important way. At the beginning of the movie, Thanos destroyed all of the infinity stones in the main MCU reality, making it possible for it to exist without them. However, the entire reason that the six stones stolen during the time heist had to be returned is that removing any one of them could have drastic consequences. Take the Time stone, for example. The sorcerers have been using it to fight entities like Dormammu for centuries. Now that it’s gone, they’ll have to find a new way to protect reality, which may well be the plot of the next Doctor Strange movie.

Regardless of where the MCU goes next, it’s been an incredible ride and we may never know its like again.

*****

So that’s my two cents. If you got this far, thank you for reading my first blog ever! Let me know in the comments what your favourite moments were, what you thought of the plot and where you think the MCU is going from here!

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