I will fully admit that I devoured The Burning White after my re-read of the Lightbringer series, by Brent Weeks. I’ll be posting a review of that book, specifically, here, and will also make a later post reviewing the series as a whole. Now, I’m not some kind of literary critic, but I have read a lot of genre fiction, and I have a good idea of what I like to see. That being said, what I like to see may not be the same as what you like to see.
*Warning: This post may contain spoilers for The Burning White, and the Lightbringer series, by Brent Weeks.
There were, without a doubt, a great many things to like about this book. It was exciting and fast-paced, despite being the longest in the series, and quite full of action. Indeed, about a third of the book is the climactic, final battle against the White King/Color Prince/Lord Polychrome and his army at the Chromeria. Oh, right. The Jaspers are invaded, in case you didn’t see that coming at the end of the previous book. We also finally get some important answers about the magic system, which have been central to the mechanics of the book, the plot, and the character arcs. Before this book, we had a pretty good idea that black luxin exists, and I think the astute reader likely believed that white luxin also exists, but this book provided confirmation.
For all of its satisfying answers, though, there were a few with which I was less than satisfied regarding the magic system. I had guessed at the existence of black and white luxin, the means by which Prisms are “made” by the Chromeria, the fact that they weren’t always “made” that way, and the function of the various mirrors. In this book, we also get a few more glimpses of the gods/immortals/extra-temporal beings, though without a lot of detail, and that’s actually very well executed: it’s good that we don’t get the full story of this, because it’s something that even Andross Guile doesn’t fully understand.
How white luxin was used, however, bothered me. Black luxin made sense, but white luxin was…strange. It didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the magic. Maybe that was the point, but after riding along the entire series with a very tight, “hard” magic system, white luxin felt decidedly “soft.” And while it didn’t entirely solve all problems with a burst of powerful magic on demand, it came pretty close.
We also didn’t get a whole lot of answers about Orhlam, but maybe that was the point. We’ve known for awhile now that Gaven/Dazen Guile is a seriously unreliable narrator for both magical and character reasons; I would actually say that he is one of the best executed unreliable narrators I’ve read in quite some time.
Where the story sort of fell off the rails for me was the very end, which is not the first time I’ve had that happen (I’m looking at you, Inheritance Cycle). Major spoilers ahead. Teia’s ending was great. She was poisoned, going to die, but because people helped her and they were incredibly careful, she lived with only a permanent handicap. Even the fact that they find a way around that in one of the epilogues (yes, there is more than one epilogue, which is one of my problems with the ending) is acceptable to me. She also doesn’t end up with Kip.
Andross Guile’s ending was fantastic. He reminds me a little of Scrooge from A Christmas Carol: nobody likes him, everyone thinks he’s mean, unfeeling, and cold, but there’s more to him than that, though he can be all those things. Realizing that he saw himself as the Lightbringer, and did everything in his power to make that happen, seemed right in a way that I would not have expected at the end of the fourth book.
Many of the other supporting characters had fantastically written endings, full of costs and victories and endings both meaningful in their meaningfulness, and meaningful in their meaninglessness. Kip, and Gavin/Dazen’s endings were also amazing…right up until the epilogues. Gavin/Dazen’s was acceptable, but it felt a little too forced. I would have preferred to see him survive, but never reclaim his powers. As for Kip, my thought on his ending is going to sound horribly cruel, but I think he should have died. It’s not that I wanted Kip to die, but there came a point, when he was strapped on Orhlam’s glare, when I was convinced he was going to die, and I found that it worked. After all, much of the fourth book involved Kip operating on the assumption that he was going to die in the war. So when he did die, it was sad, and poignant, but also right. Instead of being excited when he came back to life, it mostly just seemed contrived.
The role of the Blinding Knife (or the Knives of Surrender, as they are apparently also called) in the Freeing also felt contrived. Much of the rest of the series addressed the idea of the Chromeria being not unlike Andross Guile: sometime cruel, but always working for the greater good in the long term. The Freeing was perfectly emblematic of this, with its apparent murder of drafters, balanced with the costs of not murdering them. Making it so that the magic knife could just magically fix that felt contrived.
For all of that, this was really a fantastic story. I have spent a lot of time dwelling on some of the flaws I perceived because I find them very useful to consider from an author’s perspective, but that should by no means detract from my enthusiasm for this story. The Burning White was a powerful climax to a remarkable series, and I would fully recommend both The Burning White, and the rest of the Lightbringer series. Look for the whole series review soon.