Bright We Burn; Book 3 the Conquers Saga by Kiersten White: Book Review
Love May Not Be Enough
Through the first two novels of Kiersten White's The Conquerors Saga, As I Darken and Now I Rise, the last book of the series Bright We Burn takes on the showdown that we all knew was coming as Lada Dracul faces off with her former childhood friend, Mehmed, the current sultan and her own brother Radu that backs him out of loyalty and a crush that spanned their entire childhood.
Known for her re-imagining of famous lore, White focused this series around the daughter of Vlad Tempes, or Dracula as later legend would coin him. As a man, Vlad was a cruel ruler, best known for impaling his enemies through the countryside although beloved for defending his nation of Wallachia against the spread of the Ottoman Empire and Islam.
Taking the place of her father's deeds, Lada is the only daughter of the Prince who in the first novel is taken out of power and while other son's have tried to please their father and live up to their own version of the vicious ruler, it is only Lada that fits the bill and from a young age it is hard to love the female antihero of the novels as she is repeatedly cruel to all those around her, taking lives because she believed in a cause over love.
Raised by the previous sultan as she and her brother, Radu, were taken prisoner by the sultan but raised among his children, both had a close relationship with Mehmed, who would later take his father's place. While the early novels focused more on the turbulence of the three as Mehmed pined for Lada who would never take a husband and Radu, who had a crush on the son of the Sultan, Lada took advantage of getting Radu beaten and punished as much as possible during their childhood.
When chaos erupts in the region and by the second novel, many are fighting to escape the fall of Serbia and the march is lead inward to take Wallachia and fight their way towards Transylvanian and Hungary, the trio takes different sides of the war.
Lada feels as the only child that is deserving of the throne, she will win back Wallachia at the any cost, even if it costs Radu and his friends their lives.
The third book takes place as Radu has made his loyalties to Mehmed and together they plot how to take Lada down for good.
Cruel as her depiction of the female Vlad the Implaler, Lada Dracul is hard to love, even by the few friends that she had including a nurse maid that knew her as a child, a former friend that she gets killed for his involvement in her cause. Her brother, Radu loves her but knows with her vicious nature the only way to save her is from herself and if they can't lure her back to be imprisoned by the sultan, they may have to put her down.
Losing Control Of Ourselves
Declaring herself Prince, Lada has taken back Wallachia in storm of blood and fire as her chaos and army she has gathered plow through Mehmed's forces along the way. Lada thinks nothing of taking the lives of those that mildly bore or disgust her, even thinking that she could kill the children and pregnant wife of one of her most loyal men because he admits to her he turned down a bribe to have her killed.
Lada feels only for herself and using others to get her way is no problem, although she fights back an affection for both her brother and Mehmed as she remembers their childhood, but then remembers she grew fierce because she had grown up a political hostage in the kingdom.
Lada feels that Radu choosing to stay with Mehmed shows where his loyalties actually lie and takes this as a grave offense that he won't fight for his home.
Radu, had a different experience growing up than Lada, while in the same circumstances, he took his studies seriously and took to Islam. Easy to love, Radu made friends easily and it was an arranged marriage to a young woman that kept him close to the ruling family.
While Radu, was known to be gay by his inner circle, he finds out the woman that he is married to is actually homosexual herself, and their arrangement of marriage is a great cover for both of them to find love with the person that they end up spiritually married to.
Even though his marriage is a front, Radu cares deeply for his wife and her wife and considers them sisters to him and the best of friends and puts his life in danger repeatably over the course of the three novels to keep the women safe.
Mehmed is troubled over his love for Lada.
While she toys with him on occasion, she never really had any true love for anyone but her crown she wishes to win but Mehmed, still can't bring himself to have Lada killed even though she has made several attempts on his life.
He knows that the merciful thing to do for his childhood friend is to bring her back to serve a life in prison where at least he can see that she is still alive. He values Radu enough to spare his sister for his sake as well.
Called a traitor by Lada, Radu has found his own way when he has stepped out the shadow of his bully sister and began a career as an adviser to his childhood friend, Mehmed, when he came into power.
The Feral Woman Prince
While most see the actions of Lada Dracul from the side of cruelty, her own people love her and see her political motivation as standing up to the invading forces of the Sultan army and preserving Christianity in the region. Because of Lada fiercely fighting off the invaders and impaling their corpses around the boundaries of Wallachia, the woman Prince is considered to be a powerful leader and a blessing to the small folk.
Lada builds more churches, she allows for refugees to have land, she also empowers the women to know how to fight and join the ranks of her army which is ever shrinking despite her political prowess.
The people remember Lada going away as a child and coming back this champion for the country she loves and they look up to her. To the people of Wallachia, Radu is a traitor for siding with the Sultan and helping his army press forward to take over the continent.
The people of Wallachia are happy to help Lada remain in control anyway they can, but they are no match for the for Sultan's forces and eventually she is caught and imprisoned by one of her former allies, Mattahias, for a period of time before she on the run again.
This time with Mehmed and Radu on her trail, it is her brother that finally finds her injured and strikes up a deal with his sister after realizing that she is pregnant.
Giving ample chance to be controlling Lord in Wallachia, by Mehmed, Lada refuses to bend the knee and will go down fighting for her country, even if it means losing every last one dear to her. With Radu finding a new family in his network of friends that are looking to rebuild and bring peace, Lada realizes she has nothing left and eventually takes an offer.
A Resting Place
Pregnant with Mehmed's child, Lada is finally caught after she is injured in a fall and Radu strikes a deal with her that his wife will raise the child with her wife, and as long as she stays out of sight without causing troubles, Mehmed will let Lada have her life.
With nothing to lose, Lada agrees and gives up the child as it is born to Radu's family and sulks out of sight as soon as she is able.
While we know that Radu goes on to have a great life with his circle of friends and stays close to Mehmed, we only see Lada again at her grave when all those that loved her once from a far gather to inscribe the last words on her tomb: Prince, Sister, Dragon.
Lada Dracul is a complicated character, a true antihero that believes she was doing what was right for her country and taking up for her family on the right side of history. She sees Radu as a traitor for what he has done but can't find herself to hate him entirely.
She knows that her brother who she claimed in the first two novels was the only one that she would ever protect, but also kill- the relationship between Lada and Radu becomes even more strained as they grow into sexual maturity and both have feelings for Mehmed.
For a young adult novel, White takes a no holds barred approach to sexuality which might upset some conservative readers with how freely the same sex couplings happen in this series- but I would argue that the White writes representative of the behalf of a generation that has grown up knowing gay family members and friends and wonders what is the big deal. So some characters, just like people are gay, because they are people.
I found the love triangle between Mehmed, Lada, and Radu to be an interesting choice to pit brother against sister that really worked for the retelling of the story we thought we all knew about the man known to be Dracula.
Bright We Burn might be the most enjoyable of the saga, on the behalf of Lada'a cruelty and blase blind eye to the chaos she is creating. But like Radu, fighting for the side of peace, Lada has her own motivations that are easily understood as well, seeing herself not just as the rightful heir to the throne but the protector of the small folk that will be powerless in the war as their country is invaded.
The Conqueror Series includes novels, As I Darken, Now I Rise, and Bright We Burn.