Book Review: The Burning White by Brent Weeks

Book Review: The Burning White by Brent Weeks
Cover
Cover image taken from the book’s Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spolier Free Summary: (Note: Once more, it’s very hard to review a final book in a series. I’ll do my best.)  The Burning White is the final novel in the Lightbringer Saga by Brent Weeks. Gavin finally faces the truth about the existence Orholam, and the truth will set him free. Kip, accepting the role of Lightbringer, returns home for the final defense of his chosen home. Karris and Andross scheme. Tia walks down a dark path of death, hoping a light shines anywhere. Everything comes to a head, and all questions are answered in this final volume. I have to admit, I didn’t get the answer that frustrated me so much with The Blood Mirror. I think that’s just a whiff that Weeks will have to accept. Lucky for him the series as a whole is great.

 

Character:  Tisis stole the show in the last book, so I was mad she didn’t get that much attention in this book. That said, every one of these character arcs were amazing! I must give proper respect to Gavin, who’s growth was beautiful. I also must give a nod to Andross here. A lot of cool things happen that reveal motivations, and that amplifies the sympathy of all of these characters.

Exposition: We still have a few dumpy sections, but that’s going to happen in a series this deep. I’ll say that while there was some slow-down here and there, the general pace of the novel (and series) was just fine. The dumpy sections are portions I think most fans of epic fantasy have come to expect so long as the author doesn’t abuse the privilege. Weeks doesn’t.

Worldbuilding: The world only gets bigger, and we see a lot more of the religion in this world in this book. I don’t know if Weeks is Christian or not, but I can promise you he did his research. It was actually super fun for me to count off the sheer number of Bible Easter eggs as I saw it, particularly near the third act to the end. I don’t think people who haven’t read the Bible or aren’t that familiar with it would catch as much (or mind), but it’s hard to know given how much of the Bible I read. I found those ties to be satisfying, but I wonder how others might respond. I expect they wouldn’t notice.

three-book-covers
Other books in the Lightbringer saga.

Dialogue:  I’d still say the same that I’ve always said. I can’t argue the characters all have unique voices (though I do think so). Yeah, they’re all pretty much flippant, arrogant people with sly comments for every situation, but it’s fun to listen to. It’s witty and entertaining.

Description: Weeks is still a minimalist in this regard. There was more description in this book than others, but the necessity was there given the number of action scenes and new locations to account for.

Overall: This was a wonderful start to my 2020 year in reading. It’s going to take a strong book to take its spot at the top of my best-read stories of the year, and I can say that nothing so far has com anywhere close. I don’t know if I’ll finish the new Stormlight book before the new year, but that would be the competition I expect. Who knows though. I loved this book, and at the moment, it’s the best I’ve read so far in 2020. This book is a fantastic end to a satisfying conclusion. While I still enjoyed it, I’d have to say I liked Night Angel better, but I think that’s more of a compliment to Night Angel than a knock on Light Bringer. There’s a lot to love about this conclusion.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Great Character Arcs: Five Characters I Loved Seeing Grow (SPOILERS)

Great Character Arcs: Five Characters I Loved Seeing Grow (SPOILERS)

Greetings all,

It’s been a while since I did any character studies, so I thought this was a good time to do that. There’s a lot of demand out there these days for characters who “grow.” That term is used a lot but the better word is “change.” People like to see characters affected by their actions and evolve as a result of them. I’m still a big fan of neutral change arcs (K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs talks about this), but I have seen some character arcs that I just loved. Some I’ve already mentioned before, but I’d like to share with you some stories where you truly saw a character evolve as the story progressed.

51PNy3Gq7OL._AA300_Rand al’Thor from The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: I’d argue this is my favorite arc of all time. It probably should be as it took 14 books to evolve. I don’t know that I’ve seen any other character grow, fall, and return to grace the way Rand does. He starts as a simple farm boy (yes, the most overused trope ever). But he’s just a boy whose biggest concern is dealing with a girl he’s pretty sure he’s going to marry. We see him afraid and avoid his calling for three books. Then we see him struggle with what it means to be what he becomes. Then we see him betrayed, and what that does to him. He falls all the way to darkness, nearly willing to end his own life. Then he becomes the leader and figure he’s meant to be, but that’s not the end. I won’t go farther than that. Even with spoilers, there are some things I just won’t discuss on a blog. But for people who want to study an arc of a character, I’d recommend you start here.

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This isn’t Dorian, but I don’t want to dare some author to sue me for using his art. The cover of a graphic novel? Well, there I can try and argue fair use.

Dorian Ursuul from the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks: I’ve already spoken about his arc in terms of his fall from grace. He’s honestly a good, well-meaning man who’s put in a position that basically tempts him into becoming the monster he eventually becomes. I’m fascinated about the possibility of a story where this plot is more of a centerpiece of a novel. It’s rummaging around my head somewhere, but it’ll fall out at some point, and this character and story is why. It’s a beautiful negative change arc.

Tyrion from The Embers of Illeniel series by Michael G. Manning: The end of his arc was the best book I read last year, and that’s saying something.  He gives Rand a run for his money in terms of quality (I give Rand the advantage because I like good guys to find their grace again), but this character’s arc is so enthralling. Every single thing he does that will make him a monster is understandable. The tragedy of its necessity is second only to the sadness I felt as I saw what those horrific necessities created.

41awCCmXEKL._SY346_Artemis Fowl from the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer: I have to make it a point to pick up this series again. I thought it ended, but I’m not sure I read all of the books. Even with what I read, his arc deserves to be here. Listen folks, this kid is a little turd in book one. Watching him interact and make friends and become a protector for those he originally sought to use was a real treat. It’s funny because the way I’m identifying these characters is by looking through my Goodreads books. I scrolled around until I stumbled upon the book and thought, “Oh yeah! His arc was fantastic!”  He’s a character who starts out pretty bad (I mean it’s a young reader book), and then grows into someone truly selfless.

41SA4n8T3uLEmma from Emma by Jane Austen: I’m going to pause here to go off on a tiny tangent. Fans claim to demand great arcs, but if I’m being honest, I just don’t see many. Oh, I read a bunch of great stories. But most of the stories I read are about men who are tempted but don’t fall, men who are nice and stay nice, or men who are bad and stay bad. I’ll go over some of my favorite books where I just don’t see the arc. People can argue with me if they wish (I encourage debate), but I spent a solid hour going over all my books in my Goodreads and struggled to find five arcs where I could really point to a person who changed (even if only for a while in the book). Oh, they evolved. They learned a truth, but they didn’t actually CHANGE. There are other characters who truly change in other mediums. (Weiland does a bunch of character studies in her book.)  But for my money, it’s tough to find those sweeping evolutionary arcs. Emma represents one of the originals. She’s a selfish woman who thinks she knows best how to do things. (Clueless was one of the best modern adaptations of a book I’ve ever seen. Seriously!) Regardless, she changes from a selfish person who THINKS she’s selfless, to a person who learns how to value others as people rather than objects. It’s honestly a solid arc.

So there you go. I’d love to hear your thoughts on arcs. Please don’t misunderstand. There are a lot of books I love (I thought about putting Vin on her list, but she evolved pretty quickly in my opinion) where I didn’t really notice an arc, but I won’t deny that some of these stories are genuinely great because of the way the characters evolve (or devolve). If you think you got another good one, please post it below in the comments for discussion or study.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

A Fall From Grace: When Characters Devolve Into Villains

A Fall From Grace:  When Characters Devolve Into Villains

I honestly love character studies.  I started them in high school and learned how to write by doing case studies.  Just as I was pondering this very post, I ran into Adam’s blog post about how villains become villains.

eery-1648250_960_720I’ve grown up spoiled with stories.  I’ve gotten to read, watch, and listen to a ton of great stories in a litany of formats.  The most common trend I see these days is the sympathetic villain.  Perhaps a more accurate term in this case is a “relatable” villain.  Let’s face it, people just don’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll be a horrible person today.”  People are motivated to take action.

demon-1294136_960_720This got me thinking about a character study I’d like to share with you.  The most fascinating villainy turn I saw was linked to a phrase of mine. “The Devil isn’t the monster, he’s your best friend.”  I hope the Lord understands my metaphor and his worshipers don’t judge.  Let me explain the theory.  I don’t think the devil is one who threatens and yells.  It’s far easier to ENCOURAGE sin.  So that’s the meaning.  The guy who says, “Why not? Everyone else does it?  Why  not?  Who’s it really hurting.”  Temptation is the enemy of faith, and those “reasonable” steps away from what one should do is how that highway to Hell gets paved.  Now, I promise, this isn’t a theological post.  It just sets up this amazing story arch.

weeks_nightangelomnibus_tpBrent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy is great just to read and enjoy, but I invite you to read it (or even better read it again) and pay close attention to Dorian Ursuul.  His arch is amazing.  You see.  He’s a good guy.  He has his struggles.  He even has this intense desire to step away from the fearful reputation of his father.  He’s a good guy right?  Well…sure.  But let’s try to avoid spoilers as much as we can.

The first thing that happens is he has to take the position his father had.  It’s all fine and good to CLAIM to want to be benevolent and kind, but that doesn’t always work out in practice when you’re in charge.  Dorian starts by hating himself and making concessions as to why it’s “necessary.”  Indeed, as a reader, I found myself noting that, “yeah, what are his options?”  Quite frankly his option was to live the bad guy or die a man of principle.  Who doesn’t understand that?

What Weeks does masterfully is up the anti.  Dorian does something else that isn’t’ very nice, but he has his reason.  Then he does something slightly worse.   By the time he makes his fifth or sixth “bad” decision, the readers have come to see him as having “gone bad.”  Even if his reason is the most noble on the surface.  This proves what I said above.  Villains descend into darkness.  I have a book on my own inspired by that very premise.

This arch is all about how power corrupts.  As Dorian progresses, he makes every decision for a number of reasons, some of which make perfect sense.  His descent was gradual and unfortunate.

grimThis is a POWERFUL storytelling tool I’m surprised hasn’t ben made more useful in fiction.  It makes the villain sympathetic more than a plot devise.  I won’t lie.  The main character, “Grimm,” in The Journals of Bob Drifter, is a plot device.  I don’t hate any storytelling techniques on it’s surface.  I’m simply trying to provide writers a tool for an underused structure they may want to consider.

I hope the example I gave makes sense.  I really fight to avoid spoilers.  If you haven’t read the book, you should JUST to follow THAT character’s story line.  It’s amazing storytelling.

Thanks for reading,

Matt