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Assistant Peter Recommends: The Burning White by Brent Weeks

Hello again. Brandon’s assistant Peter here with another recommendation. It’s been a long time since the last one, whew!

Today the fifth and final book in the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks, The Burning White was released. If you’ve read the previous books, the most important thing here is: It’s fantastic, so go buy it. I do have some more thoughts below if you’re interested, but personally if I already suspect I’m going to like a book, I just go out and read it without first reading reviews so I don’t get accidentally spoiled.

For everyone else, if you haven’t read the series, I highly recommend it! I’m going to crib liberally from my recommendation for the third book in order to explain why you should read it.

If you’re seeing this review, you obviously like Brandon Sanderson’s writing. Well, when I read the first Lightbringer book, The Black Prism, back in 2012 or so, it was the most entertaining book without the name Brandon Sanderson on the front cover that I had read in years—and in many ways it was very much like reading a book that had Brandon’s name on the front cover. I loved every minute.

Now that the fifth book is out and the series is finished, does it hold up all the way through? The answer is a resounding yes. This is a fine example of what great epic fantasy is, and the ending is every bit as epic as I had hoped.

Before I get into that though, let’s go over my caveats from last time—the content issues that a Brandon reader may not be expecting. But first: if you haven’t reread the first four books recently, this book does start things off with helpful summaries. Reading those myself was a big help. Now the caveats:

Sexual content: There’s certainly more sexual content than you’ll find in one of Brandon’s books. Not only the few on-screen sexual situations, but banter and jokes among friends that have a sexual theme. The amount of this content increases somewhat in the fourth and fifth books, but it’s not particularly gratuitous. In fact, a major plotline of the fourth book includes the serious treatment of one character’s struggles with a type of real-world sexual dysfunction. That’s not something I’ve seen a lot of in genre fiction, and I really like the way that Brent treated it. Kudos.

In my book 3 review I wrote that there weren’t horribly foul-minded characters. In the final two books there is one character who has a very sick mind indeed, but thankfully we have very few glimpses into it. (Ugh, I hate this person.)

Language: Again, there’s more profanity than you’ll find in Brandon’s books. It’s believable considering the characters involved.

I also called out the writing style in my book 3 review, but it’s really a minor issue that doesn’t merit a bolded heading. Yes, Brent’s non-italicization of internal thoughts did take some getting used to, but by the fifth book it didn’t bother me.

Now, about that epic climax.

Like I said before, books like these are why I read epic fantasy. Strong male and female characters, well-defined magic, politics, fighting, cosmology, emotional entanglements, the works. There are times like in the middle of The Way of Kings where you don’t know where everything is going, but you’re along for a great ride, and everything pulls together eventually. I give some examples of that in my other review, but now we’re at the finale.

This is, at last, the book where everything really comes together. At the beginning of this volume it takes Kip a while to figure out what was bothering him about the situation at the end of the fourth book, but once he does, everything converges on one colossal final conflict. You know how the final book in The Wheel of Time, A Memory of Light, has that 190-page chapter “The Last Battle” where everything comes to a head? Well, Brent doesn’t have his final battle in just one chapter, but it’s about 220 pages of nonstop climax, nearly a quarter of the book. It actually compares favorably to the one in A Memory of Light; there’s even a character detached from the others who in parallel undertakes a more psychological battle at the same time, the way Rand did in that book. When you start reading the climax, you’d best be prepared to not be able to put the book down for a long time. I lost quite a bit of sleep myself.

And that 220 pages is even more than it would have been in previous Lightbringer books. This novel is a long one—from chapter one to the end of the epilogues (yes, multiple) is 913 pages. The book is actually a few thousand words longer than The Way of Kings, because the publisher squeezed more words onto each page. And don’t by any means expect pages and pages of meal descriptions (though this book is all meat for sure). All you “big fat fantasy” lovers out there, this is one for you.

(Side note—there is a lengthy glossary/appendix at the end, but just so you won’t mistakenly think there’s a lot more left in the book than there actually is, these pages are helpfully marked in the hardcover with a grey edge. I think that’s a great idea! Doesn’t help people reading the ebook or audiobook though, alas.)

It’s not just a big battle. As with Brandon’s Mistborn trilogy, Lightbringer ups the stakes in the finale so that it’s not just a human conflict that matters. Things that were once considered only the realm of religion or myth spill out into the world of the characters, yet in a way that is deeply human. And as in the previous books, there are those “oh my goodness” moments where you have to reinterpret everything you thought you knew before about something, but since this is the final book there are quite a bit more of those. And it’s very satisfying.

What I appreciate most about reading a book is my emotional reaction. And there are a ton of character moments that prompt those emotions. Beneath all the magic and politics, this is truly a very character-driven book. Again and again, I laughed, I cheered, and I cried.

As in my earlier review, I’ll run down the characters here:

Kip: Even Andross Guile manages to be impressed by him, and if you’ve read the books you know that’s saying a lot. He continues his growth from the fourth book and really becomes a great leader. Like the best of them, he’s willing to sacrifice for his people, and oh boy does he.

Teia: Continues to be one of my favorite characters. What she has to do in this book is heartbreaking, with very serious consequences to her personally.

Gavin: He’s really been put through the wringer recently, and that doesn’t stop. Facing his flaws head-on leads to a few things we’ve been wishing would happen for quite a while.

Karris: I said I couldn’t wait to see what she did next, and I’ll just say that I was not disappointed.

Liv: Her transformation from the beginning of the series until the end is a very different character path from what we usually see. I somehow feel bad for her and admire her at the same time.

The Mighty: Kip’s friends really stood out to me in this book more than previously. They’re a lot more individualized and I finally feel like I really know them. There’s a very believable decision on their part that goes horribly wrong. Gee thanks, Brent.

Murder Sharp: I really never expected to list him here. But somehow he earns this spot. There’s a depth to his character that I really appreciate.

Andross: Comes even more to the forefront in this finale. As the character who really embodies “the ends justify the means,” some big surprises for him are still in the cards.

Again, I love how important the family relationships are in this series. Decisions of parents, grandparents, and siblings decades ago have far-reaching implications on the current story. It shows a verisimilitude that I’m very happy that writers like Brent are putting into their books.

I loved reading this series, and it came to a very satisfying conclusion, even though not every character’s fate was what I wanted it to be. That’s just the sign of good writing. Now, I’ve heard that next Brent will be going back to the world of his Night Angel series, so I’ll have to start reading those!

|   Castellano