Bright We Burn is the thrilling conclusion to Kiersten White’s gloriously violent and beautifully written The Conqueror’s Saga. This series offers an alternative history of The Ottoman Empire and focuses on the lives of Vlad Tepes, Radu cel Frumos, and Mehmed II. Only Vlad is a teenage girl named Lada and the three are locked in an a life long love triangle which sees their personal feelings played out on battlefields.
For me, the entire of The Conqueror’s Saga has been extremely close to flawless. This is largely because of White’s ability to write such amazing characters. Lada Dracul is without doubt the most aggressive, ruthless and ambitious character I’ve ever read about. She’s a bit like Arya Stark in her bloodthirstiness and defiance of traditional gender roles, but her goals are far more than simple vengeance. Lada will stop at nothing to win the Wallachian throne and free her nation from Ottoman rule. She may also be a little insane, as evidenced in a brutal scene in which Lada has the bodies of 20,000 Ottomans impaled alongside the road into her capital as a “greeting” to Mehmed. Though Lada commits many heinous atrocities, she remains a character we can like, empathise with, and perhaps even admire, thanks to White’s brilliant writing. White shows us enough of Lada’s inner doubts and weaknesses to create a softer side of this brutal character. Though readers may not agree with Lada’s methods, they will certainly be impressed with Lada’s tenacity, cleverness, and ability to create change through sheer force of will. Personally, I’m also grateful to White for writing a female character who has no interest in having children. This is something we still don’t see a lot of in literature and I’m thoroughly sick of reading narratives in which women are only able to find satisfaction in life through starting a family.
Lada’s brother Radu is her polar opposite. Where Lada is reckless and brash, Radu is kind and thoughtful. If I were to compare him to another YA character, it would be Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games. Like Peeta, Radu is naturally more of a lover than a fighter. In a world where violence is the norm and physical strength is the greatest asset a person can have, both characters rely on their charm, likeability and handsome faces to survive. Both are born diplomats who are far more gentle than many of the male characters that they’re surrounded by. What sets Radu apart from other “nice guy” type characters though is the contradiction at the core of his personality. Radu is a devout Muslim who cherishes his faith dearly (unlike Lada, who sees religion as a only a tool to gain allies), though he is also attracted to other men. Radu has spent his entire life longing for love, yet he spends much time grappling with his sexuality and debating whether his religion allows for same sex relationships. Perhaps Radu and Lada’s only common trait is their ambition and determination. However, while Lada’s ambition is to rule Wallachia, Radu’s is simply to be loved. Radu is a character who cannot stand being disliked, he needs approval from all those around him, particularly Mehmed, who Radu has been in love with since childhood. Radu’s utter devotion to Mehmed and his learning for the latter’s love is one of the saddest elements of this story, and it brings a lot of emotional depth to the book.
Though White’s characters are undoubtedly what I love most about the series, it’s got plenty more to offer. The writing is brilliant, as is the world building. There’s plenty of action and adventure, and if you’re looking for a badass heroine, you won’t find one more fierce than Lada. Though some have been critical of the lack of historical accuracy through out the series, I feel that as long as you keep in mind that The Conqueror’s Saga is an alternative, rather than literal history, this doesn’t distract from the story. Ultimately, I utterly adored this series and I’m sad to see it end.
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