Review: Bright We Burn (Conqueror’s Saga #3) by Keirsten White

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Bright We Burn by Keirsten White is the finale of the Conqueror’s Saga and it was was brutal and bloody and so perfectly and epically satisfying. I completely fell in love with this series when we’re introduced to the vicious Lada and soft Radu in the first book, And I Darken. And then we watch them grow into schemers and warriors in Now I Rise. There’s a lot of weight on a finale to both honour the first books and also raise the stakes and develop the characters magnificently and I’m so glad it was handled with such care and cleverness! Definitely a finale not to be missed!

As always the story is told by both siblings, Lada and Radu. They’re still worlds away from each other, with Radu being back at Mehmed’s side (although his childhood unrequited crush has withered now that he’s seen the bitter darkness of Mehmed) and he’s terrified that his fake wife and the boy he secretly is in love with are gone forever. And Lada is back in Wallachia, finally living her dream of ruling her people. Her rule is iron-fisted and terrifying, but she stops at nothing to keep her people safe. But ruling? That’s not going so well for her. It’s possible she’s picking bigger fights than she needs to, scorning help, and pushing herself slowly into a bloody pool of darkness that not even her closest friends can help her with. But Mehmed still loves her…so would he go to battle with her now?

It’s a story of rulers, really, and of what the people in power will do and sacrifice to get where they want to go. It’s such a bloody and vicious look at war, what it does and what it costs and I love that it didn’t shy away from how dark it is. There’s no sugar-coating here, so it felt realistic and terrifying the whole way through. Lada is using her famous impaling and Mehmed would sacrifice thousands of men without a blink. Radu is the only one who seems to realise that this war has to stop before they all destroy themselves.

The battles are grim, the aftermaths are horrifying. It’s very well written and portrayed and it makes you, as the reader, feel both horror and admiration for all the main characters.

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The pacing and plot were were definitely superb. I liked that it was a bit shorter than the first books, because it keep the speed so tight and that’s needed for such a high-action ending! There are wars and betrayals, kidnapping plots and horror, and there are the softest quietest moments that just make my heart so so full. And it balances it with some really quiet and soft chapters, which honestly were some of my favourites.

The characters continue to develop and flourish in this book. Radu definitely has the most incredible and well written arc. He’s gone from whimpering little boy, to strong and capable and loving 18-year-old man and he’s also stopped spending all his time crying over Mehmed. It was such a relief to see him move on and realise he should fall for someone who loves him and not just uses him and his feelings, like Mehmed constantly did. Lada is also just as terrifying and ruthless as ever. But you also get to see her softer side, how often she’s unsure of what she’s doing. She makes some horrible mistakes and people suffer for it, but she also doesn’t let her people be beaten down by the enemy. Lada also bites people still, so like…she’s matured a lot since she was 3 but some things remain the same. I also just love how the author writes Lada being a harsh women, and that’s fine. And Radu being a soft boy, and that’s acceptable. It’s such a love letter at times to the fact that not everyone fits in a gender-stereotyped box.

It balanced the action vs the sweet moments vs the heart shredding moments so well! It’s a different writing style to a typical YA novel, but I just found that refreshing. The story is also set over quite a long period of time, but it keeps the pacing taunt.

And as a series finale?! YES it was both satisfying, gut-punching, twisty and intense. Everything I could possibly have hoped for!

Bright We Burn is a bloody, brutal, and clever end to this epic trilogy! It’s different and it’s full of heart and soul…and also wars and history!

Review: Running With Lions by Julian Winters

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Running With Lions by Julian Winters is a super cute romance that celebrates diversity and gay identities. It’s also super sporty which isn’t something I come across a lot in YA, so it was cool reading about a team learning how to be close and work together like a family, but also still working out how they fit together and relate. The team is about acceptance: no matter how you are or who you love. And it was so nice to read about! There’s tension and there’s mistakes and there’s devastation…but it’s ultimately an actual happy book with plenty of cute moments and some great messages.

The story follows Sebastian Hughes as he sets off for soccer camp and discovers he’s been lumped with his once-childhood-best-friend, Emir Shah. Trouble is, they’re not friends anymore. Emir is cold and indifferent and Sebastian doesn’t really know what went wrong between them. All he knows is that this is his last year of highschool to try and make the Lions team great, possibly land the captain position, and also figure out what comes next for him after he graduations. Pressure is building as everyone expects him to be the “good kid”, the one who keeps them all together and in line. No one even knows Sebastian is bi and he has trouble saying out loud to himself. Sebastian is left to try and fit Emir into the team, make him a better soccer player, and also try to patch things between them…except maybe he doesn’t just want to be friends with Emir this time. Maybe Sebastian wants a lot more.

One of the biggest themes in this book is: acceptance and respect. I love how it talks about both, not just wanting people to approve of your relationship with whoever you love, but also respecting you no matter what. It’s pretty cool that the coach of the Lions built the team to be, almost, a refuge for kids who struggled to fit in other places because of their identities. The team also features teens of different nationalities and religions. Emir, the love interest, is English-Pakistani and religious. (He also seems to have a bit of social anxiety.) Everyone comes from different backgrounds, with different hurdles to face, and they definitely don’t always get along — but they try.

There’s plenty of soccer scenes in the book, but it’s balanced with lots of dialogue and the good ol’ setting of a bunch of teens at summer camp. So wow yes do they get up to some mischief. If you’re not particularly sporty, you’d still enjoy this for the characters!

Sebastian was a bit of a “good guy” but he definitely isn’t bland! He’s struggling so much with wondering what the future holds and also internalised fear that coming out will change what people think of him. His relationship with Emir moves pretty quickly, but since they were childhood friends, you definitely feel the connection fast. I also loved that it explored Emir’s backstory too. How he’s working hard at soccer to please his dad but he isn’t sure this is him. The book has a lot to say on following your heart.

Running With Lions is a really fun, summery read with a powerful message and plenty of banter!

YA Urban Fantasy: The Sentinels of Eden with Carolyn Denman

Carolyn Denman was a horse-loving child who grew up in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, inventing all sorts of fantasy worlds in her mind. She completed a Bachelor of Science and worked in finance before realising her love of writing, which very soon became an addiction. 

Carolyn’s debut The Sentinels of Eden speculative fiction series grounds a refreshing blend of Australian and Aboriginal heart with biblical roots in a thrilling and transcendent fantasy allegory, with elements of real life compromise and sacrifice. In Book One: Songlines, the journey to Eden is marked with the discovery of secrets and supernatural powers that begin a changing fate for a cast of complex characters; navigating the prosperity and protection of two sacred, opposing worlds. Denman explores the symbolism of Eden and the realities of adolescence, identity and lust through her fictional fantasy in a sensitive, tasteful way. These engaging page-turners and nail-biter endings will leave their young adult readers wanting more.

Carolyn has generously answered some questions about the series for Boomerang Books readers. 😊

How did you come to be a writer?

Where most writers say that they’ve been writing since the day they could hold a pen, that’s not my story. I wrote one awesome short story in Year 7 that my teacher hated and that was the end of that, at least until that day a few years ago when I told my daughter I’d help her write a story. She got bored after the first couple of chapters. I got addicted. Seriously, I started pulling books from my shelf to remind me when you were supposed to do things like start the next line when writing dialogue. I’ve always been an avid reader, but never taken much notice of technique. Thank God I have some really gentle beta-readers. Some of them are even teachers, which is handy, and they’re nice teachers.

What is the significance of your series’ title; The Sentinels of Eden?

As you’ll see from the third book, the series isn’t just about Lainie. It’s about the long history of the Cherubim who have made sacrifices for Eden. This series is about the ones who stand guard over the land. Who hold it sacred and are born to serve it. Yeah, there’s a metaphor there, but I have no right to tell those stories. I can only try to honour them with my little allegory. That’s what makes the series title significant.

The star of Songlines (Book 1) and Sanguine (Book 2) is young teenager, Lainie. What can you tell us about her? How have you developed her intriguing personality and her special secrets?

Lainie has become a great friend, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing the world through her eyes. She’s really made me explore what it would be like to live in a world with no tears. Sure, paradise sounds great, but what would it really mean for someone who has grown up in our world? Throughout the course of the series, Lainie has grown up and yet in some ways has also become more child-like. The duality of her journey has been a wild ride, and one that everyone should think through. Growing up shouldn’t mean becoming boring. There should always be room for whimsy, and I wish I could be more like her.

All of the Sentinels books in the series deal with navigating adolescence and identity, loss, truth and protecting the environment. What other themes / issues underpin these books?

I feel that there is an underlying exploration of the nature of free will in each story. Some people don’t believe in the concept at all, which is fine, but whether we are the sum of our free choices or the inevitable product of our previous choices, we must still grapple with decisions. Especially when we’re faced with completely unexpected situations. If you want to delve even deeper, I could discuss the concept of shame. That ‘unsolvable problem’ that goes beyond guilt and underpins so many mental health issues (although I’m certainly not implying there’s a simplistic cause for any of those). There is no room for shame in Eden. In fact, it’s the one corruption that the Tree of Life can’t simply heal, which is why ‘tainted’ humans aren’t allowed in. Shame is a complex issue, and I’ve only brushed across the surface of it as a theme, really.

How do each of the covers reveal a snippet of the magic inside the books?

Each of the covers has an image which symbolises an important concept in that story. The Tree of Life, the eagle, the shell – all these hold meaning to the main characters and represent their journeys. The illustrator also gave the covers an opalescent feel. Opals are the perfect mix of earth and hidden fantasy, don’t you think?

You’ve written a short prequel to Songlines, called Barramundi Triangle (read more here). Can you tell us a bit about that?

Barramundi emerged from a throw-away line near the start of Songlines. Lainie mentioned that she’d always been a little bit afraid of the police sergeant, ever since ‘that incident with Noah and the ride-on mower’. I couldn’t help it. I had to find out what insane situation Noah had got them both into that involved a mower and the police.
Also, as a debut author I felt it wasn’t fair to expect people to take a risk on buying my book if they hadn’t read anything I’d written, so I wrote something for them to nibble on first.

Thanks, Carolyn!

To see more from Carolyn Denman and to celebrate her third and most recent book in The Sentinels of Eden series, Sympath, you can join her blog tour here.

Odyssey Books, 2016 – 2018.

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