Sometimes I see a book with a premise that seems too good to be true, and then it turns out that it is. Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne promised to be Jane Eyre – in space! And it was, but unfortunately it wasn’t as satisfying as I hoped it would be. I ended up having two seemingly contradictory yet both true problems – the book was too much like Jane Eyre, and then it was too different!
The story follows Stella Ainsley, trying to get off her decaying home spaceship by applying for jobs as a governess. She ends up being offered a position on the Rochester, where she meets the brooding captain, Fairfax, and sparks fly. But does he have a secret? (yes, of course he does!)
So the worldbuilding concept was intriguing – set a few hundred years in the future, Earth has been made uninhabitable by…no, not global warming, the opposite! A super volcano has caused a new ice age, and humanity’s survivors have taken…not quite to the stars, but rather into orbit. People escaped onto enormous space ships that have been orbiting the planet as a fleet ever since. That’s an intriguing concept. There’s still major class divisions between wealthy ships and poor ones, and Stella comes from one of the poorest. The Rochester, on the other hand, is a tiny but very wealthy ship, so landing there seems like a dream. Well, at first.
I was excited to read Jane Eyre in space, but for the first perhaps 75%, it was way too close to the original. That might sound strange, considering the setting – but it was beat for beat Jane Eyre, down to some of the conversations following the exact same path. Like, I could be reading along and say, oh, we’re at this point – he’s about to ask her to promise to say nothing about what just happened and – yeah, he just asked that.
This book was also hampered by Fairfax being way too close to Mr. Rochester. So, I like Mr. Rochester in the original – but I still acknowledge that he’s really a jerk at times (and I spent a lot of one miniseries version yelling “Use your words!” at the screen, so…) I don’t even mean that he’s a jerk about the secret wife (although, yes, that’s problematic!) He’s often rude and apparently unfeeling and really, really bad at communicating – but you can let some of it slide by in the original because he has the defense of his time period and society. Some things were just normal social conventions. Fairfax, on the other hand, lives in the future, and even if, in theory, some of the social rules of the past have come back into play…it’s just harder to give him a pass for some of his behavior. He does or says the same things, but it reflects even worse on him.
So after reading 75% of the book and feeling like it was lifted too much from the original – then we suddenly went off into a completely new direction. And it’s a little strange to complain about lack of originality and too much originality, but…somehow they’re both an issue here. Nothing prepared me for suddenly going off to left field, so the first portion was too much Jane Eyre and the final portion wasn’t really Jane Eyre at all.
So unfortunately, I have to conclude that if you want to read Jane Eyre…you should really just read Jane Eyre (which I love, by the way!) And if you want to read about a society living in permanent orbit, the recently reviewed A Close and Common Orbit was much more thoughtfully done. And if you want a fun sci fi romance…well, I did love the Lunar Chronicles a few years ago!
One thought on “Book Review: Brightly Burning”
I like your point about how Fairfax/Rochester should have evolved in terms of communication and behavior from the original novel to the space age. That seems like a major flaw in this retelling. But it also seems like the author wasn’t very original through most of this book, so she chose to take the easy way instead of being more creative.