Review: What can Warbreaker tell us about Wheel of Time?

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Fans of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series are no doubt well aware that young author Brandon Sanderson has been tapped to complete the series. His conclusion, reported to weigh in at three quarters of a million words, has been divided into three books, the first of which will appear in the autumn of 2009.

But before that milestone comes Sanderson's own newest, a standalone volume titled Warbreaker. What can Jordan-ophiles discern from a reading of this entertaining new fantasy? Not much with regard to their beloved series, other than a general sense that Sanderson is talented, competent and a deft manipulator of fantasy tropes.

My own familiarity with Jordan's work is minimal, but I derive the impression that it's an epic work featuring many characters and much warfare. For all its size, and for all its surface theme of martial strife, Warbreaker does not fit that mold. Its cast is limited (though rich), its inter-kingdom war only mooted. And the tone of the novel is decidedly humorous in spots, a trait I do not sense in Jordan's books.

The tale here concerns two polities, Idris and Hallandren. The latter is big, powerful and bellicose, home to much magic and to the Living Gods, the Returned. The former is small and weaker, but crafty. The King of Idris sends his two daughters to T'Telir, the capitol of Hallandren. One, Siri, goes officially, to become the wife of Hallandren's leader, Susenbron. The other, Vivenna, goes secretly, to run the Idrian spy network hidden within T'Telir. While Siri unravels the mysteries of court--and discovers where the real power lies--Vivenna gets an education in magic and the rigors of a commoner's life.

The two princesses are well drawn, but it's a shame their paths never really intersect on the page. The unique system of magic envisioned by Sanderson acquires a plausible palpability. The main action concerns court machinations, and actual physical conflicts are sparse. A good supporting cast helps, with a mysterious rogue agent named Vasher and his sentient sword Nightblood among the highlights.

But the fellow who steals the show is the feyest member of the Returned, Lightsong. If you can picture P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster as a spoiled deity, you can imagine how much fun Lightsong makes all his scenes.

In the end, I suspect that while this book will deliver much pleasure, it holds few clues to Sanderson's work on Wheel of Time.