Reviewer: Katherine Ray

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Published: 2009

Reviewed: 2013-01-27

Publisher: Tor

Okay, I'll admit it. I read this book quite awhile ago, and many
details have already faded from memory. I remember it's an enjoyable
read and has excellent character development and an interesting plot.
My favorite character was Lightsong the god, and my favorite plotline
was Siri, the princess. At the time I read it, I appreciated that it
was an epic fantasy novel that was completely self-contained in one
book, rather than sprawling on for several books with long waits in
between. Other than that, my memory of the book is rather vague
except (and this is an important except) for the magic system. The
magic system is why I wanted to write this review.

The way the magic system works is each person is born with "Breath."
One "Breath" per person born. I equated Breath with a person's soul
while reading the book, and indeed the one character without Breath in
the book had lost something valuable and important when she gave her
Breath away. She had lost her a lot of her vitality and humanity.

Now, if you'd like to do magic, you need to collect breath and collect
a lot of it. There are 10 levels of magic ability depending on how
much breath you have as follows:

1st - 50
2nd - 200
3rd - 600
4th - 1000
5th - 2000
6th - 3500
7th - 5000
8th - 10,000
9th - 20,000
10th- 50,000

A character goes to a large gathering at an arena and observes, "The
priests each had exactly fifty Breaths, as did the majority of the
wealthier individuals entering through the gates. A fair number had
at least two hundred Breaths... Only a couple had more Breaths than
Vivenna, who [was at level 3]."

Magicians are not the only ones who have more breath than they're born
with. There are also the gods. The gods need 1 breath per week to
continue to exist. (Each god can perform one miracle and then die,
and also have prophetic dreams, which is why the society has decided
to keep them alive by sacrificing 1 breath per god per week.) There
are about 25 gods living in the city. Each god has maybe 20 priests.

Other relevant information includes: the person who gives their Breath
to the gods is usually a child, and people without Breath in the city
are somewhat rare -- Vivenna is running around meeting many, many
people and only comes across one or two without Breath. Breath can
survive the person it was born with as long as it is passed on, but
will also die with whoever has it if they don't hand it off. A person
without Breath is called a Drab.

Okay, starting with the gods: 25 gods x 52 weeks in a year = 1300
Drabs made per year, mostly young. The society is horse-and-cart,
lots of trading, maybe Renaissance era technology and healthcare, so
say these children live another 40 years after they become Drabs. 1300
x 40 = 52,000 living Drabs who practice this religion, which is
restricted to the city, and maybe the farmlands around it, due to
sacrificing to the gods. Coming across a Drab is rare, let's call
them 1% of the society. 52,000/0.01 = 5,200,000 people. Is that a
reasonable number of people for the city described?

And we haven't even touched the magicians and priests yet. Now Breath
can be passed on and survive the person who collected it, but saying
"each priest had exactly fifty Breaths" implies that the priests are
not, in fact, doing the sensible thing and having an old priest hand
over his or her Breaths on to a young acolyte, and thus giving the
acolyte 51 breaths (his/her own + the old priest's 50), and therefore
the priests' Breaths are implied to be taken from people who are still
alive. 49 Breaths x 25 gods x 20 priests = 24,500 Drabs to create the
priesthood. The nobility/wealthy people also have "exactly 50" which
is an indication of not inheriting the Breaths, but let's go ahead and
assume that people with more than 200 got it from people who have
since died, since there does seem to be at least some recycling or
inheriting going on. So how many wealthy people are there?

The arena where the large gathering takes place has 50 boxes for
important people (gods) and 4 rows of seats for ordinary (but wealthy)
people. Let's say a box could seat 5 people across. That implies the
circuference of the arena is about 250 seats, so maybe 1000 citizens
of the city can fill the arena. 1000 people would make a pretty
decent crowd, which matches with the description in the book. Of the
1000 people, based on the description above - we could say 0.5% or 5
have 600 Breaths, 9.5% or 95 have 200 Breaths, and the majority of the
last 900 - call it 60% or 540 have 50 Breaths. Not all the people
with Breath are going to show up to this arena, so let's say there are
1000 people with 50 Breaths in the city. That's 49,000 Breaths that
had to be collected.

Now, how many of the 24,500 Drabs from the priesthood and 49,000 Drabs
from the nobility are still alive? They've been holding onto the
Breaths for 0-30 years, and may have gotten them from people of any
age, and the estimation is getting complicated, so let's say half of
them are still alive and wandering around. That's 36,750 Drabs to add
to our 52,000 from the gods, or 88,750 total.

Drabs are still about 1% of the population, which results in 8,875,000
people living in Hallandren.

Hallendren is not supposed to be particularly huge, and as I said
before the technology level is something like the Renaissance, so
let's compare that number to London, England & Wales in 1600 and 1700.
In 1600 London was about 200,000 people, and England and Wales were
about 4.4 million. In 1700, London was 700,000 people and England and
Wales were about 5 million. (I'm pulling the numbers from
here: http://www.londononline.co.uk/factfile/historical/
and here: http://tacitus.nu/historical-atlas/population/british.htm )

A continuation of this discussion would cover whether Hallandren is in
fact about the size of England & Wales or whether a smaller area makes
more sense (which I think it does), and if there's an area that has
more Drabs than the city seems to, etc., but I shall end the
discussion here and simply conclude that I was bothered, throughout
the book, with the idea that the population of Hallandren had to be
quantitatively a lot larger than the qualitative description of it
seemed to imply, and actually sitting down and doing the math has been
great fun. Thank you for bearing with me.