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Bright We Burn by Kiersten White
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Kiersten White is my new hero. In her final novel of the Conquerer’s series, not only did she provide a compelling story, she did so while remaining faithful to her switched gender characters AND history. I was so worried about this, and I read most of the novel with my heart in my throat as a result. However, it is the type of story that upon finishing caused me to sit and revel in its perfection.
  jmchshannon | Oct 25, 2018 |
“Without Radu to gently push her in new directions, she was turning into the most brutal version possible of herself.”

The quote above is both the culmination and problem with Bright We Burn, Kiersten White’s final book in her trilogy about Vlad the Impaler (if Vlad were a girl named Lada).

Lada has grown truly ruthless now, willing to kill thousands—and earn her nickname by displaying their bodies on stakes—to cement her claim to the throne of Wallachia and free it from vassalage to the Ottoman throne. This is in keeping with her character, but unfortunately so is the personal vendetta Lada wages at the same time against Mehmed, the Ottoman ruler. Their tortured love results in even more bloodshed and makes them both hard to like by the end.

As a counterpoint, White presents Radu, Lada’s brother, as an example of what can happen when a smart, capable person seeks love instead of power. He doesn’t become a legend like Lada or achieve Mehmed’s lasting influence, but he also comes closer to finding peace than his childhood playmates. It’s a nice thought, and Radu is easily my favorite of the three. I wonder if he was White’s as well. At one point, when he finally reconciles being gay with being devout, she has him say this: “I believe that God is merciful and great and beyond our comprehension. And Nazira [Radu’s wife for appearance’s sake] always told me she feels closest to God when she feels love. I think she is right. In a way, love is the highest expression of faith—in ourselves, in others, in the world. I can expand my faith to allow myself happiness in this life, and trust in God’s love and mercy after this life.” I liked this thought too.

Yet even though Radu gets nearly as many point-of-view chapters as his sister, the story revolves around her. Lada’s evolution from captive to rebel to ruler remains the draw, and it’s why I picked up the series in the first place—“A female Vlad the Impaler” is a heck of a tagline. So does it work? I thought so through the first two books, but I’m less sold after finishing the third. White tries to make Lada sympathetic by having her upend the Wallachian social structure, empowering peasants on the basis of merit rather than birth. I’m not sure how accurate this is. But if the real Vlad was in fact a populist, and the series was meant in part to suggest how he’s been misunderstood—and why he was willing to be so brutal—casting him as a woman complicates that narrative. Lada is ultimately fighting to take her place in a man’s world; her historical counterpart already had one.

Bright We Burn also suffers from a weak ending, with the last several decades of Lada’s life crammed into a few chapters. But I’m still glad I finished it. White is a talented writer, and Lada a character worth following.

I just wish I’d liked her as much as her brother.

(For more reviews like this one, see www.nickwisseman.com) ( )
  nickwisseman | Sep 11, 2018 |
I hate Kiersten White so much right now. What sort of person rips your heart out, entices you into a false sense of euphoria, only to rip your heart out all over again??!! Well played Ms. White. Well played.

That being said, this book is amazing. Lada was a relentless and ferocious dragon who refused to back down or stand in anyone's shadow and I loved her for that. Nicolai, Stefan, and Bogdan were fiercely loyal to Lada, even though they didn't always agree with her tactics which brings me to the reason I am not happy with Ms. White. Let's just say that I am not ok with the fates of 2 of these characters. Radu finally steps out from behind Mehmed and Lada's shadows and poor Mehmed is still trying his best to tame a beast. This was without a doubt my favorite book in this series, which for me, only got better and better. ( )
  DMPrice | Aug 3, 2018 |
This was an amazing conclusion to this YA historical fantasy. I thought things were tied up perfectly and whipped right through this book. It was wonderfully done and I think this was the strongest book in the trilogy.

Lada is hell bent on protecting Wallachia from Mehmed and will resort to massive violence to stop him. Neither Lada or Mehmed will yield, despite their past feelings for each other. Meanwhile Radu is sick of being pulled between them. However, after he sees the massive number of people Lada is killing he decides that Mehmed might be in the right.

This book was a very engaging and easy read; I was pulled right through the story. I continued to enjoy Lada a lot; she is a complex character with a vicious sense of righteousness. Even though she was constantly stampeding down a path of destruction you couldn’t help but admire her drive, dedication, and loyalty to her people. White did an awesome job of making her a realistic and sympathetic character despite her evil acts.

Radu is in the book a ton too and grows a lot in this book. I admired him more in this book than in any other. I liked that he finally stood up and made some tough choices.

The battles and strategy are well written. Watching how Lada warred against much larger forces was fascinating. My heart broke for her everytime she lost someone vital to her...even though given her recklessness these losses shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The ending was well done and very fitting for the story.

Overall this was an excellent conclusion to this historical fantasy series and I really loved it. I would recommend to those interested in YA historical fiction/fantasy featuring a strong heroine. I will definitely continue reading White in the future. ( )
  krau0098 | Jul 28, 2018 |
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To build the country she wants, Lada, the brutal ruler of Wallachia, must destroy everything that came before, including her relationships with brother Radu and former love Mehmed, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

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