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Book Review: Brightly Burning By Alexa Donne
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Brightly Burning book cover banner

Brightly Burning
Hardcover | Kindle
By Alexa Donne
Publisher: HMH Books For Young Readers
Release date: May 1, 2018

In Brightly Burning, debut author Alexa Donne takes the classic Jane Eyre tale and sets it in space aboard a starship in a dystopian future during an Earth ice age.

Orphaned at 7, then discarded by her uncaring aunt, Stella Ainsley lives on the starship Stalwart, where she works in engineering as well as helps educate the children. The Stalwart community is an impoverished one, subjected to water and food rationing and frequent power outages. Since Stella has no real passion for engineering, she decides to apply for governess jobs on other starships in the hopes of making a better life for herself. After several letdowns, the nearly 18-year-old Stella is hired to be both a governess and auxiliary engineer on the Rochester, one of the richer, private ships in the fleet. While she enjoys the comforts provided in her new home, there’s something strange about the Rochester and its 19-year-old captain Hugo Fairfax, a man who exhibits inconsistent behavior and is hard for the young girl to figure out. She hears laughter in the corridor at night and has witnessed several events that appear to be sabotage, yet no one else on board will corroborate her findings. To make matters worse, Hugo holds a secret that could alter Stella’s once-hopeful future, as well as threaten the survival of the entire fleet.

Brightly Burning is a young adult novel, a genre which typically isn’t really my thing. But since Jane Eyre has always been a favorite of mine, and I love scifi, I was intrigued by this retelling of the classic tale set in space. Appealing more to the YA audience, it’s not heavy on the scifi slant or world-building; it’s more like it really just so happens to take place in the future on a starship. It’s not bogged down in the technicalities of how and why the Earth is in an ice age, how this fleet is able to survive, or the science of everyday life aboard a starship orbiting a frozen Earth. There’s no heavy engineering, technology, or science jargon to get through — the onboard computer is basically Alexa. This simplicity gives the reader more time to concentrate on the heart of the story, which is Stella’s hope of rising out of poverty, her conflicts with this society’s social structure, her coming-of-age without a family, her first adult romantic entanglement and all the complexities that go with it, and life’s continued twists and disappointments.

This new version does not follow Jane Eyre exactly, but rather is inspired by it. Unlike its predecessor, Brightly Burning skips over the main character’s early years and begins her journey as she leaves her home to begin a better life and new occupation. But like Jane, Stella too is an orphan whose aunt despises her and casts her out, leaving her to suffer the indignities of society’s class system, but she never whines or complains about it. Also like Jane, Stella finds herself in an awkward and complicated relationship with her mysterious employer and is witness to repeated bizarre incidences in her new residence, all of which are either ignored or hastily explained away by the other inhabitants. The original novel was a gothic romance, with its elements of mystery and tragedy intertwined with the love story and highly intense emotional moments. This futuristic version is similar in that it also isn’t a traditional romance, yet it’s not a modern-day angsty teen jaunt either. Instead, the book centers on the heroine’s circumstances, struggles, and personal growth, with romantic love almost a secondary aspect, and that has all to do with the strength of the main character.

Because I’m well-versed in the source material, I was consistently delighted whenever another Jane Eyre reference or scenario popped up, and I felt that the author successfully translated this 19th century Victorian classic into the future. But even if you’re not familiar with the original book, you won’t be lost at all following Stella on her obit around Earth’s moon and back, and you’ll have a new heroine to root for, too.

A note on the cover: From afar, the cover seems to have an indistinct circular purple blob, but up close the design is really beautiful as the individual elements come into focus and the color really pops. The black star-specked space background depicts the setting, with the purple swirl housing a silhouette of Stella, complete with Jane bun, in an embrace with Hugo. The back cover has a small portion of the iced Earth, with the moon above it.

FYI – right now, the Kindle edition of Brightly Burning is on sale for only $1.99.

Stella Ainsley leaves poverty behind when she quits her engineering job aboard the Stalwart to become a governess on a private ship. On the Rochester, there’s no water ration, more books than one person could devour in a lifetime, and an AI who seems more friend than robot.

But no one warned Stella that the ship seems to be haunted, nor that it may be involved in a conspiracy that could topple the entire interstellar fleet. Surrounded by mysteries, Stella finds her equal in the brooding but kind, nineteen-year-old Captain Hugo. When several attempts on his life spark more questions than answers, and the beautiful Bianca Ingram appears at Hugo’s request, his unpredictable behavior causes Stella’s suspicions to mount. Without knowing who to trust, Stella must decide whether to follow her head or her heart.

Alexa Donne’s lush and enthralling reimagining of the classic Jane Eyre, set among the stars, will seduce and beguile you.

Brightly Burning book cover

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