The Burning White – A Light(bringer) At The End Of The Tunnel

51rfff0pfml._sx321_bo1204203200_Ending a big series is always an experience that creates a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s nice to finally know what happens after thousands of pages of build-up and investment. On the other hand, there is a strange comfort when there are books still unpublished – and when you realize that no more are coming, you can be left feeling a little empty. In those moments, I often find myself asking “were the hours I invested in reading this story worth it?” When I asked this question of The Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks, the answer is a conditional yes.

Last week saw the release of the fifth and final installment of The Lightbringer series: The Burning White. The series has been a tumultuous rollercoaster of emotions, both in terms of story and my reviews. If you were paying a weird amount of attention to our content and rankings you might have seen things like A thought piece by Will Klein talking about how book one, The Black Prism, taught him not to judge books by their first 4th. On the recommendations page, you might have seen the series land in tier one many years ago, tier three for a short period of time, or that it now has found its final resting place in the tier twos. It’s a divisive and evocative story that I have a lot of opinions on, and I’m lucky that I have a platform on which to voice them.

Although we have referenced the series in about 10 different lists and thought pieces, we haven’t actually reviewed one of the books properly until now. A part of this is because it is really hard to talk about the story without giving anything away. For those of you completely unfamiliar with the story of this five part epic, it goes a little something like this:

The Lightbringer Series follows five key POVs (Gavin, Kip, Liv, Teia, and Karris) in a fight to save their world from annihilation. Author Brent Weeks’ world is governed by light where individuals are occasionally blessed with the power to ‘draft’ one or more colors of the rainbow and turn the light into solid matter of the corresponding color. Each color has a unique well-developed identity, and drafting them causes changes to the drafter over time. Drafting is a powerful and dangerous magic that ends in the death of the drafter once they reach the limit of their magic. Once that unknown limit of a color is reached, they are consumed by that color and become a monstrous wight. The one exception to this law of nature is the prism, a full spectrum drafter who is given the responsibility of ensuring the colors are balanced in exchange for unlimited drafting. Color imbalances result in catastrophe, so the role of a prism is pivotal to the survival of the world. The prism is the head of Chromeria, a governmental body that exists as both a bureaucracy and university to govern and educate citizens from all over the world. To protect the prism, an elite core of bodyguards called ‘The Blackguard’ protect them at all times – for the premature death of a prism could mean the end of civilization. Our story follows POV’s that range from The Prism himself to members of The Blackguard, students of Chromeria, and members of the ruling council.

One of the nice things about reviewing series is it’s often easy to talk about books as a group because of how many similarities they share. With The Lightbringer, that is impossible because their biggest shared quality is how different they are. Will, in his aforementioned piece, talks about how the first book, The Black Prism, has a very slow start – but once it finds its momentum it becomes a carnival of delight. Book two, The Blinding Knife, flawlessly takes the baton and serves the reader a cornucopia of twists, political intrigue, action, cool worldbuilding, and excellent character building. Then we hit book three, The Broken Eye, and things change again. Multiple characters you were invested in get sidelined, others you only knew in passing are thrust into the limelight, and the direction and tone of the book take a very large turn. The pacing slows down, the twists become so frequent that things start to get confusing, and the book ends in a very strange place. Then we have book four, The Blood Mirror. Originally, Weeks wanted to write a quartet of books to tell this story. However, when he finished the series he found that he needed more space and time to really do it justice – and expanded it to five books. Accordingly, there was a large delay between when The Broken Eye, The Blood Mirror, and The Burning White (book five), came out. Book four was… confusing to me. I no longer felt like there was a driver behind the wheel, and the story seemed to careen off into a strange new space that I didn’t understand. While I still enjoyed the fourth installment, it was nowhere near the same level of passion that the earlier installments evoked and I was ready to write off the series. Then I read The Burning White.

Looking back at the saga, I think that future readers are going to feel confused as to some of my impressions of the series. The reason for this is because The Blood Mirror and The Burning White are very obviously a book that was split– poorly, in my opinion — in half. So many strange choices about book four make sense when you reach the end of the series and you see Weeks very much stick the landing. While all of the books in this series feel like wild rides where you don’t understand what is going on, The Blood Mirror is the only one that feels like it isn’t a self-contained story. This plus the fact that I had to wait for large periods of time to read The Burning White severely damaged my investment in the series. However, I think that new readers who can read all five books back to back likely won’t have the same problems I had. That being said, I do think that Weeks was a little self-indulgent (which is his right as an author) in what he included and padded the story with. I feel there was a good chunk of content that could have been cut and streamlined to make the books better overall. However, The Burning White does do a lot of things right. The majority of the characters have satisfying endings – Gavin, Kip, and Teia in particular. There are a set of final twists that feel so very good, and make you feel like you finally got the settings on a lens correctly and can see clearly for the first time. The final battle of the series is sufficiently epic with tons of pulse-pounding action and excitement. Finally, there is a lot of emotional pay off that made the faltering journey through these five books feel worth it.

At the end of the day though, The Burning White found the holes in my psyche left by the talons of the first books in the series and dug itself in. Despite going in with low expectations and a resigned sense of duty to finish a series that I had already invested so much time in, I was pretty blown out of the water. The Burning White is a brilliant conclusion to a strong series with some minor flaws. The Lightbringer is unpolished, one of a kind, a rollercoaster with no brakes, and worth your time. Weeks should be proud of what he has accomplished, and in the hollow wake of finishing this massive story, I find myself excited to see what he is going to do next.

Rating: The Burning White – 9.0/10
-Andrew

Guest Post: The Wrong Post – A Post On Trusting Your Friends

A post by William Klein

I was wrong.

I want to get that out of the way, so let me reiterate, I was wrong. Horribly wrong, terribly wrong, absolutely and wholly despairingly wrong.

I think a major issue that a lot of readers face in starting new series and reading new authors is coming to terms with the fact that your initial gut feeling was incorrect. Being forced into the realization that your instincts, which you’ve been able to rely on in Fantasy Series X, are giving you incorrect information in Fantasy Series Y can be a bitter pill to swallow.

This guest post is being written entirely due to this happening during my initial reading of The Black Prism, book one in the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks. Having not read any of Weeks’s writings prior to this novel, and entering into the series based on Andrew’s recommendation (with no knowledge as to its content), I was in a perfect position to judge a book by its cover, as the tired cliché goes. I was also just coming off a reading of a book by Joe Abercrombie, and thought that my ability to sense twists and plot reveals was at an all-time high. I had no idea how wrong I was.

For those of you not familiar with The Black Prism or its sequels, I’ll very vaguely sketch out the concept so you can see where I’m coming from. Outcast son of a drug addicted whore finds out he has magic powers, embarks on a “quest” to get better at using those powers and, shockingly, gets better at using those powers. As I was getting around a fifth of the way through the book, I remember scoffing at one of the main characters’ use of what is essentially a glider that is shaped like a glass bird pooping rainbow balls. This, after what I thought was a somewhat formulaic opening to a fantasy series, was nearly the final straw and had me seriously considering finding another book to read. I told Andrew this, and his only response (besides agreeing that the rainbow-poop bird-plane is absurd) was to laugh and tell me how wrong I was, and asking me to trust him and just keep reading. Rolling my eyes as hard as I possibly could, I continued reading, hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Was. I. Ever.

One of the, at a guess, ten major plot reveals/twists occurred in the very next chapter, and it left me with my jaw on the floor. Now, not every one of them was a total surprise, some of them had a good deal of foreshadowing or “this is the only outcome that makes sense” about them, but after that first moment I was absolutely hooked, and continued to be pleasantly surprised through the remainder of the series. I eagerly anticipate next year’s finale, The Blood Mirror.

Had I put the book down, and not given it the chance it needed to shine, I would not have read what is now one of my absolute favorite series out there, and would have missed out on so many excellent moments. It was during my conversation with Andrew that I learned about his “20% rule”, something I now take to heart. The rule is this: lots of authors have great book ideas and are incredibly talented, but have no idea how to start their books, so sometimes you have to give about the first 20% of a book a pass. While there are a lot of books out there that start strong, I feel like there is something to be said for making an effort to get to the halfway point before really evaluating your feelings on a story. I don’t think that’s the case with The Black Prism, as I think the “standard fantasy hero” beginning to the story acts to set up the story’s many plot twists incredibly well by setting the reader’s expectations against them.

So let me say it one final time, and send out an apology to Brent Weeks for my lack of faith at the same time. I was wrong about The Black Prism, it is as far from a formulaic hero’s journey as can be. I was the most wrong, wronger than wrong, the wrongerest, and I will use this experience to try to be less unbelievably wrong in the future.

The Black Prism: 9/10