Bright We Burn by Kiersten White
Published July 10, 2018
Continuing the saga of siblings Lada and Radu Dracul, the final volume in Kiersten White’s Conquerors trilogy brings their stories to a deeply satisfying conclusion. Lada has won her rightful throne and serves as Prince of Wallachia, but although her reign has created a country free of crime, she won’t rest until Wallachia’s borders are safe and her country free. Her acts of aggression leave Radu and Mehmed with little choice but to go to war against the girl they both love.
Although Bright We Burn didn’t hit me quite as hard, or leave as lasting an impact on me, as the previous book in the series, Now I Rise, it has the arguably more difficult task of intersecting and closing out these parallel stories in a believable and satisfying way. There’s always some trepidation involved in reading the last book of a beloved trilogy or series, but Bright We Burn delivered everything I hoped it would. Without getting into specifics or spoilers, I found the book thrilling, moving, and ultimately a realistic portrayal of two headstrong, similar personalities intent on power, tempered by a third who seeks something entirely different out of life.
A minor complaint I had about the other sweeping historically-based saga I read recently, R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War, was that while I loved the protagonist and some of the minor characters, I felt that some of the minor characters were underdeveloped and I failed to connect with them in any meaningful way. I can honestly say that I’ve never had that problem with White’s Conquerors saga. Every character is just SO WELL DEVELOPED! Not just Radu and Lada, who continue to be complicated, flawed protagonists, who sometimes do awful things for a cause they believe in, but also the minor characters.
Radu’s wife Nazira remains a ray of sunshine in sometimes bleak times and a voice of reason for her family, and her relationship with Radu and the rest of what becomes a family unit made me so damn happy! The faithfulness of characters like Fatima and Bogdan is set in opposition to the shifting alliances and betrayals that characterize the rest of the series, and Mehmed’s struggle between his public persona as the sultan and his private isolation is sympathetic. Characters in this series are not always likable, but they’re always compelling.
Of course my heart remains with Lada and Radu. Radu doesn’t see quite as much action in this volume, but this gives him a chance to try to reconcile his actions in Constantinople and to move past the guilt he continues to feel. I loved his inner struggle to obtain, at long last, a balance between the devotion he has to Mehmed as Sultan of an empire he believes in, and his desire for romantic love. It is such a joy to see Radu finally make peace with himself! Lada, on the other hand, is more brutal in his book, crossing beyond anti-heroine territory to arguably become a villainess at times. Yet I always understood the motivations behind each of her choices and she has touching moments of vulnerability. As someone who loves morally ambiguous characters, history, ruthless heroines, and politicking, this series hits all of my buttons!
Although saying goodbye to Lada and Radu and all of the assorted other characters who meant so much to me over the course of the series, was bittersweet, I am so glad that the series ended the way it did! The ending felt earned and appropriate for each character involved, but most importantly, Bright We Burn brings us back to the relationship between Lada and Radu that is at the center of the series. The scenes between the siblings were so charged that I wouldn’t have put the book down even if you paid me! This is a very solid end to a series that I know I’ll be re-reading in years to come.