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I just finished reading Brightly Burning for the second time, and wanted to write about it.

I feel like this book is, in some ways, a reaction to her earlier work, Magic's Price. The central question, from my perspective, is, "What kind of person gives their life for their country?" Accordingly, both books end with the deaths of the main characters. (I'm not giving much away, here. And if you haven't read the Last Herald-Mage trilogy, either you don't read fantasy or you've been living under a bush for the last twenty years, and I have no sympathy.) However, the way that these deaths are treated is incredibly different.

Considering that it ends in death, Magic's Price has a pretty darned cheerful ending.
The talking horse: "I love you and I knew that we would die like this."
The mage: "Okay, let's do it!... Okay, we saved the whole country, possibly even the world, by dying, and now we're happy ghosts haunting a forest. Oh, and my one true love can haunt the forest with us after making his own sacrifice."
The talking horse: "Yay!"
The mage: "Yay!"
The true love: "Um, yay? I mean, YAY! 'Cause I'd do anything to work off this karmic debt and be with you again. Or something."

Brightly Burning, though, is a whole 'nother story.
Rather than being resigned to his fate, the main character, Lavan, is falling further and further into isolation, obsession with his own personal talking horse, and a combination of guilt and wrath. He uses this to further his powers. When, at the last, his talking horse is shot, he loses it and blows everything up. Here, giving your life in war, to destroy the opposing army, is presented almost as an act of insanity. And yet, in the middle of the book, they go on and on about how he's been Chosen and there are no errors in Choosing, he's not unbalanced, etc, etc. In other words, it was Fate! It was Meant To Be!

It seems like what's being suggested is that you have to be mentally ill to make a decision like that, but that also Fate needs people who have that level of malady in order to protect kingdoms.

It kind of reminds me of the way that Ender's Game is a reaction to Starship Troopers, saying that the way we indoctrinate people for the military is damaging, not heroic. Similarly, it's like Lackey's looking back on this topic with a new perspective, saying, "I thought this could be a good thing. It can't be a good thing, it can only be necessary, and even so, it leaves destruction in its wake." Not just the destruction of the enemy, but destruction of the self, destruction of hearts. No reference to fuzziness is made, just to the pain of dying and losing everything that's important to you.

I think it's interesting to see how Lackey has grown as a writer in the ten-plus years in between these books. I also think that it's awesome that she is writing well again, after the nadir of the Magewinds books.
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August 2011

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