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 On the other hand, there is a strange comfort when there are books still unpublished – and when you realize that no more are coming, you can be left feeling a little empty.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

Foundryside – Glyph It A Chance

Foundryside RD4 clean flatHere we go. It has been a bit of a slow year so far, especially compared to the volume of incredible fantasy and science fiction books that came out in 2017. While I have really enjoyed a few installments in ongoing series, there really hasn’t been a series start that has stood out in 2018 so far – until now. I feel like it should surprise no one that Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett, is a sensationally good book. Ever since I stumbled onto City of Stairs, Robert has been a fixture of my yearly best books lists and has never disappointed. I was a little bummed when the Divine Cities series wrapped up last year and Robert said he was moving on to a new project, but my misgivings have been blown away and I am fully on team Founders (the name of the larger series).

So what is Foundryside about? Well, to make a long story short, a thief steals an object that puts her at the center of a conspiracy to destroy the world, and only her and a group of random people that get dragged into the conflict can stop it. The longer version takes a little more explaining. One of my absolute favorite parts of Robert’s writing is his incredible imagination. His ideas always feel both fresh and cool, and Foundryside is no exception. In the book people have learned how to essentially rewrite local laws of the universe using glyphs to make cool effects and tools. Now that sounds vague and complicated, but here is an example: one scrivner wrote symbols on two pieces of metal so that anything that happens to one, happens to the other twin piece. This is then used to light one piece of metal on fire to set off gunpowder near the second piece from afar. I liked the premise of this “magic” from the first page, and Bennett used it to do some truly creative and awe inspiring things in the novel. Circling back to the plot, the people of Foundryside are the remnants of a civilization that essentially destroyed itself by using these powerful glyphs eons ago (losing record of the glyphs in the process). Their ancestors have tried to rediscover the ancient magic and have had middling success. However, just this tiny success has allowed a small fraction of the population to essentially become massive mercantile houses that rule unchallenged. So, when our protagonist, Sancia, discovers an object that might unlock some of the original glyphs the entire city sets out to murder her and take it for themselves. What I really liked about the magic system is that Bennett clearly defines the limitations of scrivning early on, so you get to try and think about how to find loopholes the rest of the book. It is a satisfying magic system to read about and it balances mystery, science, and awesomeness very well. Plus, there are some truly gruesome deaths via glyph in the story – like “seek therapy after reading this” level of fucked (and they were as brilliant as they were horrifying).

The world is cool, the magic is cool, and the plot is amazing. Speaking about it more in the abstract, I found myself deeply invested in this story and hanging on every word (especially near the end). The one of two minor criticisms I have for the book as a whole is I felt the pacing was a little uneven. The beginning is great but a bit slow, and the ending is so damn immersive and fast that I had a moment where I looked at my clock at 4 am on a work night with 100 pages left and thought “why are you doing this to me Robert” before finishing the rest of the book. The cast of the story come from a number of walks of life and they create a fantastic crew that bounce the plot between heist, combat, intrigue, politics, and science – nailing all of them. Foundryside felt like reading five different books, all of them excellent and seamlessly wound together. On top of all of this, Foundryside does a phenomenal job of both telling a high-stakes and self-contained story, and setting up the greater series as a whole. Unfortunately, the other minor criticism I have is that Foundryside’s antagonist can feel bit over the top. He is such a puppy kicking, ice cream hating nazi lover from page one that he can seem comically evil at times. This did, however, make him a cathartic person to take down, so it didn’t bother me immensely.

I’ve saved the best part for last: the characters. As I have alluded to above, Foundryside follows a group of unlikely allies that end up working together through happenstance. You have an orphan thief from the ghettos, a prince warrior with an unyielding sense of justice, an older snarky inventor, a calm and dependable engineer, and an amnesiac who seems to be more than he appears. The dynamic and synergy of this group filled me with all sorts of positive emotions. I loved watching them learn about, decide if they could trust, and come to depend on each other. They all play off of each other so damn well and it made the heartaches, victories, and humor hit hard – constantly getting reactions from me in a wonderful way. While I love Sancia (the thief) dearly, the unnamed (for spoiler reasons) inventor was my absolute favorite. His was a new perspective for me, and I was surprised how much I identified him and his reactions to events. I have already reread a number of scenes in the book as I just enjoy watching the characters talk and react so much. There are also a number of things that people are looking for in modern fantasy such as: some great female leads and a well written homosexual romance subplot (although it does take second string to stopping the world from ending).

Foundryside is a really good book, and will effortlessly make my top books of 2018. Robert Jackson Bennett is a writer of supreme talent and imagination, and has once again proven that his work is worth your time. If you like politics, action, intrigue, engineering, heists, humor, fun, happiness, heartache, or lovable characters – Foundryside has it all. I honestly can’t imagine who wouldn’t like this book, so sit down, dig in, and have a good time.

Rating: Foundryside – 9.5/10
-Andrew