Simplicity, they say, is the ultimate sophistication.
If so, this is book is very sophisticated. Burning Brightly is a deep cut from the lengthy bibliography that is Lackey’s Valdemar series, a standalone with characters that have little link to any of the many trilogies that make up the whole. It is, as the sharp eyed of you will see from the cover, the tale of Lavan Firestorm and pretty much his tale alone. There is another PoV character, but they are mostly there as an observer.
Brightly Burning is also very much character led, and about a character’s inner turmoil. There are periods of conflict but while they shape Lavan, they don’t particularly shape the reading experience. The worldbuilding is light; maybe because we’re deep into the series and Lackey assumes we know everything, maybe because it doesn’t really matter. We know the specifics that affect Lavan and that’s it, and as in many ways Lavan’s story could be pretty much anywhere, there’s not many specifics.
I guess that means I should talk about Lavan, huh? What with this being his show and all.
Lavan’s a fairly ordinary boy, a bit more conscientious and likable than most. Bright enough, but no genius; brave enough, but no warrior made. What makes his story is his magical Gift – three guesses on what Lavan Firestorm’s Gift might be – and his bad circumstances. Struggling with emotions as part of growing up is normal; having to do so in the company of the abusive and maladroit is also sadly normal; but most of us get time to process them. But Lavan has to process quick, and what makes this book work is how Lackey takes us through that journey. It’s utterly believable, painful in parts, gently funny in others. It’s the sort of story that mainstream fantasy does more and more often these days, but it’s still very well done here.
When I started writing this review I thought I couldn’t do it without a lot of spoilers. At this point, I think I’ve managed to do so. This is a bittersweet book, more bitter than sweet, and I think that makes this a cut above most of the other Valdemar books. It packs a big emotional punch. I’d been thinking of re-reading this for a while and now that I have, I’m somewhat sad, but glad I have.