When I first read Brightly Burning by Mercedes Lackey, I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. Being used to her trilogies for years, it felt odd to contemplate reading a standalone. Even her book By the Sword was more of a continuation of previous books and a bridge between two trilogies than a true standalone.
Not so with Brightly Burning. Lackey tells the full story of Lavan Firestorm, a legendary figure mentioned in the first Heralds of Valdemar trilogy, in this single volume. We see no familiar characters in this, although of course the Heralds are prominent as Lavan is Chosen about a third of the way through the book. The feel of the world is familiar if you’ve read other Valdemar books, too. It took some getting used to, but Lavan’s poignant and tragic tale is worth the read.
Title: Brightly Burning
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Date Published: 2000
Genre: High Fantasy
Number of Times I’ve Read It: At least 5
Content Warning: Bullying, violence
Accessibility: Available in eBook, audiobook, and print
Brightly Burning (4/5 Stars)
His name is Lavan Firestorm, a young man blessed—and cursed—with a special talent for Firestarting. His legend has haunted the darkest corners of Valdemar, yet the truth has never been told. Here, at last, is his story.
In Brightly Burning, we get our first truly closeup look at a portion of Valdemar’s capital city, Haven. Although the characters have passed through it in various books, the palace itself is more likely to be the setting while Heralds are anywhere near Haven. Lavan’s story, however, starts when he is a teen living in the upper middle-class section of Haven.
A teen resentful of a recent move from a beloved country home to the much more restrictive confines of the city, Lavan manages to be disgruntled and unhappy without being annoying. He presents a sympathetic figure as he’s forced to go to a private school, an experimental institution that resembles schools written about in 19th century English novels. There, Lavan is bullied mercilessly by some students.
Unfortunately, at the same time, his Gift, the unusual one of Fire-starting, is beginning to show up. Due to the stress he’s under, there are control issues that result in some of his bullies getting hurt and an emergency Choosing that happens far sooner than his Companion had planned.
Throughout the book, we get a closer look at Herald training than we’ve had since the very first Valdemar book, Arrows of the Queen. Lavan finally makes friends, and an unusual bond is discovered that helps him control his Firestarting.
Unfortunately, his peace can’t last long because an enemy on Valdemar’s border is about to restart a centuries’ long war. Lavan’s power is desperately needed on the front lines, and the rest of his training is rushed in order to get him on the border.
The end of this book is heart-wrenching in the best possible ways a book with a sad ending can be. From Arrow’s Fall, the book which previously mentions Lavan, we know that his ending is tragic. The way that Lackey describes this and the mourning of his passing by friends left tears in my eyes, which isn’t easy to accomplish by any means.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes stories of unusual magical abilities and how they’re trained. It has a bit of a young adult/new adult feel, but the story’s progression definitely works for adults as well. I challenge anyone to read the end without shedding a tear.
I suggest reading in publication order the first time trying to get through all the Valdemar series simply due to the way that she developed some details and how they’re introduced or mentioned in each trilogy. However, that isn’t a requirement, and there are plenty of people who have started chronologically or who just pick up somewhere in the middle.
© Allyson Pauley 2021