Brightly Burning, by Alexa Donne
Publish Date: May 1, 2018
Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Sci-Fi/Retelling
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
**I received an egalley of this from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.**
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.
I’ll be honest, I was not entirely sure I was going to be interested enough in this to actually request it, but something about the idea of Jane Eyre in space had me intrigued and kept me thinking about it. Going into the retelling, I had only a vague remembrance of what happened in the original novel (having read it about 12 years ago…wow has it really been that long?) so I didn’t sit there and worry about comparing things to the original, which was sort of nice. From the start this book definitely pulled me in quickly and had me unable to put it down the whole time I was reading it.
I really enjoyed Stella as a character, despite some of her flaws. She is very friendly and caring, determined and bold, but does fail to question things that are happening around her sometimes. While her focus is mainly on the mystery of the Rochester and the man she is falling in love with, there are small things that pop up that also felt significant – such as the fact that ships in the fleet are eating vegetables that are no longer cultivated on the Stalwart, the farming ship from which Stella came. Eventually she does take notice of this, but only after everything else has come to a head. Still, she was overall an enjoyable character to read, one who did not want much out of life but got it all the same.
Then there is Hugo, the love interest. He’s definitely an interesting character, and I liked him and his blossoming relationship with Stella in the beginning. Despite their interactions lasting all of three months, the romance felt like it bloomed naturally between them. However, Hugo is also a major drama queen, and definitely created more issues than were necessary at times by being one. While I liked him a lot in the beginning, by the end I was only so-so about him because he allowed certain things to happen that could have easily been prevented, or took the blame when he should not have.
As for the writing, it was very easy to fall into and enjoy. The pacing was wonderful for the first three quarters of the book, however, the ending jumped forward by such large chunks it felt a little jarring and incohesive with the rest of the story. After so much time spent with the little moments – Stella and Hugo reading together, the parties and poker games with the Ingrams – to just cut out chunks of time like that felt a little disappointing to me. I know that most of what happened during those missing scenes probably did not do much to help further the relationship between Stella and Hugo, which is the main focus of this story, but I still felt like I had missed something somehow.
The story being set in space was definitely interesting and made for a great retelling, but there were still some flaws to this. A lot of the scenes on the Rochester, for example, were so internalized and focused that sometimes I forgot that these people were on a ship in space, and not just sitting in a study reading books together. There was also the issue of the fact that, while the time period is supposed to be somewhere in the future, the mentality and social classicism still felt very much like the nineteenth century, with women being seen as less capable of certain tasks, and in the case of Bianca Ingram, just a thing to marry off to gain something in return. It made for a contrasting scene, since it was supposed to take place in the future, but still felt like it was somehow taking place in the past.
Still, I enjoyed reading it, and it definitely sucked me in easily. I thought Stella was a great character to read, definitely a change from other YA heroines, but not in a bad way. There were a few flaws with the writing and the setting of the time period, but overall it was just a nice and enjoyable read, and was a good retelling of such a classic into young adult literature.