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Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

CoverI suppose the most accurate thing I can say about Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker is that I didn't hate it. Further, I can credit it with keeping my attention. So many enormous epic fantasy audiobooks get returned to the library before I finish reading them (which did happen here) and never get re-ordered (this one actually did).

Brandon Sanderson is a newly crowned heavy-hitter in modern fantasy. His inaugural solo publications (such as Elantris) held promise, and then he was chosen to aid the terminally ill Robert Jordan in finishing his vast Wheel of Time epic. Sanderson is now a full-fledged epic fantasy author of large reputation. Problem is, I find the quality of Sanderson's stories pretty middle-of-the-road.

Part of my unenthusiastic reception to this book comes from the fact that it is a certain shiny, glowing sort of epic fantasy, all about bright castles of polished marble, bored and snarky men-made-gods and characters who talk like modern day Americans. This novel comes down definitively on the "sorcery" side of "sword and sorcery," and does not much medieval/historical sort of world-building. The center of this story is its high concept magic revolving around Sanderson's invention of "bi-chroma," a color-laden version of the concept of the soul (at least, a partial soul). Both of the main characters, while not one dimensional, are certainly not challenging in any way. They are both young, naive girls with the moxy to take on great odds and defy authority to make a difference in the world. They don't wrestle with moral conflicts of any depth, or at least not ones the reader can relate to (Vivenna's moral qualms over accepting a supply of bio-chroma isn't exactly an issue burning in the heart of contemporary man).

Sanderson's fantasy is "clean." The story is crisply plotted, the concepts are well-explained, the characters are likable, if not incredibly nuanced. Despite a few moments of violent conflict, this novel is certainly not belonging to the genre of gritty realism within fantasy. It was simply not my style, but despite this fact, Sanderson did, at least, give me motivation to read on.
One more thing must, unfortunately, be said about this novel on audiobook. Normally I don’t mention much by way of review of the audio production unless it is downright fantastic (such as in the case of Sookie Stackhouse books or anything by Orson Scott Card). I must say that this audiobook reading rubbed me the wrong way. The more I listened to it, the more I managed to ignore it, but the audio actor (I’m purposely not looking up his name because I don’t want to blame it on him if his performance was prompted by the audiobook director) had a tone of voice in reading this novel that was a bit overdone. It reminded me of the way a teacher might read chapters of a book to his fourth grade class. Again, not fatal, but it affected my enjoyment of the book in a subtle way.


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