Archetypes and Prophecy in The Burning White by Brent Weeks

Apparently, I love Brent Weeks. I don’t remember preordering The Burning White, but when it appeared in my eReader, I pushed aside any review copies I had lying around and started to escape. The final book in The lightbringer Series, it’s clear that Weeks is having fun and is in no rush to leave these characters. It’s a 1,000 page tome that allows plenty of breathing room for each character to grow as they struggle to shore up defenses against the White King.

Much of the narrative follows Kip, the Luke Skywalker, born-to-be-the-light-bringer character as he tries to wrestle his way out of adolescence and the pre-pubescent jokes he endures and loves as the leader of The Mighty, but at this point in the series, he’s almost a king leading armies. When he returns to the Chromeria, Weeks goes to great lengths to show how Kip clings to his clever, innate goodness while struggling with the realities of leading an army, realities which Andross, his grandfather and Promachos, has been living with for years, hardening his soul to the point that he is willing to destroy everyone he loves for what he deems the greater good.

Gavin, Karris and Teia all play smaller roles, but they echo the same shimmering luxin stories. A hard veneer, a soul in torment. For a novel series that is based on colors, it’s only slightly ironic that almost every character seeks to take refuge in the gray area of morality.

And yet underneath it all, there’s gamesmanship. The invented card game 9 Kings, which Kip plays with Andross for ridiculously high stakes, is a nod to Magic the Gathering. And the reality is, watching smart people try to peer around the corners of empire, crashing armies against each other while secret assassins like Teia move about unseen in shadow cloaks, causing the battleground to shift surprisingly, is great fun. The cards and backstory each presents reveals the heart of the novel in a way that is almost meta. Weeks is so successful in part because of the masterful way he uses archetypes and worldbuilding. Each character is fully realized, from Gunner the pirate, who shares in his own broken grammar the terrifying and sad story of his mother that harkens back to Shakespeare’s Ophelia, to Gavin’s role of the Prodigal son, or to Andross’s emperor archetype, which is so ferociously close to the Emperor tarot card it’s hard to un-see. All of these archetypes are molded from backstories which stretch hundreds or thousands of years back, and despite being the final book of the series. This skillful building of archetypes allows Weeks flex his trademark worldbuilding skills with ease (or perhaps that IS his trademark skill), and it’s impressive to note The Burning White reveals even more about Weeks’ world; the fallen gods, ancient mirror technology, and all of the mystery of the Chromeria’s religion are satisfyingly resolved. 

There reverence for prophecy and religion speaks to the reader and both functions as a warning. For the first part of the book, Kip is worried about accepting the title of Light Bringer, because of all the various prophecies which he might not get right. Meanwhile, for the first time in the series, Weeks delivers scenes from Andross’s past. A past which– and should surprise no one considering how diabolically plotting Andross is–reveals that he has been actively fulfilling prophecies for most of his life in order to be crowned the lightbringer himself. In Andross’s willingness to snatch his role from the jaws of fate, Weeks offers a profound warning about the seers, of visions, and of those who seek to master their fate. 

It’s also nice to read a long series where the characters mature, and likewise the stakes increase, without the author going darker and darker as the end draws near. Even the chapters from Teia’s perspective, a master assassin with an invisibility cloak, don’t come close to the violence depicted in many fantasy horror novels.

There’s a lot of light in Week’s world, but the composition is cleverly balanced; the crazy wights who have broken the halo, like Andross, have moved past standing in the God’s given light to harnessing it for their own purposes. That, of course, is the profound warning of the series; the colorful and bright, prone to flashes of violence and delusion are the ones we must scrutinize the most. Do not follow blinded by the sun. 

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