Saturday, November 23, 2019

Review: THE BURNING WHITE by Brent Weeks

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

This was my most anticipated book of the year. It was good, very good even, but the ending left me wanting more and disappointed me for a few reasons I’ll talk about below. I would still 100% recommend this series, but know that this conclusion will not answer all the questions you’ve gathered up throughout the five books and will leave you wondering why certain details weren’t included in the narrative even though their answers felt necessary to the story. I am very conflicted about my feelings for this book because what we got was great, but there was also so much that we didn’t get that we needed, and that was the biggest detriment to this book, sadly.

The beginning of this book had me feeling like it was much bleaker and more political than the other books. I remember having so much fun with the first four books in this series when I read them earlier this year, but this book didn’t feel the same. There was less drafting and character relationships and more planning and “important conversations.”

This book has a lot of talking about drafting but not a lot of actual drafting in the beginning. We do learn a lot more about chi and paryl in this installment though, which is really nice because the other four books focus on the main colors in the spectrum and give us very little information about the outer-spectrum colors.

The first 300 pages or so were rather slow-moving, and I honestly can’t remember what happened in them. Maybe some content could have been cut from there to make room for all the questions we needed answers for but didn’t get.

There are *MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD* for the whole series.

First I want to talk about the characters. Surprisingly, I didn’t enjoy reading from Kip’s perspective in this book as much as I did in the other books. In the transition from book four to five, which occurred back to back with no time gap in the story, Kip seemed to have aged emotionally about ten years. He has become a military commander and lost a lot of his fun-loving personality that we saw in the earlier books. That personality change was too abrupt to feel natural and made me not like Kip’s POV as much as I used to, which is sad.

Another surprise for me was how much I grew to like Andross in this book. He’s such a divisive character, completely despicable but also respectable, and his character arc across this series is truly incredible. I loved seeing his flashback scenes because I loved seeing his relationship with Felia. He has so much respect for her. Plus you learn so many answers during these Nine Kings card scenes to questions we’ve had since book one. I was super happy to see one last game of Nine Kings in this book. I’m glad Kip was able to get one up on Andross, too. He deserved it, plus how he came about that victory was beautiful. But are we seriously supposed to believe Andross was a full-spectrum polychrome his whole life but never drafted any colors but red?? He’s way too prideful to hide the fact that he can draft more colors than others so I really don’t think he was hiding that piece of information for his whole life. Either he lied or Brent Weeks pulled that reveal out of his butt as a really out-of-character thing to attribute to Andross; I refuse to believe he spent over forty years hiding that secret.

One of the best POVs, in my opinion, was that of Teia. I absolutely loved watching her slowly take down the Order of the Broken Eye, and then slay the entire Order all at once at the end. Everything about the execution of that plan was amazing. I really thought she died there for awhile. She was one of my favorite characters, so I’m happy she survived, but also (and I’ll talk about this more later) I think her survival kind of felt like she cheated death since she drank the same poison that four hundred other people drank and she was the sole survivor. Like really? I don’t like unbelievable plot twists.

Another perspective that I really enjoyed here was Karris’s. I loved watching her trial of faith at the beginning of the book as the White. I’m happy she lived until the end. She was truly one of my favorite characters. I love her fierce but soft demeanor. She’s a great role model. I’m also really happy we got to see what was in all those documents that Orea left her.

It was shocking to learn from those papers that the Prisms had been killing innocent children every seven years to keep up the pretense of being the Prism throughout the years. I was very curious to learn about how Prisms operated before Gavin, so I’m glad we got at least some information about that. That still doesn’t explain how they didn’t halo though. Them not haloing was one detail I really wanted to know but still didn’t find out, unless it was buried somewhere in the details and I missed it.

Also, at the end, it was mentioned that Gavin/Dazen couldn’t exactly become the Prism again, but did Weeks ever say who would be the new Prism? I don’t remember that. He also does not ever clarify who the true Lightbringer is and that bothered me.

We learn that Sevastian is a Lightbringer. (And to find out that Andross made Gavin kill Sevastian? I was questioning if he actually died from a blue wight; turns out he didn’t.) I’m not that surprised he’s a Lightbringer because it has been told to us since the beginning that Kip is the Lightbringer so it seemed like there had to be some twist with that. How can there be more than one Lightbringer though? I don’t understand.

It’s clear that Andross became the public figure of the Lightbringer, but who was the prophecy actually referring to? I personally think it was supposed to be Sevastian, but once he died, the Lightbringer kind of became all the Guiles together, each fulfilling part of the prophecy. Andross directed the light, Kip summoned the light with his white luxin blast, and Dazen sent the light. Sevastian would have likely been “The Lightbringer” if he lived, but since he didn’t, it took Kip, Dazen, and Andross together to do what the Lightbringer would have done. Also to support this theory is the fact that in the Lightbringer prophecy it says he will “cleave father and father and father and son,” and Sevastian’s death did that between Andross and Dazen and between Dazen and Kip. But if Sevastian hadn’t died then I don’t think that falling out would have occurred, so maybe the prophecy accounted for him dying and knew it would take more than one other to fulfill it later on? I know Andross took up the title of “Lightbringer” but it’s not actually him, that much is clear.

This is one example of a detail that would have been so easy to just pop into the narrative, clearly identifying who the Lightbringer is, you know because it’s the series namesake after all, but it was left out. Maybe even intentionally left vague to make us guess. I will say though, Kip and Andross fighting over who should be the Lightbringer but trying to get the other one to accept it, that was hilarious. What a turnaround of their relationship from how they were at the beginning of the series.

I found it very interesting that in Gavin’s chapters, he kept switching between referring to himself as Gavin and as Dazen, depending on which side of his personality was dominant at that moment. It wasn’t until we read “The old Gavin finally, finally breathed his last, and died” that Dazen stops being referred to as Gavin. He is just himself from that point on. But we never see a public announcement of this. The whole world is just expected to know that Gavin was actually Dazen the whole time. Really? I know a select few people already knew, but we should at least have seen him telling a crowd at the Chromeria and seeing them come to terms with it or something. But no. I really think this scene should have been included.

I don’t understand how Gavin Dazen was able to do some of the stuff he did at the end, like raise the towers and turn the mirrors, but I guess he had the literal hand of God helping him. There was quite literally deus ex machina happening. I’ve never seen that before, the actual God in an actual machine. That was really funny.

I personally love the religious parallels in this book. There are SO many patterns, phrases, metaphors, etc. in this book that relate directly to Christian theology. I don’t know why but I love seeing religion play such a large and critical role in fantasy novels. This one obviously relies heavily on it, maybe even to its detriment because the deus ex machina does feel like cheating in a way (especially since Kip actually wishes for a magical solution on page 666), but I’ll forgive it because this wasn’t even the biggest problem I had with this story.

In my review of The Blood Mirror, I listed some predictions for things that would be revealed in The Burning White. Some of them were touched on but some of them weren’t.

What I still want to know is what was Gavin’s seventh goal? His goals were such a big deal in the earlier books but didn’t matter at all in this one.

Also, I wish we found out more about the Two Hundred and the old gods. I feel like we didn’t get any concrete answers regarding them. They were the ones actually in the luxin cells with Dazen down there, and real Gavin was never actually down there it seems. They can “inhabit” a human host body. They can sometimes be seen by people when necessary, like with Kip receiving help from Rea Siluz. But like what else do we know? Not much. What was their purpose? Why even include them in the book?

One of my biggest disappointments with The Burning White is that I kept expecting to hear something about the Everdark Gates but we got NOTHING. Honestly, that was the biggest mystery to me at the end of The Blood Mirror, that the final battle of the series would have something to do with the Everdark Gates. They kept referring to it in the first four books, even had a prophecy about it and the Two Hundred, but nothing came of it. In my opinion, it should never have been brought up at all if it wasn’t going to be important in the end. Seriously, what was the point of them at all then? I’m truly upset that this thread was forgotten about because it was so important early on.

There were a lot of details in this series that I expected to get explained fully in this final installment, but they didn’t. I’m disappointed in that. This was a great book and had some amazing character arcs and battle scenes, but as the final book in a long series that has had some crazy twists and turns and misdirections, I expected more clarity than we got regarding certain topics.

It felt like a lot of threads were opened up in this book and then never touched on again. I’m actually really disappointed at the amount of abstract loose ends left dangling because Weeks’s other Lightbringer books were so tightly woven in my opinion, and with how long it took for this book to release, I expected it to be edited better. As an editor for a book/series this big, you need to write down every question and plot point you have while reading and then cross off the ones that get answered later in the book. Anything left open at the end either needs to be addressed or cut, and it really shows here that is not how this editor worked.

Along with the Everdark Gates not being mentioned at all in this book, we also have that one conversation with Katalina’s father when he comes to visit Andross and says he needs to tell Andross something, and then we never find out what that was. That whole scene had no purpose because it was never brought up again. Also, there is the scene with the kopi seller at the end of the book. We never find out who that is either. Karris was freaking out like, “YOU! I know who you are!” And everyone else was like, “Who?” but we never learn anything else about him. Was he the same man who appeared to help Cruxer? I don’t know.

Also, who is Kip’s real father? I thought it was Andross? But then when they are talking together, Kip is like, “Felia was afraid I was your bastard wasn’t she?” And Andross responds, “Yes. Wrongly.” So is he just hiding it from Kip or is he not actually his father? Because we know from his card that he actually did seduce Katalina. But at the beginning of the series, Katalina tells Kip, “Kill your father. Kill Gavin Guile.” We know Katalina seduced Gavin to get the Blinding Knife, so maybe even she doesn’t know who Kip’s real father is. It’s either Andross or Gavin. My guess is that it’s Gavin because Andross compares Kip to Felia so many times that I think that was foreshadowing that she is related to him, and if Andross was his father then Felia wouldn’t be biologically related to Kip in any way. Plus Gavin being the father fits in with the Lightbringer prophecy better than if Andross was his father. So I think Gavin is Kip’s real father.

Although The Burning White did have some killer scenes and some great character growth and depth, there was still a lot missing from this story. I was worried going into the book, even with its length of almost 1,000 pages, it wouldn’t wrap everything up, and I was right.

We had some amazing moments in this book, particularly toward the end, like when we learned that Ironfist’s true allegiance wasn’t to the Order but to the Chromeria. For a while there I actually thought he died, not sure how I misread that, but I was pleasantly surprised to see him alive at the end, and on the side of good. His plan of killing Grinwoody was a good one; too bad he didn’t get to follow through with it.

But then Teia eliminates the whole Order in one night. That was one of my favorite scenes, hands down. And then the postlude where she kills Grinwoody, that was good too. I was also soooo satisfied with Quentin killing Zymun. That was amazing, and way to redeem himself. I was waiting the whole dang book for Zymun to meet his justice, and it was served hot. But the best part was the “true ending” on Weeks’s website where everyone dies. That was the best scene of all.

And then we obviously have Karris stabbing Koios and him falling off the tower, man that was a good moment too. I also think it’s hilarious that Koios’s name changes from White King to Wight King. So fitting.

But then to counteract these great moments, we have my least favorite trope ever: when the dead person comes back to life. That usually feels so fake and like the author is trying to give us something dramatic but also soften the blow. In this book, Kip comes back to life. I obviously didn’t want Kip to die, but how was he able to come back to life? I know the power of God can do anything, but still, WHY did it happen? Because it’s taboo to kill off the protagonist? I’m not mad Kip lives again, but it contributes to my feelings that this book pushes the limits on reality a little too much to be plausible within this world’s limits, so it was something I didn’t totally believe happening but that I had to just accept and move on regardless.

It also seems like cheating that Dazen was restored anew, his fingers returned, his tooth replaced, a new eye given to him, and the ability to draft all colors restored to him. That’s too happy of an ending (sorry) for how this series was going. I already feel like with the final battle of the series we didn’t get enough major deaths and then on top of that, Dazen is made whole once more. At least he’s alive, why did he have to become perfect again? It’s too cleanly wrapped up.

The story felt like there needed to be more people who died for it to be believable, and it needed some people to stay dead who were dead. I’m happy Brent Weeks didn’t kill off people unnecessarily, but it still didn’t feel like there was enough death for the final book in an epic fantasy series that has a two-hundred-page-long final battle scene. The only death I feel like we got was Cruxer’s. I knew there had to be some deaths in the Mighty or it wouldn’t feel realistic, but I didn’t expect it to be him. I did notice the fun banter between the Mighty kind of died out after Cruxer’s death though. Their quips and jokes to one another was some of the best dialogue of this whole series. But back to the deaths: yes, the whole Order died, and yes, the White King and his army died, and yes, Zymun died, but those are all bad guys. Good guys die too, but who died besides Cruxer? I can’t remember anyone else, and that’s not believable to me.

I would really have loved to see an epilogue or something about the future of the Chromeria, like how it changed after this major battle, how Karris as the White changed the nature of the politics on the Jaspers, how the Freeings became different after learning what was really going on with Prisms, how the Lightbringer and the Prism each affect the future of the society differently, how the training of new Blackguards will be different, if the Chromeria will begin to respect all color drafters and not only the main spectrum drafters. Basically, the story ended without telling us the repercussions on the society of the final battle. I want to know how the five books’ worth of information changed the future of this world and if the Chromeria will ever change its ways. There is truly SO MUCH left to tell us that we will never know.

Lightbringer is still one of my favorite fantasy series, and I plan to reread it someday; hopefully I’ll be able to catch on to more details I missed the first time around. I really hope Weeks releases more books in the world of the Lightbringer because I truly feel like this book could have massively benefitted from another hundred pages or so to answer some questions that were entirely skipped. We needed more answers than we got, but overall it was a good story and I’m so happy to have read this series.

As long as you can speak, you’re not helpless, and you’re not powerless until you’re too afraid to. If you’re trapped in the darkness all alone, how do you know you’re alone and not actually surrounded by an army of friends, also silent, also afraid in the dark, merely waiting for the sound of one voice to rouse them from fear, to fight for freedom?