Review: The Burning White by Brent Weeks

Burning White Cover Image

This is it! The big one! The one we’ve all been waiting for!

Anyone who knows me can attest that I have been absolutely in love with Brent Weeks’s Lightbringer series since I first learned of its existence in 2016. That summer I devoured the first three volumes the way Kip claimed he devoured pie back in his hometown. I eagerly waited a couple months for The Blood Mirror, and then devoured that one, too. And then I waited what seemed like an interminable number of years for the conclusion.

This is not a dig against Weeks’s writing speed. Three years, in the scheme of time between fantasy epics, isn’t really all that long. Sure, it was a year longer than the typical two years between the other Lightbringer books, but it’s not like we’re looking at Authors-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wait times, here. And I think, for the most part, it was definitely worth the wait.

Only problem is, now it’s over. Now there will be no more Lightbringer books. I am bereft.

*Ahem*

On to the review, I suppose.

I don’t really know how to talk about this book without major spoilers, so I will give my vague overall impressions, and then go deeper into the nitty gritty under cover of spoiler tags. Good? Good.

In a lot of ways my feelings about The Burning White mirror (heh, mirror) my feelings about the series as a whole. Lightbringer is not a perfect series, and nor is The Burning White a perfect book, and those flaws will be addressed in this review. But despite everything, I love it. I love the series for being what it is, and I loved how it ended, and I will continue to re-read it and treasure it for years to come.

The book starts out pretty slow, and I think the characters waste a lot of time in the beginning which makes the plot take awhile to get moving. But oh boy, once it does get moving, does it ever get moving. The middle of the book has a lot of epic moments that I would have expected from the climax of any other book, and it kept going from there.

The Burning White has several flashback chapters from Andross’s point of view, which were some of my favorite chapters in the book. They give a lot of new insight about his character, all the while cementing what a magnificent bastard he really is.

The ending, for the most part, I felt was appropriate and satisfying. Most characters get what they deserve, though I do think some characters got off a little too easy. Nevertheless, each character’s arc came to an organic and satisfying conclusion that had me laughing and crying and cheering and yelling and crying some more. A couple of things happen that I thought were completely brilliant, but I’ll go into more detail in the spoiler section below.

One thing worth mentioning is the religious aspect of the world. For most of the series, the worship of Orholam is presented in a neutral or even negative light, with the Chromeria being presented as a highly corrupt lesser of two evils. However, as the Vatican does not represent all of Christianity or even the opinions of all Catholics, so does the Chromeria not represent all of … Orholamism? Orholamity? God. The Vatican and the Chromeria do not represent God.

I don’t have a problem in general with writers letting their own religious beliefs shine through into their works, so long as they’re not saying something like “Let’s use our religion to oppress people.” Luckily Weeks doesn’t encourage any oppression. Brandon Sanderson’s Mormonism comes through in his books a lot, and I still like those, despite not being Mormon myself. But the sudden influx of religious stuff at the end of the Burning White seemed to appear abruptly and all at once, and in places comes across as heavy-handed moralizing. I want to make it absolutely clear that this did not bother me, in particular. But it might be off-putting for some people.

One thing this series really does is hammer the point home that different people like different stuff. I myself originally read Lightbringer because of a Reddit comment from someone who didn’t like the series. Their critique was the one thing anyone could have said to me at that time that would have made me drop everything I was doing and immediately go out and buy the book. I’m a ride or die Kip fan, myself, and generally found Gavin to be equal parts smug and boring. But I know plenty of people who are head over heels in love with Gavin and think Kip is a whiny little twat. To each their own (even though they’re wrong 😉 ).

Now. Here be dragons turtle bears sea demons spoilers.

Seriously don't click here if you haven't read the book

To cliffs notes Kip’s conclusion, he kicks some ass, he dies, then gets better, but loses his ability to draft.

I really enjoyed seeing Kip finally be fully in his element in this book. He becomes slowly more confident and more competent as the books go on, but only in this book do we get to see him really come into himself as a leader and a fighter, and it was truly brilliant to watch. I particularly appreciated how early in the book he keeps going, “What would Gavin do,” or “What would Andross do,” until ultimately he realizes what really matters is “What would Kip do.” Yes. You go Kip. You do the thing!

His death was beautiful and tragic and heroic, and I loved how he didn’t give up until the very end. I think it would have perhaps been better literarily for him to stay dead, but I don’t care, I love Kip and I want him to be happy and I’m willing to sacrifice some narrative brilliance to make it happen. 

The way he came back from the dead was … something, though. It was the one part of the book that made me go “What the fuck.” I’m not going to summarize the entire thing, but be kind to your Starbucks baristas, folks.

This was, at least partially, something I sort of hoped was going to happen (though I was betting on Gavin killing Orholam and ending all drafting for everyone, which didn’t happen). Kip has fought tooth and nail throughout the series to win some kind of respect for himself, but so much of that is tied up in his excellent drafting abilities. For him to survive, but lose that power, seemed like something delightfully mean of Brent to do while still rife with excellent possibilities for character growth.

Something that’s vaguely touched on but not explored to its full potential is the treatment of the munds (short for mundanes, Seven Satrapies word for muggles). Munds are largely ignored throughout the series, but in this book they help out a lot. Gavin, rendered temporarily mund by the events of the previous four books, is the only one who can cross White Mist Reef and visit with Orholam. The mund fighters in the military prove their worth when they are the only ones who can’t be seized and controlled by the banes. Munds deserve respect, yo.

So for Kip, whose entire tenuous self-worth is tied up in his ability to draft, to be rendered unable to do so, and yet still realize he has a lot to offer the world, would have been the perfect capstone to his character development. Unfortunately the narrative never quite gets that far. Instead, he is given a hint that he might be able to draft again one day, maybe, which I actually felt cheapened the conclusion far more so than him coming back to life.

There were certain things about that scene I liked more and more after having a few days to marinate on it, however. Kip goes to the threshing chamber, hoping he might find some evidence that he can still draft, and he finds none. At first, this didn’t make any sense to me. The threshing, as we learned in the first book, works by trying to scare the candidate into drafting. But if Kip has been trough war and torture and literal death, is he really going to be phased by some luxin spiders? However, someone online pointed out that he probably didn’t actually take the entire threshing, since he already knows the how-to of drafting. He just took one of the stones and tried to make it react. Which, okay, I can accept that.

In Kip’s final chapter, he examines the stone once more, and it flashes green at him, implying that he might be able to draft green again in the future. This makes sense because green was the first color Kip drafted, the first he became proficient with, and the one he was most afraid he’d break the halo with first. It is, by far, his best color. And I suppose if he can’t accept Mundness, having him live on as a green monochrome would be a good conclusion for him. I can accept that.

BUT.

It wasn’t until several days later I realized how brilliant that scene really was. The whole darn series, characters make references to the green flash, that rare phenomenon that sometimes happens when the sun sets behind water. It is referred to as Orholam’s Wink. Enough characters mention it that it’s implied to be a big deal, something important. Yet I don’t recall any POV character ever seeing a green flash on-page — until this point. Kip literally sees a flash of green. Orholam is winking at him.

Well played, Brent, well played.

As for the other characters, mmm, well, Gavin got off too easy, Andross got off WAY too easy, Liv got off so easy it’s not even funny, and Teia deserved to get off just a little easier. But it’s okay I still loved the book.

One small thing that was a little irksome was a lot of the shocking character reveals presented in book 4 … turned out to be false. There turned out to be a reason for this, but I’d almost wished they’d been introduced them sooner, because if we only know about them for the span of less than two full books, it begs the question as to why they were introduced in the first place.

Also the answer to the mystery of how prisms are made and what happened to Sevastian is fucked up as hell. Not poorly written, mind. Just fucked up as hell.

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Overall this was a book that I enjoyed immensely. I’m not going to tag Mr. Weeks into the review because I have given my share of criticism, but if you are Brent and you are reading this, I want to thank you for writing this excellent series (and sorry I’m so mean in this review). Lightbringer will remain one of my favorite book series of all time, and Kip remains my number one favorite character in all of fantasy. And Gavin’s okay, too, I guess ;). I look forward to reading whatever comes next from Brent Weeks.

You might love the Lightbringer series if

  • You like hard magic systems with rules
  • You like unreliable narrators who don’t have all the answers
  • You love training sequences
  • You like characters who grow and change and struggle
  • You like political maneuvering and family drama a la Game of Thrones

r/fantasy 2019 Bingo Squares

  • Character with a disability (hard mode is debatable*)
  • Local author (Portland, OR)
  • Ocean setting
  • Published in 2019
  • Final book in a series
*spoilers regarding the hard mode eligibility for the disability square

Gavin is missing an eyeball and several digits at the start of the story, which I would say counts as a disability. However, he gets cured at the end, which I feel is outside the spirit of the square. Ben Hadad and, by the end, Teia, however, definitely count.

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