Bright We Burn: And I Darken, Book 3

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Bright We Burn: And I Darken, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Mature, bloody trilogy meets an absorbing, satisfying end.

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age 15+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Intriguing twist on historical fiction imagines life of Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Dracula) if he were Lada, a woman. Shows a version of life during 15th-century Constantinople and Wallachia. Author's note states, "I try to incorporate as much history as respectfully as I can, and encourage anyone intrigued to further study this time period and region." Some specifics on Islamic faith back then, especially burial traditions, and differences between Ottoman Empire and Eastern European dress, customs. With Lada in an unusual position for a woman at that time, opportunity to ponder what life was like for other women, how limited their choices were.

Positive Messages

Clearly shows two paths: one of connection with others (goodness) or one of personal power and independence (greatness). It's clearer in this book than the previous two that both in balance lead to better rule. Greatness can lead to needed change, but unchecked it can lead to excessive bloodshed and chaos. Goodness in rule unchecked can lead to complacency, but it protects lives and brings people together in compromise.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lada is more ruthless than ever before, orders the killing, desecration of thousands and gets many of her own soldiers killed in relentless pursuit of her goal. She may have the right idea about removing corrupt classes and government and protecting rights of lower classes, but she removes people in mass killings and refuses all forms of negotiation. Her relentlessness evokes change sooner, but at a huge cost. Radu, once Lada's wimpy, malleable younger brother, finds great strength here in his faith and in his chosen family. He makes up for Lada's lack of conscience and makes an excellent, though reluctant leader. He shows mercy when his sister needs it most and recognizes the good in her.

Violence

Thousands of soldiers killed, displayed on stakes all together; description of the smell and dread at seeing them. Nails hammered in heads of men until they die -- same men sent as "gift" to leader in a box. Gore described in hand-to-hand combat as man's throat is torn out, other men killed brutally. Assassinations with knives and crossbow. Man stabbed repeatedly in retaliation. Man impaled on stake near grave he's forced to dig. Some deaths are huge losses to main characters. Cannons destroy castle and kill those inside. Sick people used as biological weapons in army camp. Talk of burned villages and heavy loss in siege of Constantinople.

Sex

Main character has sex twice, with two different partners. Details limited to kissing, a bite, mention of roughness, and that one man "shuddered before collapsing on the rug." LGBTQ characters kiss, with mention of tangled limbs and waiting for more until a private marriage ceremony. Mention that women follow the army to "service any NEEDS the men had."

Language

Rare uses of "ass," "bastard," "damn," and "bitch."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some wine drinking at events.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Bright We Burn is the third and final book in the And I Darken series by Kiersten White, author of the popular Paranormalcy trilogy. Set in the Ottoman Empire (15th century) and offering many details about the period, this story is based on the life of Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Dracula), had Vlad been a female named Lada instead. Bright We Burn, like the rest of the series, is best for high school readers and up who are ready for the mature content and able to more fully contemplate the complex themes. Here we see very clearly where Lada got her brutal nickname. Thousands of soldiers are killed in many skirmishes and then displayed on stakes all together. Nails are hammered into men's heads until they die. Gore is well described in hand-to-hand combat: A man's throat is torn out and other men are killed brutally. There are assassinations with knives and crossbow, and one man is stabbed repeatedly in retaliation. Some deaths are huge losses to the main characters. Heterosexual sex is described as rough and passionate with few concrete details. Gay and lesbian characters kiss. Language and drinking by comparison are both tame. Astute readers can ponder how the main characters -- two siblings raised together -- can end up choosing such different paths in life.

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written byylin246 September 25, 2018

An unsatisfying end to a great trilogy.

First off, I really do think you should be at least in middle school before you read the series altogether. It contains multiple explicit death scenes, as well... Continue reading

What's the story?

In BRIGHT WE BURN, Lada has taken control of Wallachia and does everything to secure her land and make her stand against the sultan, her childhood friend and sometimes lover Mehmed. When Mehmed sends representatives to secure her allegiance to the Ottoman Empire, she hammers nails in their heads until they die and sends the men home to Constantinople in a box. Mehmed is not amused. To avoid all-out war, Mehmed and Lada's brother, Radu, hatch a plan to kidnap Lada and put a cousin in place as prince of Wallachia. Lada is always steps ahead of them, out with her army demolishing the closest Ottoman soldier outposts and gathering the dead as a nasty surprise for the inevitable invasion to come.

Is it any good?

This blood-soaked trilogy stays absorbing and satisfying through a finale that brings out the worst and best in its two complex central characters. Lada as prince is brutal, ruthless, and clever, earning her nickname as the Impaler in a scene no reader wants to truly visualize. She's the tragic character you can see headed to her immediate end without the help of her brother, Radu. Though Radu and Lada are far apart for most of the book, they are always connected. Author Kiersten White, known for charming, lighter fare before And I Darken (Chaos of Stars, Illusions of Fate), goes deep in these characters, exploring the differences between Radu and Lada and the choices they make, often in response to the actions of the other. Radu's connection to his chosen family and his Islamic faith, his acceptance of himself as a gay man, and his reluctance to be a leader make him the perfect counter to Lada. Lada knows she needs her brother; he knows he can't escape her in the end.

All that family drama does not take away from the pace of Bright We Burn -- at least not until the very end where the wrap-up is a little long. The action is just as absorbing. Lada's forces are outnumbered but constantly outmaneuvering the Ottomans. Readers will feel conflicted about just who to root for. Radu is the "good" choice, but Lada is cunning and relentless. It's both shocking and fascinating to see what strategies she employs in her brutal campaign. The whole series fascinates, and it's hard to see it end.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the different paths of Lada and Radu in Bright We Burn. How do they interpret their role in the world differently? What is Radu's relationship to Wallachia? And Lada's?

  • How do the four LGBTQ characters navigate their world? How does Radu find self-acceptance?

  • What did you learn about the time period of the Ottoman Empire? Where can you find out more?

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