Saturday, April 21, 2018

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

Stella Ainsley works partly as a teacher, partly as an engineer keeping the rustbucket ship called the Stalwart she lives in functional despite its lack of pretty much everything. She's an orphan whose aunt abandoned her and her only way to some of the other richer, more fuctional ships is as a governess. Unexpected, a private ship called the Rochester hires her and she experiences riches she's never seen: a hige variety of food, no limits on water usage, a closet full of decent clothing, and even actual physical books. Stella can't believe her luck, but a couple things worry her. First, the captain Hugo Fairfax exhibits erratic behavior, nice to her one second in private and then rude in public plus his penchant for drink. Second, she hears laughter in the hallways and mysterious things happen like random fires being set. Is it safe for her to be on the vessel or should she return to Stalwart?

Brightly Burning is an inventive retelling of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre set in space. 210 years ago, a super volcano erupted on Earth, causing an ice age that could last for centuries more. All nations sent up ships, but poorer, less resource rich ships are being phased out or just can't run anymore. Infodumping is necessary to set up the world, but this was done within a lesson to Stella's students. It felt much more organic and skillful to do this. Because of how life is pretty hard in space, people die much younger. 35 is considered to be old, especially on the Stalwart without many medical supplies, food, and water. The difference between rich and poor is astonomical without any hope for the poor to better their situation. Stella's situation is pretty dire, but she does her best to keep the Stalwart afloat, help her young charges, and juggle a couple of crushes.

The Rochester couldn't be more different than the Stalwart from the decadent amount of resources available, to the amount of people, and the very different nature of those people. On the Stalwart, people are rather open and honest while the Rochester crew of 8 seems pretty secretive but polite. When they are alone and going through normal operations, many social protocols are relaxed like having the working crew eat with Hugo and Hugo speaking informally to everyone. I thought this social aspect was a little out of place in the futuristic setting. Hugo is much different than Rochester, which is good since he's hard to like in a modern sense. This incarnation still lords his wealth, power, and privilege over Stella when he wants to plus his overexcessive drinking makes him intolerable.

Brightly Burning is an enjoyable read that transports the Jane Eyre story to the future. I was enjoying it and totally onboard until the last quarter of the novel. An additional unexpected secret is hamhandedly revealed and resolved in an unrealistic, convenient way. The ending felt rushed and not as immersive or detailed as the rest of the story. I would read another Alexa Donne book since the book did suck me in for most of it, but the ending is a bit of a disappointment.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

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