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Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

Having had sand kicked in my face for my whinging about the size and weight of some modern hardback books, I went back to the trunk where I store the few remnants of my youth. There it was. Just as I remembered. The Charles Atlas dynamic tension course. Now, of course, you all think of dynamic tension as being one of these fancy postmodernist theories about narrative — the idea that an author should be able to hold the interest of the reader from start to finish. But, as one who consumed a diet of comics as a kid, the idea I would be able to beat the bully to a pulp and get the girl was a terrible lure to the insecure and callow youth that I was.

Over the last weeks, I have been training in self-resistance, reading only light trade paperbacks while working out the Atlas way. Today sees the proof of the pudding I once was. The weight is now gone from the waist as chords of rippling muscles play across the upper body of a old god holding up the world and a fair-sized terrapin. I have even mastered the Shaolin one-finger technique for turning the pages.

Thus prepared, I was easily able to lift and hold Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. For once, I am able to say this was a delight to read. Recently, I seem to have been caught in a rut of indifferent to poor books. This broke the run with such amazing power, I was immediately checking his web site. Sadly, there do not seem to be any plans for a sequel. I know there’s a terrible glut of trilogies, but if he could maintain the same wit and style, I would happily buy the next in series.

Is this book perfect? In one sense, this is a meaningless question. We are into the world of individual sensibilities. All readers have monster egos and can think of ways in which they believe any work of fiction can be improved. In this case, we have the sudden loss of all narrative connection with Dedelin once his two daughters have left for the capital. I find it impossible to believe he would not have attempted some search for his favoured daughter. There would also have been the preparations for war. That said, I suppose it might have pushed the book into trilogy mode. Once you start considering what everyone else is doing, the wordage expands to fill the space available — Parkinson’s Law of writing. So, no book is every completely perfect. Yet this comes close.

This is about real people in an unreal situation. We have sisters who find themselves in unfamiliar territory, both literally and metaphorically. Some of those around them are wise, others foolish. Perhaps sometimes those who are both foolish and wise at the same time prove to be the best. We have those who smile to conceal their nature and those who are silent because they must learn how to speak. As we progress, the innocent must learn the hard lessons of life and the overconfident must recognise those who stand together can be stronger. All life is here from the lowest in the slums to the highest in the land. And let’s not rush to judgement on who is better. Status counts for nothing when real choices must be made.

And all is told with a remarkable wit. It’s genuinely rare to be able to accuse a writer of high fantasy of breaking the mould of seriousness that so often pervades works of magic. Frankly, the irreverence and iconoclasm are utterly refreshing. As a final test, I gave the book to my wife who asserts a blind and unreasoning prejudice against fantasy. A mixture of threats and promises of a high quality meals in one of our better local restaurants persuaded her to start reading. It took her three days but she made time to finish it. She then promptly asked for more. Believe me. There can be no higher recommendation than both a tired old guy who has read thousands of books “just like this” and a wife who usually hates fantasy both unreservedly like this book. Ignore it at your peril!

Here are the other books by Brandon Sanderson I have reviewed:
Alcatraz versus The Scrivener’s Bones,
The Emperor’s Soul,
The Hero of Ages
The Rithmatist
The Way of Kings
Well of Ascension
The Words of Radiance.

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