Warbreaker (Brandon Sanderson) Review
** spoiler alert ** I was a big fantasy reader as a kid (especially RE Howard and Tolkien), returned to the genre later in life (relishing Clark Ashton Smith, HP Lovecraft's Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath, Feist's Magician, GRR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, and GG Kay's Tigana), and then had a number of not great experiences with contemporary fantasists (eg. Erickson, Williams, Holdstock, Hobb, etc.) that led me towards other genres (eg. Science Fiction, Horror, and Crime), all of which more consistently yield what I am looking for...and in a fraction of as many pages.
For the past ten years I've read a lot westerns and during the last five I've become more and more interested in vintage adventure fiction (especially by masters like Harold Lamb, J. Allan Dunn, H. Rider Haggard, and L. Patrick Greene). Eventually, great adventure fiction and my burgeoning interest in boardgames (especially fantasy ones like Cave Evil, Mage Knight, and Perdition's Mouth) led me to once again explore the shelves of high fantasy...
Brandon Sanderson is now a really big name in the field and this one off book, Warbreaker, seemed like a good point of entry...and exit if the book disappointed. Although this 650 page tome held my interest at most times, it did not truly fire my imagination nor fully engage me.
My favorite high fantasy stories have a strong adventure component. They also have original creations unique to their worlds. And ideally, book length fantasies have interesting and rich characters. Warbreaker left me wanting in terms of all of these elements. The book succeeds to a moderate degree because it is well plotted and the magic is interesting, though the latter requires so much exposition that it feels a little like the author is revising the rules as he goes rather than that he is describing a cogent supernatural phenomenon.
The characters are generally one dimensional types who are working against their one defining characteristic. The snobby prude, trying to be less snobby and prudish; the irresponsible and wild girl trying to be responsible; the nonchalant god who learns to give a crap. These three pillars of the book are two princesses and a god, which is not a diverse (nor interesting) grouping---basically, three entitled people who act out and are drawn into intrigue. That the god is a painfully unfunny take on Groucho Marx makes the reading less fun, but the reality is that these three characters are but engines that drive the plot and uncover mysteries. The plotting is good--occasionally very good--and has some surprises, and that's what this book delivers. The writing is simple and reads quickly, though is far too modern and colloquial ("tummy ache", "I guess", and tons of modern aphorisms) to give the reader any sense of remoteness or antiquity at all.
Essentially Warbreaker felt like a well plotted, complicated (but not sophisticated), young adult castle mystery. It works moderately well in terms of delivering and developing intrigue, but one note characters, modern prose, the lack of visual descriptions, and the absence of adventure made for a long, but ephemeral book.