Bright We Burn (The Conqueror's Saga, #3)by Kiersten White Published 10 Jul 2018
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Haunted by the sacrifices he made in Constantinople, Radu is called back to the new capital. Mehmed is building an empire, becoming the sultan his people need. But Mehmed has a secret: as emperor, he is more powerful than ever . . . and desperately lonely. Does this mean Radu can finally have more with Mehmed . . . and would he even want it?
Lada's rule of absolute justice has created a Wallachia free of crime. But Lada won't rest until everyone knows that her country's borders are inviolable. Determined to send a message of defiance, she has the bodies of Mehmed's peace envoy delivered to him, leaving Radu and Mehmed with no choice. If Lada is allowed to continue, only death will prosper. They must go to war against the girl prince.
But Mehmed knows that he loves her. He understands her. She must lose to him so he can keep her safe. Radu alone fears that they are underestimating his sister's indomitable will. Only by destroying everything that came before--including her relationships--can Lada truly build the country she wants.
Claim the throne. Demand the crown. Rule the world.
"Bright We Burn (The Conqueror's Saga, #3)" Reviews
“Disrupt stability. Petition for gold. Provoke the greatest empire on the face of the earth.” He paused. “This is going to be fun.”
Oh, it was. So much bloody, nasty fun.
I have really loved this series. I mean, why wouldn't I? There's a murderous antiheroine who's definitely more anti than heroine. There's battles and backstabbing and unrequited love. There's alt-history that's - let's face it - a lot more alt than history. There's Vlad the Impaler reimagined as a woman. In other words, this series is almost everything I've always wanted.
I say almost because Kiersten White is publishing literally everything I have always wanted next year: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3...
In this book, we pick up right where we left off in Now I Rise. Lada is, unsurprisingly, on a murderous rampage, making many powerful enemies and a few important allies as she goes along. White pushes the limits on how much sympathy we can have for a character who is borderline villain, but I personally adored Lada to the end.
“The empire is coming for us, and I intend to win.”
While I doubt I would have had the same sympathies for the real, male Vlad, I think the author captured Lada's frustrations with the limitations of being a woman really well. She is obviously a very screwed up, disturbed person, and it was impossible for me to not feel sympathy for her. Even when she is at her worst (which is 95% of the time). And I love that, even though she is incredibly strong, she also has moments of weakness and self-doubt that remind us of her underlying humanity.
True to the character of this series, this final installment is action-packed and gory. Tensions between Lada, Radu and Mehmed reach an all-time high, with their affections for one another never far behind their animosity. Such page-turning goodness!
I love that this series positively portrays both a gay romance and Islam. Radu and Cyprian offer some light in an otherwise very dark trilogy, as does the respectful handling of various faiths (or lack of, in Lada's case). We need this warmth to counter the ever-growing pile of bodies and the tension created by the approaching climax.
War made monsters of them all.
Of course, I won't tell you anything that could spoil the ending, but I found it a very satisfying conclusion. White wraps things up just as they should be, in my opinion, with the perfect balance of historical fact and artistic license.
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personally, I feel as if my heart was ripped out of my fucking chest and my life was just changed for the better. I do not have the Words To Convey how much this ending for a series meant to me
here was my lowkey spoilery initial list of what I wanted out of this sequel:
• please let Radu be happy
• you know exactly who I want him to be happy with
• LET NAZIRA REUNITE WITH HER WIFE
• Mehmed dying maybe
• honestly I think Lada's going to die no matter what for historicity if nothing else
• please just let Radu, Nazira, Fatima, and Cyprian be gay in peace. please Kiersten White I'm a nice person
did all of this happen? not necessarily. but did I find this conclusion incredibly satisfying and one of my favorite series conclusions ever? hell yes.
Okay, so basic TL;DR: This book is my second favorite series conclusion I have ever read [after literally my favorite book ever] and nothing can ever beat it and oh my fucking god, I loved this.
This series is political and character driven, which is... such a deep mood for me. This series is about misogyny, about internalized homophobia, about religion, about learning what you deserve in a world that wants you to accept nothing. It is a character and theme study that I just… adore. So much.
Radu had been wrong all this time. He had felt guilty for the way his heart yearned for other men. But it was not his own love that was poisonous and destructive. His love destroyed nothing, hurt no one. Lada loved Wallachia above all else, and this was the result. What Mehmed and Lada did—because of what they set their hearts on with both people and land—was far worse than anything Radu’s love could ever lead him to do. It was an odd sort of thing to take comfort in, but he accepted it.
Nazira was right. His love had no evil in it. He could not say the same for his sister’s.
Radu's characterization has come so far since And I Darken - in Now I Rise, Kiersten White really made me love him, and I just... relate to him so much. I love how well Radu’s sexuality is written. He is so careful about expressing his love for other men, and it’s so realistic not only to the period, but also to my experiences in our current world. Kiersten White is really one of the few not-openly-queer authors I trust most with writing queer characters.
There was something to be said for having his heart broken so many times. Broken things healed thicker and stronger than they were before. Assuming one survived long enough to heal.
And then… there’s Lada. Lada, who I hate and empathize with at the same time. I love how cunning Lada is, how she does everything differently than expected. Every moment of planning she has made me want to scream with joy. And my favorite Lada quote is a spoiler, so I can't put it here, but I think she's one of the best-written antiheroes I've read recently and I really like it?
I really feel like this series went so far past its original sort-of-fucked-up-love-triangle focus. The most important relationships here are predominantly platonic. Lada and Radu. Lada and Nicolae [I’d die for them]. And then there's Radu and Nazira, who I basically ship platonically harder than I have ever shipped anything romantically.
“I am sorry, then.”
“To be right?” Nazira laughed. “It is a heavy burden, always being right. But some of us must bear it.”
“I am grateful you bear it for me, as I am not qualified to carry it myself.”
Speaking of which, I AM GIVING RADU AND NAZIRA THE PARAGRAPH THEY DESERVE. Kiersten White is really out here givin the gays everything they want!! They touched cheeks! They held hands!!!!! They platonically love each other so deeply and it's fucking gorgeous!!!!! They are… literally worth the world to me and I adore them and I’d just die for them. Nazira and Radu invented mlm / wlw solidarity and that's so valid.
Radu put a hand over his heart, wondering if he would feel her death, if he would know. They had been separated for so long. She had looked at him that night in Mehmed’s tent as though faced with a memory, not a man.
Also… listen. Guys. Radu and Lada. Every time Radu and Lada think about each other I want to cry.
But honestly, the most important thing about this whole book was the ending. Because, okay, I have a lot of thoughts, but I don't want to say them, because this book is not even fucking released yet, but also, I have to say them? So please, if you have not read this book, this is the end of the review. Pretend it's the end. Bye.
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Nazira had not exaggerated her intentions. She let go of Fatima only when absolutely necessary. Radu leaned back on his cushion, smiling to himself as Nazira tried to navigate eating dinner while keeping hold of Fatima’s hand at all times.
So... the found family ending of this is the best-ever subversion of the bury your gays trope I have ever read in my entire fucking life and I.... legitimately cried. You should have seen me and Em, one of my bffs on this hellsite, screaming in the DMs both reading this at the same time. We were such fucking messes and it meant even more to her, as a Muslim queer woman, than it did to me, and I just... wow I'm a wreck?
And also... Radu chose people over power. And that was the difference.
"what are you doing this summer?"
me: as soon as school ends, i'm going to hibernate until the release of this book.
me: and then i'm going to cry after reading this book until school starts.
also me: actually, i'm probably going to still cry because school started.
my thoughts on the cover
mom: what do you want from the grocery store?
me: a pomegranate
mom: but you don't even lik-
me: *dramatic pause*
me: I DO NOW
you know you won at life when kiersten white liked this review
#1 And I Darken ★★★★★
#2 Now I Rise ★★★★★
#3 Bright We Burn ★★★☆☆
This series has been an incredible journey, and I was both eager and terrified to see how it would end. As many of you already know, I tend to avoid series finales like the plague. They’re almost always my least favorite part of a series, probably because I like very particular types of endings where all the loose ends are tied and everyone has completed their tasks—and these are rarely synonymous with happy, fan-servicing endings, which is what this felt like to me.
She could not sleep in those stone rooms, empty and yet still crowded with the ghosts of all the princes who had come before her.
Lada has been one of my favorite heroines since I first read And I Darken, but she was perhaps my greatest struggle in this installment. You see, Lada has always been vicious, but she’s been clever about it; she’s made a habit of outwitting everyone around her, constantly, and her intentions have always been fair: to pull Wallachia out of the mud and see her people thrive without the shackles put upon them by men like the boyars and Mehmed.
After all, fire and blood and death were nothing to a country led by a dragon.
In this finale, something feels lost in her character arc to me. Gone is the conniving yet brilliant young woman who took from the rich to give to the poor, and in her place is a sloppy warlord who destroys innocents recklessly and stumbles into one trap after another. I understand character development and that sometimes, the characters we love become less than what they were, but I believe with my whole heart that this was the wrong direction to take Lada’s story in.
Someday Radu would not long for a time when he was certain things were terrible but had no idea just how much worse they were about to get.
And then, there’s Radu, who I actually admitted in my Now I Rise review was one of the most infuriating characters I’ve ever met in my life. He makes almost exclusively terrible decisions because of his affections for Mehmed, and he is blind to the entire world around him whenever he is in the sultan’s presence. But, you know what else I mentioned in that review: I liked that about him. I enjoyed the drama he brought to the pages. That was no longer the case by the end of Bright We Burn.
He could not have conversations about his future as though his past were not looped around his neck like a noose, choking him with regret and sorrow.
As we near the end of the story, Radu finally begins to see the error of his ways, yet he doesn’t do anything to fix his mistakes. Instead, he doubles down, and while I won’t spoil the action for you, I will say that the direction he takes shocked me in the most awful way. Much like with Lada, I felt like I was reading an entirely different character from the one I’d grown to know in the first two books.
Radu expected to find his friend angry. Instead, he found Mehmed sitting on a pillow, staring up at the ceiling of the tent with a bemused smile.
“I think she missed us,” he said.
The one thing that remains entirely the same in Bright We Burn is Mehmed, who is still this insufferable, disgusting cretin of a man. I can’t say anything at all about how I feel regarding Mehmed without spoiling the entire ending, but if you’ve read it, feel free to DM me—I have quite a lot of feelings about his story.
He had changed his faith, his life, even his name, but he could not change or escape his sister.
There are a million other things I’d like to fuss about, but they’re all spoilers, so I’ll leave them all be; however, if you’ve read it, there’s a particular incident that occurs with Lada that is intended to be a “twist”, and it not only frustrated me that I predicted it so long ago, but it also positively enraged me with how she handled it. (Again, feel free to DM—lots of rage to get out over this one.)
“It seems to me she has tremendous regard for blood. She simply prefers it spilled on the ground.”
All in all, this wasn’t a horrible book on its own; as you can see, I still thought it was worth a solid 3 stars. That said, it was one of the most disappointing series finales I have ever read, in terms of the direction the story took. At the time that I’m writing this review, however, my opinion is definitely not the common consensus, so if you have enjoyed the series thus far, I do strongly urge you to pick this up and give it a chance.
All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to my friend Lynette for sending me this ARC!
You can find this review and more on my blog, or you can follow me on twitter, bookstagram, or facebook!
This was brutal and bloody and so perfectly and epically satisfying. Which are words I'M CRYING AS I TYPE because finales scare the frick out of me...and this one managed to stab me in the soul (like 5 times) and then still give me everything I hoped it would. LOVE LOVE LOVE. Everything is perfect. I will also scream quietly into the void for 2-3 working days before I feel like rereading the whole trilogy agaaaaaain.
THANK YOU TO THE AUTHOR FOR A PERFECT FINALE. I'M CRYING IT'S FINE. WOW.
+ The pacing and plot was absolute perfection here.
It's a little smaller than the other books, but I quite liked how it all panned out. The middle is SO INTENSE...like forget books where the middle drags. 0_0 This was terrifying and exhilarating. There's wars and betrayals, kidnapping plots and horror, and there are the softest quietest moments that just make my heart so full. Like some of my most favourite chapters were simply two precious characters getting to hold hands, fingers all entwined, and I just !!! 94% of the reason I'm sobbing right there.
+ Also it is DARK.
I love dark books. I love it when books don't pretend to be dark, but actually absolutely are. Lada is badass and terrifying and SHE FOLLOWS THROUGH. The battles are grim, the aftermaths are horrifying. It's just so well written and portrayed. Like Lada is so unlikeable, yet I love her. And Radu makes some awful betrayals, but I love him.
+ Um so obviously: perfect characters ARE PERFECT.
I can't even saaaaay how much I love Radu and Lada. I LOVE THEM OK. Absolute best siblings of softness and mURDER ever. Their arcs are incredible, with Lada being vulnerable between ripping people's throats out (um with her bare hands but what can you do) and Radu learning that he doesn't have to be a warrior to be brave. That kindness is sometimes the most daring and brave choice of all. I FREAKING LOVE RADU. HE IS SO PRECIOUS.
He is soft and he is allowed to be soft. Lada is harsh and she is allowed to be harsh. afjdksladjkl my favourite siblings
And quick shout out to our queen and ruler: Nazira. She is so sweet and lovely and conniving and will absolutely rearrange your life FOR YOUR HAPPINESS and loves Radu so so deeply while being absolutely incredibly in love with her wife, Fatima. I just !! I love this incredible queer family they are all precious 10/10 will die for them all.
+ It also managed to make me laugh aND wail.
Which is talent. I love the writing! It's not the typical voice or style...and I think that's what now draws me to it?! It's different. It's refreshing. I actually have not been this obsessed with a book pretty much all year (barring a few others!) so this just made my dEAD HEART BEAT AGAIN. THANK YOU.
Bloody, brutal, and unforgiving -- this series is totally unique and incredible and FULL OF HEART AND SOUL. It weaves actually really heartfelt and beautiful messages in amongst the wars and woes, the loss and the betrayals. It has one of my favourite love triangles (BEST conclusion) and and incredible cast of complex characters that I just love love love. With all their flaws! And their nastiness or weakness!! I LOVE THEM SO MUCH. LOVE EVERYTHING. I SHOULD GO SIT DOWN WOW.
~ QUOTES ~
She had always wanted him at her side. Had always known that together, they could accomplish what neither could alone.
The more Radu knew the women around him, the more he wondered if any of them were not secretly terrifying.
Radu laughed. "I still cannot quite believe we all found each other."
"I can. You were always ruthless about finding people to love you."
(This is from the author's note, but I just love it so much)
Thank you for embracing this fictional family of mine, for proving that no idea is too weird, no girl is too brutal, and no boy is too tender for readers of YA. You are going to change the world, and I can't wait to see how you do it.