↪ this review contains spoilers for AID and NIR, also probably contains tears and incoherent screaming so sorry in advance I guess
This was a bittersweet ending to a gorgeously written saga. I think about the characters and I just feel like draping myself dramatically over the bed and sobbing, Disney princess style. I mean, I’m still mentally on the floor weeping right now over a jar of peanut butter because I can’t handle that this is the LAST BOOK AND I NEED MORE.
And I Darken: ✦✦✦✦✦
Now I Rise: ✦✦✦✦✦
Bright We Burn: ✦✦✦✦✧
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.
✨ Lada Dracul ✨
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, who would not accept what the world offered, would not bow.
Let’s first get this out of the way—Lada will forever be my prince and nothing can change that.
Imagine this: you’re a female leader rebuilding a weak country in an intensely patriarchal society, your brother consistently betrays you for an ex-lover-turned-enemy, your alliances are shaky at best and bound to crumble at any given moment, and now you’re about to wage war against one of the most powerful empires in the world.
That’s honestly enough to turn any girl insane, yet Lada handles it all with such ferocity, such fire, such flair, that I honestly cannot get enough of her.
(Admittedly, some of her solutions include impaling and publicly displaying thousands of enemy corpses, but what am I telling you?
She has style.)
Lada Dracul is made of molten lava all the way through. She has no secret heart of gold; she has no dashing royal to whisk her away and teach her about the power of True Love or Noble Virtues. Lada only has herself—and that’s all that matters.
In Bright We Burn, she transitions fully into the legendary Impaler, and let me tell you, the descent is GLORIOUS. Lada is fabulously brutal, always cutting forward, always devising the most ingenious solutions despite having ALL THE ODDS—seriously, every single one of them!!—stacked against her. The fact that I screamed my support for her 100% of the way through—yes Lada go impale them all!!—probably doesn’t reflect very well on my character. The logical part of me was like, “WHY ARE YOU CHEERING HER ON SHE JUST DID A MORALLY ATROCIOUS THING” but then my love for her eclipsed everything. (I am literally one of those intensely loyal Wallachian peasants.)
For the first time in a long time, she felt like a girl. It terrified her. Because there was nothing in the world more vulnerable to be than a girl.
Obviously Lada is not the most emotionally healthy person—talk about understatement of the year—and it truly speaks to Kiersten White’s powerful writing that we’re able to empathize with such a violent, messed-up character. Despite all of the blood and gore that Lada embodies, we also glimpse a softer, more vulnerable side of her hidden underneath all that armor—the part of her that doubts Wallachia, the part of her that sobs in her brother’s arms, the part of her that aches for a family—and I weep inside to think of the hard, lonely path she chose to take.
But the thing about Lada is that no matter how many times she’s beaten down, broken, and betrayed, she always comes back with a vengeance, and I found that truly, truly inspiring.
(And a little fear-inducing, to be honest. That girl seems invincible.)
She smiled, tapping her fingers on the throne in a beat like her heart.
“Mine,” she said.
Hers. And hers alone.
🥀 Radu 🥀
Radu, too, finally satiates his hunger for love and acceptance. He learns to move on—from his blood-soaked past, from toxic relationships, from pointless rivalries—as he accepts love and discovers the Happy Ending he’s been striving for his entire life. And no more angsting!
Only Radu had chosen people over power.
Radu’s slow journey to self-healing with his adopted family provides a welcome change of pace from all the stabbiness of Lada’s storyline, not to mention that Nazira and Fatima are the epitomes of peace and purity. I am so in love with how the author subverted all the tropes, ever.
More importantly, I love that the author emphasizes how strength doesn’t always equal ferocity. In stark contrast to Lada’s development, Radu proves that you don’t need to pick up a sword and impale thousands of Turks in order to be powerful. (Although I mean, that’s definitely an option.)
His character arc perfectly and gorgeously captures the age-old platitude: Sometimes, the best kind of strength derives from being brave enough to love, and be loved in return.
👑 Mehmed 👑
“Is it what you hoped? Constantinople?”
“It is more.” Mehmed paused, his expression turning wistful and forlorn. “And less, at the same time.”
Okay, another probably unpopular opinion coming your way, but I’ll say it: the first scene between Mehmed and Lada was one of my favorites in the entire book. I loved the visible tension between them, I loved their witty repartee, I loved how their interactions felt like one long game of chess. (And honestly, who knew that massaging feet could be filled with so much sexual tension?) Their incredibly complex relationship has always been a constant power struggle, except this time it’s played out on a larger, far deadlier scale: war.
We’ve seen a lot of people understandably complain about the obsession over Mehmed—seriously, what’s so special about him??—in And I Darken and Now I Rise, but this book absolutely shatters all of that doubt.
But Mehmed his friend had become Mehmed the sultan. It was like looking at a drawing of someone beloved. He both recognized Mehmed and felt that something was disturbingly altered and lost in the process of being captured on paper.
Part of the reason why I love this series is because it’s so incredibly unique, and Mehmed and Lada’s tentative romance-turned-open-hostility is no exception. This probably the first and best example of friends-turned-lovers-turned-enemies-turned-sort-of-lovers-to-enemies—I don’t even think it’s a thing—that I’ve seen inside a YA novel. And let me tell you, it was absolutely delicious to read about.
(Also, for all fellow Hamilton fans, the song You’ll Be Back basically sums up Mehmed in this book. But with less fun singing and more tears. And impalings.)
Yes, Mehmed is manipulative, ruthless, selfish, and generally just an absolute douchebag when it came to other people’s feelings, but I have to admit that (a) being sultan is not exactly an easy job and (b) he makes for an incredibly intriguing character with complex motivations. He’s not truly a main character that you can easily empathize with (I mean, 99% of this series’ readers hate his guts) , but also not an outright antagonist, at least in the traditional sense of the word.
After all, every single one of our main characters—Lada, Radu, and Mehmed—are morally ambiguous and have done some not-so-great things. (Some more so than others, obviously.)
But in the end? He got what he deserved.
💖 The Lovable Side Characters 💖
Oana patted the top of Lada’s head in a way that made Lada wonder if it would be inappropriate to punch her old nurse in the stomach. “Child, are you worried about my safety?”
“The entire city could burn down and you would be standing in the center, entirely unharmed, holding a comb and telling me it was time to deal with my hair.”
My heart is so soft for side characters. Honestly, I feel guilty calling these larger-than-life personalities side characters because they played such an enormous role in both Lada and Radu’s stories. Nicolae was as delightful as ever (I’m still sobbing), Bogdan was an adorable, overprotective marshmallow, Oana was my favorite deadly grandmother (totally envisioning her as Olenna from Game of Thrones). Also I constantly feel an urge to hug Radu’s new family because they are just that precious. Cyprian, Fatima, and Nazira all DESERVE THE WORLD AND MORE.
A heart did not have to be stone to be strong.
Before ending this review, I just want to give a huge shout-out to all the women portrayed in unconventional positions of power—Daciana, Mara, Urbana, and so on—who, like Lada, have had to carve their way uphill and work ten times harder than any man to earn respect and stability. (Historical women ftw!)
HOWEVER, I do have quite a bit very spoiler-y concerns regarding the ending and Lada’s character that I won’t bother voicing in this review, lest it turn into a ten-page essay. Hence, the four rather than five stars. Honestly, feel free to message me if you’re read it because BOY do I still have a lot of emotions to vomit out!
And everyone: I would recommend this series with ALL my tiny, shriveled heart. This has been such a tumultuous journey, and I don’t think I ever want to let go of these characters and this world.
If you want different takes on the conclusion, here’s some reviews that really stood out to me! [also this is because I’m probably way too obsessed with this series and religiously read every single review that surfaces on my feed]:
↪ Here’s a beautifully written review where Rylee @ Hermit Odysseus discusses Lada’s inevitable downfall and compares her to Gatsby, which is super cool!
↪ Here’s another fantastic #ownvoices review by Em @ Run Away With Dream Thieves that discusses the amazing diversity + Radu’s found family much more eloquently and articulately than me.
↪ Lastly, Destiny’s review @ Howling Libraries has an incredibly unique perspective; she points out what could have been improved (also her blog is just super aesthetic).
tl;dr WOW this was such a lighthearted, fluffy romantic read filled with unicorns and sparkles! The literary equivalent of Funfetti cake! Would totes recommend for a day bathing under the sunlight while petting your silky golden retriever puppy!!
Have you read The Conquerors Saga? What were your thoughts on the conclusion? How did you feel about Mehmed? Which character’s arc did you enjoy reading the most—Lada or Radu?
still not over the conclusion and probably will never be over it,