Contains mild spoilers for the Lightbringer series.
The Burning White, Book 5 of the Lightbringer series, brings the ever-lengthening series to its close. The adventure of unlikely heroes and forceful players reaches the finale in a remarkably satisfying and powerful way that is a testament to the craft of Brent Weeks. Similar to the last two books, I tore my way through The Burning White in only a few days, and even had a couple alte nights where it was hard to put the book down. It was deceptively easy to sink hours into reading, the relatively short chapters within the massive tome (the edition I read had just shy of 1,000 pages) are easily consumed, leading to “just one more chapter” until it was past midnight and I couldn’t see straight.
The Burning White marks the conclusion of the Lightbringer story, but not the end of the greater story within the books. Brent Weeks once again creates a satisfying resolution to the story that connects the various threads and arcs of different characters, but leaves just enough lingering on the edges to make you think that there could be another story or two left to tell. The story reaches its climax as all the forces brought to bear collide in the final battle on the shores of the Chromeria, with every character having their roles to play. Karris rallies the forces of the Chromeria while having to work alongside Andross Guile. Teia lingers in the shadows of the Jaspers, working as a ghost to foil the workings of the Order of the Broken Eye in a game where losing means death. Kip and the Mighty find themselves embroiled in a bitter campaign in the Blood Forest, forced to weigh their victory there or to return to help defend the Chromeria. And finally there is Gavin, nearly broken and shattered, on his pilgrimage to seek out the White Mist Tower and slay Orholam. He must face the impossible choice of choosing to save his empire or the woman he loves.
Beyond the action and triumph and struggles found in this story, there is a depth of theological and philosophical debate and questioning. Characters actively question and wrestle with the question of if Orholam is good and all powerful, then how can he allow evil and suffering to happen? When corruption within the Chromeria is revealed, characters wonder how much brokenness and evil could have been allowed to survive within the institutions of their “pure” religion. Teia has incredible moments of contemplation, and stages of forgiveness and self-damnation as she watches herself descend into the role of an avenging assassin, dealing death and even wishing damnation upon those she slays. Readers recall the story of Orholam, the former galley slave alongside Gavin, and his struggle to live according to his holy charge, to go where he was sent, and finally heeding those words.
This book is a story about grace and forgiveness, about redemption that is completely undeserved and given to those unworthy. Characters choose what is most important to them, making sacrifices for their friends, their loved ones, and even for people who might never understand what they actually gave up. The meaningfulness of what Weeks created and shares through the events of Kip and the Mighty, was something I personally found to be powerful. By exploring brotherhood and the family unit created in a close group of young people forced to step into responsibility and adulthood, I saw a different sort of story for a different cast of characters (and readers) that was really significant.
Even more than that, the experience of Gavin at the climax of his story is one of the most powerful pieces of literature I have read, especially in fantasy. If not for the extremely well-written story, read the Lightbringer series for that section. Neil Gaiman says that a good story gives each character what they need, though not always what they want. This story might be the greatest example I have personally seen of that idea. Every single character got the ending they needed, not necessarily the one they might have wanted, nor the one they might have deserved. That is not the story of grace, but it is this story instead.
The Lightbringer series was a slight departure from my traditional bias in the fantasy genre, and was thoroughly enjoyable and worth the step of faith. Brent Weeks created a magic system that felt new and original (not to mention extremely well thought out), a setting that was inspired, and a story tied to unlikely and compelling characters. This is a story for people who don’t always get to see themselves represented as protagonists. This is a story for people who might find something written here for them, in a way that they might not have been shown before. These are not the flawless, beautiful, peak of humanity characters. These are characters who diverge from that idea that heroes have to be perfect, and in their imperfection, we find real characters we can relate and fully empathize with. These are characters who are fat, colorblind, born out of wedlock, abused, outcasts, who suffer from shame and low self esteem. There are characters blinded by power, ambition, or religious devotion. These are characters who can reflect honest and unassuming heroes, and we see that culmination in The Burning White.
I loved Brent Weeks’ first book series, and I have loved this one. I cannot wait to see his next story, regardless of where or when it is set. Whether it will be directly tied to projects he has already published or he is bringing something entirely original to the table, I am sure it will be just as enjoyable and compelling as every other story he has written.
The Burning White is written by Brent Weeks, and is published by Orbit Books.
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