Haunted by the sacrifices he made in Constantinople, Radu is called back to the new capital. Mehmed is building an empire, becoming the sultan his people need. But Mehmed has a secret: as emperor, he is more powerful than ever . . . and desperately lonely. Does this mean Radu can finally have more with Mehmed . . . and would he even want it?
Lada’s rule of absolute justice has created a Wallachia free of crime. But Lada won’t rest until everyone knows that her country’s borders are inviolable. Determined to send a message of defiance, she has the bodies of Mehmed’s peace envoy delivered to him, leaving Radu and Mehmed with no choice. If Lada is allowed to continue, only death will prosper. They must go to war against the girl prince.
But Mehmed knows that he loves her. He understands her. She must lose to him so he can keep her safe. Radu alone fears that they are underestimating his sister’s indomitable will. Only by destroying everything that came before–including her relationships–can Lada truly build the country she wants.
Claim the throne. Demand the crown. Rule the world.
I genuinely feel like my heart belongs to so many fictional characters but I wish it would just come home to me, you know?
I fucking love this series. The only way I could accurately get across my passion is either in multi-page, overtly dramatic, 19th-century-style rose-scented love letters or just a live footage of me breakdancing while crying for five minutes straight.
Yeah, I know I have things to be happy about but my heart kind of hurts knowing this series had come to its end. I really wish I could live forever in the peaceful feeling I got after I finished this book where everything seemed softer and the lights were all tinged in hues of blue and pink and the world felt silky and light and surreal and it’s like my heart was auditioning for cirque du soleil and all my feelings were bursting into tiny pieces of heart-shaped confetti!! But since that’s ruled out, I guess now my heart and soul will just float aimlessly in this empty universe….
She was a dragon.
She was a prince.
She was a woman.
It was the last that scared them most of all.
So before I get into what this book is about, I want to say this: I can’t possibly convey what reading a series that centers queer Muslim characters meant to me or come even close to describing the quaking moment of recognition, the shock of the familiar and how it all felt like being held close in a dimly lit room and being told “I see you, I’m proud of you and I’m rooting for you.“ In a time when our community still gets little to no representation at all in the media, seeing myself in these characters was truly a cathartic experience. And for that, I honestly feel like I should have a whole separate heart for loving this series because it’s an entire different feeling than anything I feel for everything else.
Okay. My entire stance on reading Bright We Burn is that it felt like me just metaphorically trying to live peacefully in a secluded cottage and do my own thing while also wanting to witness the fall of empires right next door. I was reading with probably the same frequency others smoked cigarettes, the bags under my eyes were darker than the inside of Hollister and I’m pretty sure I have aged at least three lifetimes over the course of four hundred pages.
Who was she? She was the dragon. Her country had teeth and claws and fire, and she would use every last bit of them.
Bright We Burn was the embodiment of war, the spitting image of chaos. It was ruptured loyalties and a country in disarray. It was desperate calculated plays for power, a capital filled with snakes and people cursed to fight amongst themselves, while everyone else suffers for it. This was a wild journey, like the fury that’s been building up in the previous two books has come undone, and everything came equipped with rage, flying in on a hell chariot. Things were pretty terrible in the previous books, but I had no idea just how much worse they were going to get.
But mostly? This is the series finale we all deserved. It absolutely exceeded my expectations. Kiersten White sure knows how to end a series with a bang.
I think it’s time to say it again and with more feeling: I fucking love Lada’s character.
Lada lives by one statement that she maintains the truth in: there is very little that she needs, and even less that she wants. There’s a pyre in the lighthouse of her wayward morality and it ignited for one thing and one thing alone: Wallachia. This is the closest thing to religion that Lada knows; her faith unwavering. She has vowed to take her country back, no matter how many times she’s been told that she never stood the chance to fight ike a man. So she showed no mercy and she wreaked havoc on everything. Her anger was quick and unforgiven, messy and inevitable, a direct blast like the sun exploding. Lada reigned and raged and burned.
After all, they asked for it. She fought like a girl. And it was fucking glorious.
She had dug through the mountain to reach her heart’s desire, and found the mountain had a heart after all: the beating pulse required of all those who would not stop, would not accept what the world offered, would not bow.
Lada’s character is a blessing to tiresome routines. She bloomed whether they watered her or not. Whether they provided her with light or not. She was dressed in fortified independence and she spun herself a crown of gold. She exists without their existence.
However, the one thing Lada wasn’t prepared for was what a lonely existence that would be. Because Lada may be stone-hard and stubborn, but she still suffers toil and loneliness and hurt of soul perhaps more hardily than all others. We see many glimmers of her heart in this book, many fleeting moments of quivering vulnerability, and yeah, she then does something that immediately reminds you how basically dead inside she is. But for those moments — Lada mourning her friends, Lada curled up sobbing in her brother’s arms, you glimpse all the people she’s used and left in the cold or, you know, crystallized into just that, a means to an end; you glimpse everything that could have been, and you can’t help but feel a sharp pang of ache in your heart.
There’s not a single person I wouldn’t throw off a cliff for Radu, including myself. He deserves pure hearted happiness and relish in the world and my gay Muslim heart is literally bursting for him!!
First of all, can we talk about how Radu’s character development added 70 years onto my life? How he’s cultivated his inner strength to pierce through the ugly times and into a lighter state of being? How he could’ve turned cold after everything he’s been through but still chose love anyway? And how there’s so much strength in that; the kind of strength that only comes from empathy and compassion? How he ended up being the hero because without the soft touch of vulnerability, he would have been the villain?
Gone was the Radu who’s worn his emotions, his susceptibility to people, like a badge of shame; who’s constantly suppressed half of himself to accommodate to others’ needs; whose downfall was always putting the wrong people first, giving them all of him, never asking for anything to be given to him in return. Lada’s preferred stage might be the sharp edge of a sword. But Radu has become ruthless in his own way. He’s become ruthless with the thoughts he entertained, with the people he chose to spend time with and the things he chose to fight for. He’s become ruthless in culling, stripping his life of the unnecessary and making room for the things that matter.
“Do you think it was him that came between us? Or were we destined to end up on opposite sides?” Lada felt an unfamiliar heaviness behind her eyes.
“We had to survive. We just figured out different ways to do it.”
Radu’s whole arc was centered around choice. How the choices we make will always come back to us, in a different form, different person, different event. However, in any way, those choices will always come back. Radu has chosen love, kindness and family. He’s chosen not being cold-hearted and aloof, but being amicable in the face of bitterness and gentle with those who deserve to be loved. And that choice has echoed backwards in time and undid the things that hurt him.
MY GAY FOUND FAMILY
It really is unbelievable just how much love I hold in my heart for Nazira, Fatima, Radu and Cyprian!!
I can feel the solid lump of ice that is my heart melting just thinking about them. How fucking beautiful is the bond they share and how no other bond can even touch what they have. Their foundation is built on a solid friendship and is an extension of a deep love found in mutual respect, trust and understanding. It’s ever-lasting because it’s the kind of bond that was not cultivated by something as accidental as blood, but something much stronger – by choice. They truly give a new meaning to the word family: a word that should now only be reserved for the people who love you without demanding that you hide the parts of yourself that you think are unlovable; the people who genuinely make you feel safer, even if they’re far away from you because their existence is so calming and beautiful and it makes everything seem better somehow; and the people whose hearts teach you something which makes you more gentle and human and remain soft for you always.
Lada had always known exactly what shape she would take. She had never let it be determined by the people around her. But Radu could not escape the need for love, the need for people in his life to help him see what he should—and could—be. Lada shaped herself in spite of her environment. Radu shaped himself because of it.
And gosh, I love their simple intimacy. Radu and Cyprian’s forehead kisses mixed with laughter, the innocent feeling of Fatima laying her head on Nazira’s lap and Nazira always needing to be near her for no other reason than pure comfort and love and closeness. The brushing of hands and the knowing looks, Cyprian gently asking Radu about his and Islam’s boundaries and Radu cherishing all of these moments and how it all “never stopped feeling like a miracle” . Everything they do is soft and rose scented. I swear they’re like tea or a soft blanket: warm and gentle and healing.
A heart did not have to be stone to be strong.
I think the greatest takeaway from this series as a whole is that the greatest battles are fought and won by the heart, not the bloodied fist. That softness is never a weakness, that staying delicate in a world so cruel is the biggest testament of courage. That life is too grand to revolve around one person, one feeling, one place, one memory, one goal. And that the complexity and diversity of the world is so beautiful and you have the right to explore it. You should never settle for less.