Book Review: Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson – 5 stars

Warbreaker is a wonderful stand-alone epic fantasy.

There are 4 main POV’s, two sister princesses (one refined, one irreverent), a god returned from the dead, and a mysterious vagabond with a talking sword and a mysterious agenda.

Brandon Sanderson does an excellent job building out his characters, who all sound unique and have their own strengths. Often, writers (mostly male) want to imply that “strong female characters” are well-written female characters, but often they just come across as “tough-as-nails, no-nonsense, butt-kicking female character.” (I also hate when male characters are written as 2-dimensional butt-kickers with little variance. Too much emphasize on the physical aspects of “strong.”)

 V.E. Schwab (https://twitter.com/veschwab/) a female fantasy author, was asked in a panel “How do you write strong female characters?” She explained about how first, she hates that people ask her that question. “Do you ask how men write strong male characters?” and also how it’s not some magic mumbo-jumbo, just treat them like PEOPLE. Like fully-fleshed out human beings (not objects or plot devices, that should be obvious). She said “I treat all my characters as people. End of story.”

Sanderson does that here. The sisters and the god returned from the dead are not warriors. The sisters have very different strengths (emotional understanding, drive, talent for magic, a keen eye for detail), and they are placed in situations which at first seem opposite to their ability, but after some struggle and growth it turns out that their strengths are PERFECT for where they were put.

The last POV character, the mysterious vagabond with the talking sword, gets the fewest number of POV’s. He keeps you guessing about who he is and what he wants.

Sanderson masterfully executes a few paradigm shifts throughout the course of the novel. Characters question their faith, see things in a new light, and learn that nothing is as it seems.

I’ve talked at a very high level, which is mostly what I intend to do. The simplest way to describe it is that a princess is sent off to marry the God-king in order to maintain peace, and her sister goes to rescue her. While in the background bigger forces are at worth that threaten all kingdoms.

Great character development, great dialogue, great action. I recommend!

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Is my fantasy too European?

When I saw that agents are looking for non-European fantasy, I wondered if my fantasy fit that criteria. So I underwent a process of self-examination and I learned that I DON’T write European fantasy. Nor do I write Asian fantasy, American fantasy, Middle-Eastern fantasy, or African fantasy.

I create my own cultures, from scratch. I take ingredients from different cultures and invent new recipes. I don’t copy a recipe/culture and tweak it slightly, I start from the ground up and invent entirely new dishes.

I’ll emphasize that:

I don’t appropriate and tweak other cultures for my fantasy. I create entirely new cultures from scratch.

One novel (Two Masters) features a culture inspired partially by ancient Israel (a tribal system with a strong religious influence) and partially by early gunpowder-era Japan. However, the culture’s religion draws from Catholicism and the government is theocratic meritocratic dictatorship (1 leader rules absolutely, with laws based on religion, and other leadership positions are attained by passing specific tests and quizzes better than others).

Another novel (Robbing Gods) has a culture that’s almost like a China going through a magical industrial revolution. Another culture is inspired by Jews, Native Americans, with a little bit of Nazi ideology. They’ve been driven forth by other races for centuries, found a land to call their own, but other races have still oppressed them. After growing sick of this, they’ve rejected all other races and are willing to commit genocide to have a land for themselves.

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You read that right, I used Nazis and Jews as inspiration for a culture. Once wanderers (like the Jews), then struggling with settlers (like the Native Americans), and now they’re willing to slaughter all not of their race, considering themselves superior (Nazis). Oh, and their leader is sort of like a mix between Hitler and Joan-of-Arc. She’s brutal, but loves her people and feels she is inspired to do what she does.

I find that my favorite fantasy uses this “invent a new recipe from random ingredients” method. Brandon Sanderson’s way of kings is ridiculously difficult to pin down as having been inspired by one certain culture (magic tech, kings and princes, racial discrimination based on eye color, people with white eyebrows that never stop growing).

I suggest giving this method a try. Invent brand new dishes and brand new worlds. What if there were a race of humans who had spikes in their elbows, believed in a god made up of the thought-energy of their ancestors, lived in outhouse sized homes by themselves (1 per person, privacy is greatly important), and their government was based on taking what everyone thought and putting it through a series of mathematical equations to decide what to do.

Which culture inspired that? Oh and they fight with sword-shoes. (I just came up with this.

I’m done worrying. Now, I could do better with having greater diversity in my stories, and having stories with less western modes of morality. I’m trying to do better with that. But with that also I’ll invent my own diversity. I can’t represent African-Americans in a world where there are none, but I can create my own minorities and give them a voice, reflecting the same pain felt by minorities in our world.

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My advice: Create brand new dishes. You can definitely create Native American, African, or Polynesian fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with that (in fact more fantasy of those kinds would be nice). But know that you’re not limited to slightly tweaking the cultures that already exist.

You can create an infinite amount of brand new ones from scratch.

 

Booyah!