Book Talk: Bright We Burn by Kiersten White

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Talk: Bright We Burn by Kiersten WhiteBright We Burn by Kiersten White
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
Length: 11 hrs, 19 mins
Series: The Conqueror's Saga #3
Published by Listening Library on July 10, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Historical
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
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The tumultuous, edge-of-your-seat conclusion to the New York Times bestselling AND I DARKEN series--the epic saga that reads like HBO's Game of Thrones . . . if it were set in the Ottoman Empire. Who will live? Who will die? And who will rule triumphant?

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.

Damn good, you guys. These books are damn good. There’s really nothing like the And I Darken trilogy in YA, and, dear Athena, I hope it launches more books like this, jam-packed with history, feminism, and viciousness. This review will be more of a series review than a Bright We Burn review, because I reread the full series on audiobook, but the short version of the review is: the And I Darken trilogy is completely badass.

Most of all I’m impressed by the historical accuracy of the series in the bigger picture and even down to a surprising number of details. Obviously, it’s not pure history, and I would never contend that it is, BUT reading this will give someone who isn’t familiar with Ottoman, Byzantine, or Transylvanian history a pretty accurate picture of what was going on during that period. Some men have been made into women and romantic plots have been added that presumably didn’t exist, but where White didn’t need to, she made everything fit with the actual framework of history. That’s pretty fucking cool, and also so much harder than if she did pure alternate history.

Throughout the series, I love the juxtaposition of Lada and Radu. It’s rare to see dual narration by brother and sister, and I suspect it often wouldn’t work for me (in fact, I remember being initially a bit confused by it when I first read And I Darken), but it’s absolutely the perfect thing for this book. Lada and Radu serve as foils and also such strong commentary on gender roles; where Lada is fierce, violent, and asocial, Radu’s sweet, loving, and spiritual.

On the surface, I love this series merely for centering on a female character who thoroughly rejects all the trappings of femininity that had been assigned to her gender and a male character with more traditionally feminine traits. Lada obviously does do a lot of “not like other girls” stuff, but given her circumstances that’s fairly true most of the time, and there’s a winking irony into that when she’s literally been gender-swapped.

What I love about watching them grow and change through the series is that, though Lada softens a bit and Radu toughens up a bit, they don’t markedly differ from their childhood selves. Lada learns to care for certain people, but her love for Wallachia never diminishes, and she always chooses what matters to her over romance. View Spoiler » Radu, meanwhile, learns skills of diplomacy and sneakiness, rather than becoming stronger physically. It is for his ability to get along with and manipulate people that Lada values him, because, for all her ambition and power, she cannot do the whole schmoozing politician thing.

Something I else I respect so much about this series is how incredibly flawed people are. Even the sweetest characters, like Radu’s wife, have cores of steel and are willing to make harsh sacrifices to save the ones they love or achieve their aims. Most authors would try to romanticize a character like Mehmed, who both Lada and Radu love romantically but in very different ways, but White manages to make all those feelings come across very authentically while also conveying accurately what an entitled, selfish person Mehmed is. At all times, you know the weaknesses of all of these people, and you end up loving some of them all the more for it. That’s what actual history and people look like, though the flaws and darkness and sacrifices aren’t always on so grand a scale.

Given that the whole series follows history quite closely, I expected the end to be pretty damn dark, and on some levels it is, but it’s not without hope or loveliness to it. I had to take some time to think on how I truly felt about some of it, but I got what I really wanted: View Spoiler ». I do suspect that Now I Rise will always be my favorite one of the trilogy, just because those scenes in Constantinople are so fucking heartbreaking, and, even knowing how history turns out and rereading, I couldn’t help rooting for the people I knew I was going to lose.

Really I can’t recommend these books highly enough to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, because they’re really fascinating and well done. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the audiobooks because there are a lot of really interesting pronunciations, and I’m really not sure why a white British woman was chosen to narrate a series with Romanian main characters; while I like Fiona Hardingham, I’d have loved to see this with dual narrators, preferably Romanian and with good knowledge of Turkish.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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