Review copy provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
The Burning White by Brent Weeks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Lightbringer (Book #5 of 5)
Genre: Fantasy, High fantasy
Pages: 992 pages (Hardback edition)
Published: 24th October 2019 by Orbit (UK) and 22nd October 2019 by Orbit (US)
Epic, engaging, well-written, and surprisingly full of theology.
Here we are, nine years since The Black Prism was first published, The Burning White—the fifth and final installment in the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks—is finally out and with it, the Lightbringer pentalogy is officially over. This is one of my—along with many fantasy readers—most anticipated books of the year, to make sure that I’ll be able to appreciate it fully, I even binged reread the series from the beginning—something I rarely do—in preparation. Now that I’ve read it, I have to say that I’m both satisfied and also disappointed with it. Don’t get me wrong, as far as enjoyment goes I’m still giving this book a 4 stars rating; I was engrossed, wasn’t bored, and I finished this 392,000 words tome within five days. However, although I had a wonderful time with this book and series, I can’t deny that I had issues with the way Weeks resolved the series; allow me to dive into that later, but first, I want to elaborate on the parts that I loved as spoiler-free as possible.
“Of all the things that die, hope is the most easily resurrected.”
I’ve said this throughout my reviews of the series several times, and I have to say it once again that I think Weeks is one of the smartest writers in the genre when it comes to plot twists and revelations. Seriously, even though some of the resolutions in this book didn’t sit well with me, the number of plot twists he planned and unveiled throughout the series was nothing short of outstanding; I have to applaud him for that. That still stands true here most of the time. The Burning White is by far the largest book in the series; it’s as big as The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson and Weeks has a huge number of storylines to close in this one book. In this tome, Weeks did successfully gave closure to some of the major character’s story arc and also leave room for more stories should he ever decide to go back to writing in this world.
“What if everyone in the world said, ‘Someone’s gonna do evil—but it won’t be me’?”
Character developments were one of the other aspects that I enjoyed so much from this series; it’s satisfying to read how far the major characters have come since their first appearance. I could ramble on for hundreds of words about each character’s development, but I don’t think I need to do that. I would, however, mention that Teia’s story conclusion was probably the most satisfying out of all the characters in the series. Weeks spent thousands of pages building her character since The Blinding Knife and although each main character in the book received their spotlight equally, I personally found Teia’s story to be the most thoroughly engaging for almost the entirety of the series. The Burning White is a huge book, and the major characters didn’t reunite with each other until the story reached the second half. This situation made the pacing of the first half of the novel a bit too slow at times, but it also amplified the tension of the final war. Honestly, the second half of the book was so good that I found myself annoyed by how many times I had to put down the book due to real-life necessities. Intense, emotional, and well-written; the war in the final two hundred pages was global-in-scale and full of impressive feats and magical battles.
“Strength is a choice. Courage is a habit. Unfortunately, cowardice is, too.”
Prose-wise, I also think that The Burning White featured Weeks’s strongest prose so far. For the past four books, there weren’t many passages or sentences I found worth highlighting and in this one, there were so many of them that I wished I could share with you all. The three years of waiting for this book to come out was worth the wait in that regard; the writing was tremendously well-polished and I found myself immersed with the book. Also, there were many noteworthy scenes in this tome, including the final war, but in my opinion, the most extraordinary scene in this book was the final Nine Kings duel; Yugi-Oh would’ve been proud of Weeks’s Nine Kings scenes delivery. Seriously, Andross Guile must also be one of the most memorable morally grey characters in fantasy, whether you love or hate him.
“People call others ‘gifted’ when they don’t want to believe they’re worse at something because they’re not willing to put in the work of excellence requires.”
Now, you may be wondering, after all the positive things I’ve said, why didn’t The Burning White received a 5 stars rating from me? The simple answers to this would be the sudden change to theological fantasy and the barrage of Deus ex machina used to resolve the multitude of conflicts in the series. Faith and religion have always been an important and recurring theme of the series, but it was simply too much in this book. It almost felt like Weeks found a new faith in Christianity and poured all his belief in it into this particular book with no brake. The first 400 pages were already full of theology discussions that slowed down the pacing considerably, but I honestly found this section to be acceptable because it still aligned with the direction of the series so far. Plus, religion and faith are relatable major themes implemented in many stories, not just fantasy, that I tend to enjoy reading immensely. However, the biggest issue I had wasn’t due to the fact that religion became the most dominant theme of the book, but it’s how religion and a complete sense of faith in God became the solution to practically every question, revelations, and conflict of this book or series.
“If an institution presents itself as uniquely moral but is secretly monstrous, isn’t that proof that its very ideas are corrupt and corrupting, rather than that only some few of its practitioners are corrupt?”
Lightbringer is, to me, a series that’s both incredibly refreshing, twisted, and full of revelations/mechanisms with data and background to back them up; plot twists and solutions were constantly shocking and never felt out of place, but The Burning White changed all of this by relying on Deus ex machina bombardments. Without going into spoilery-details, almost every conflict in this book was solved because of the power of God. The final war itself took three tomes to prepare and reached, Weeks spent a LOT of time building towards this war and final confrontation with the final bosses of the series but the final bosses ended up only making an appearance for roughly ten pages long; thousands of pages and years of waiting to reach this confrontation, and it ended in ten minutes of reading. Also, Chromaturgy was a magic system with many hard rules, I even mentioned that it’s on-par with Sanderson’s magic system level of crafting, but Weeks threw the rules away and replaced them with soft magic systems without any intricate explanation other than it’s all possible because of God’s intervention. I’m not kidding; there’s even a healing scene that involved a character on the brink of death drinking a kopi (coffee) brewed by God to instantaneous full recovery. I can’t make this up, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds; it’s what happened in the book. I won’t deny that the theological aspect did spark passages about redemption and forgiveness that I found to be superbly written, but all of the God’s power appearances and inclusion this late in the series just felt odd and—to be brutally honest—cheap to be used as solutions for one of the most twisted and well-plotted fantasy series out there.
“It’s who you are. And you are at your most powerful when you stand for those who have no one to stand for them.
Although the book, in my opinion, fell short from reaching the greatness and potential exhibited in the first three books, I still found myself overall happy with what I’ve read here. Let me emphasize this if it isn’t clear enough, I had a great time reading this series and despite the issues I had with this concluding installment, I do think that this series is worth a try if you’re a fan of epic fantasy with heavy focus on plot-twists, politics, and assassinations. Every light casts a shadow. Every shadow hides a secret. Every secret holds a truth. Every truth bears a legend. Every legend shines a light. Who’s the Lightbringer? Read and find out for yourself. The Burning White is a pulsating and theological final installment to the Lightbringer series. Lightbringer is one of the early epic fantasy series—alongside Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson and The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie—that started my SFF novels reading journey, and I’m glad to finally be able to put it in my list of “completed series I’ve read.”
“One act doesn’t undo all of who you are, but a thousand acts make you who you are. So it’s simple, though not easy: stop creating the wrong you. Stop trying to prove to yourself that you really are the bad man you believe you are despite what others say, and simply start doing good.”
Lightbringer: 21/25 stars