by Alexa Donne
Published on May 1, 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Seventeen-year-old Stella Ainsley wants just one thing: to go somewhere—anywhere—else. Her home is a floundering spaceship that offers few prospects, having been orbiting an ice-encased Earth for two hundred years. When a private ship hires her as a governess, Stella jumps at the chance. The captain of the Rochester, nineteen-year-old Hugo Fairfax, is notorious throughout the fleet for being a moody recluse and a drunk. But with Stella he’s kind.
But the Rochester harbors secrets: Stella is certain someone is trying to kill Hugo, and the more she discovers, the more questions she has about his role in a conspiracy threatening the fleet.
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It’s odd to read a re-telling for a story that you’ve never read. Brightly Burning, described as a sci-fi version of Jane Eyre, follows Stella Ainsley as she takes on the role of governess on the Rochester, a private ship with all sorts of mysteries aboard.
Based on my cursory look at the synopsis for Jane Eyre, I suppose the book hit the major points pretty well so there’s a plus if you’re a fan of the original story. But I’m not a loyal Bronte fan and I had some issues with this particular take on “the future.”
So we’re sitting at about 200 years post-some random ice age on Earth. Everyone’s in space and crowded on some ships which are slowly failing. Reminded me a lot of the set-up for Across the Universe by Beth Revis (a bit too much, to be honest). And there’s Stella who’s supposedly super smart and trades it all for a position on some one-off ship to basically be the babysitter. Which. . . not feeling it. And not really feeling Stella either. She was just so frustrating. Her decisions were all over the place and soon became less about all the issues on the Rochester and more focused on its captain who acted 30 years older than his 19-year-old self.
Yet I found myself reading on. Donne has one of those writing styles that isn’t super flowery or atmospheric or anything that could polarize a readership. It’s simple and easy to fall into which is one of the big reasons I finished this book (and quickly at that). And the story started fairly strong but soon turned downhill.
The rest of the cast was interesting enough and while I wasn’t attached to any one character, I didn’t really hate any either. Where I mostly struggled with was the story. At some point I wondered if this book had originally started as two merged into one. There’s enough story to make a second novel, or companion novella at the very least. The “plot twists,” especially near the end, were rushed and didn’t have the impact I’m assuming they should have because of it. Even the story and its high points of tension just didn’t fit.
This is a sci-fi novel. It’s quite literally set in space on a spaceship. But I didn’t feel the sci-fi vibe until the last portion of the book. Sure, Stella and the crew have their fancy space-age clothes and she talks about walking around the ship sometimes but I think you could have taken that part of the book and thrown it in any genre setting and it would have had the same effect. I guess my point is that if you’re going to do a sci-fi novel, I personally wanted more of the “sci-fi” part mixed in? But that’s more a preference than real critique.
Brightly Burning was a quick read with surface-level characters and a decent adherence to the original Jane Eyre story. I wish it had been broken into two novels because last bit was rushed and wrapped up far too nicely and quickly to be satisfying. But I think I’d read other books by this author in the future.