2 stars · book review

book review: Bright We Burn by Kiersten White

2 stars | Goodreads

No Radu and Mehmed Tree Story. I’m disappointed.
This was really Radu’s book. 1 star for the very readable writing and 1 star for Radu, m’boi.

So as always, this was a quick and semi-entertaining read. After 3 of these books, I know what to expect from the series. The downside is that it didn’t feel like there was a point to this series besides Lada and Mehmed’s game of “Look At What You Made Me Do” with Radu getting the frick out of the game once he realized the futility of it all.

Radu’s arc was so good in this book. As good as it was going to get, given the direction of this series was never going to give me a triumphant ending. If there had been another installment with just Radu, I would support it. It is a shame that we never got the Mehmed/Radu story I wanted and preferred, but this ending for Radu is alright. He’s tired. He no longer has the will to keep playing this game between Mehmed and Lada. He just wants to retire early and I respect that.

My problem is, despite how much I like Kiersten White’s writing, a lot of things are just Told to us instead of being played out as a scene. This is especially prominent with Radu and Cyprian’s relationship. I didn’t get a solid feel on Cyprian as a character even in Now I Rise. They get a few tender moments which were good and it highlighted Radu’s healing process being surrounded by his found family and falling out of love with Mehmed, but I was annoyed that we needed to have a rebound love that actually ended up being Endgame Love for Radu to get there. I don’t particularly see the draw of them as a couple besides Radu Needs Another Love.

While we’re at it about Radu’s found family, I retract my statement about 15th century gaydar from my Now I Rise review because it’s true sometimes queer people just find each other without really trying and that’s the beauty of it. There’s plenty to love about Radu’s portion of the story: the fact that Nazira and Fatima want to adopt, the fact that they do adopt and co-parent with Cyprian and Radu (and Oana). I still lament that the books are so Lada-centric that Fatima and Nazira aren’t as fleshed out as they could be, like Cyprian, and only feel like Radu’s support characters or extentions of Radu’s character on his road to self-love and the like.

Lada… man I always knew Lada was not the smartest or most strategic character, but damn everything she did in this book was just so… lacking and incredibly stupid. At one point ¬†she decides to marry Bogdan right before cannon balls are fired at her fortress and acts surprised when Bogdan gets shot by Radu of all people. Don’t leave yourself in the open like this!!!

Speaking of Lada’s supporting cast, RIP Nicolae with an E. You are sorely missed and the only voice of reason in Lada’s entire fucking camp. Also honorable mention to Stefan. I can’t believe Lada was like “Ugh these fucking breeders are getting in my way” and then she fucking had a baby too. You can’t talk shit anymore about this, then.

The writing loves to talk about how Lada is self made, but really without her supporting cast, she loses a lot of steam. I do feel for her *SLIGHTLY* as she does not have a magnetic personality like Radu, and she knows it. It’s just that every decision she makes sends her in a downward spiral and she constantly looks for an echo-chamber in the people she puts around her, she eventually realizes people around her are dropping like flies but it’s too late. She actually takes pride in the fact people are dying and bruh I know you’re trying to be cheeky and ruthless, but it’s not good when your self-destruction is manifesting into real-world destruction. Not cute.

If that was the point of this whole story, I guess you made the point. Lada is too stuck in her own ways and makes no compromises. That is her strength, but it also fucked her over big time and her lack of foresight only hastened her downfall. I’m not sure what the book’s even trying to say anymore because obviously, Lada is adding fuel to her own funeral pyre, hence the title Bright We Burn. Part me actually wanted a protag that had the mettle and see her ambitions through to the end and get a positive character arc. But instead we got… someone who thinks its empowering to show girls can kill people too and gets killed off-screen without a plot climax.. I think like Rylee, I preferred a transformative character arc, not a downward spiral into oblivion. That’s not the kind of series this is, though.

Ahhh… Mehmed, how they squandered your potential as a character in this series. Mehmed was never really established as his own person in the previous books, so I was pleasantly surprised he got a little bit of this despite being in this book even less than in And I Darken and Now I Rise. I wish they cemented the sultan vs. person thing with him more throughout the series and made him a third protagonist to this all. Everything felt pointless like it was going in a downward spiral in this book. That was the point, but it was pointless at the same time. I’m not sure if a third protagonist would provide a strong force to direct the plot, but if I were given the reins I’d try for it.

Also, am I the only one mad that Lada continously shits on her mother for not being present in her life when really her father was a fucking wife-beater and abused her mother. Real feminist, Lada. It seems like she has a problem that her mother didn’t fight back, but how could she? Lada didn’t have a problem with women who went through similar circumstances but still kept up their fighting spirit, but I found this abhorrent. It doesn’t work like that. You can’t only protect people who reflect your values back onto you and then be lauded as a feminist YA icon. Fuck off. I did not like how they wrote off the Dracul siblings’ mother like this. And I’m not ok with how this book ended without addressing this – as if it’s ok to support some abuse victims and survivors but not others because they’re “too weak and broken.” Fuck the fuck off. Can’t stand you; can’t stan you.

Overall, the biggest weakness of the Conquerer’s Saga is that the external plot revolves around the characters’ internal goals. I often struggled with the fact that these books don’t really have an interesting external plot. It’s just descriptions of battles and political war council meetings. Lada and Mehmed are literally courting each other with these stupid ass battles and Radu’s caught in the middle of this precarious affair. If you were going into this series expecting a sense of purpose behind the external plot, I fear this might leave you wanting. These characters are literally bending reality with their whims as if the universe revolves around them. And in fact, after And I Darken, it definitely feels like that.

I think my disappointment stems from the fact that I had expected, wanted an interesting external plot and the characters just had to deal with their internal plots along with also navigating the shifts and turns of the story at large. Radu’s storyline adheres to this, so that’s why I felt he was the strongest character out of the main three.


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