Cover Story: Spacy
I don’t really get what’s happening on this cover. It’s like an early episode of Star Trek where they lacked the ability to create computer graphics and just blew some bubbles in front of a space-like background and called it aliens.
Stella Ainsley wants to be anywhere other than where she is—stuck on the crumbling spaceship Stalwart as a part-time engineer and part-time teacher. So when one of her many applications to teach on a private ship actually comes back accepted, she can’t get there fast enough.
At first, life above the Rochester is charmed. No water rationing, real food, and a hot young captain who seems to be interested in Stella for more than just her engineering and teaching abilities. But accidents keep happening on board, and the creepy laugh Stella hears after lights-out is most definitely not a cat.
BFF Charm: Yay
Stella’s smart, mechanically gifted, and loves books as much, if not more than, we all love books. She’s willing to take risks, and own up to her mistakes. She’s also not willing to ignore when her intuition is telling her something’s wrong, and will actually ask about it rather than writing it off as “silly.” Definitely a YA heroine I’d want in my squad.
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Thankfully, Donne’s “Rochester”—in this case, Hugo Fairfax—is way less shady than the character in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, of which Brightly Burning is a retelling. But there’s still something manic about his personality, and I had a few moments where I wanted to Oda Mae Brown Stella. But Hugo’s also quite appealing, so I can’t totally fault Stella for being attracted to him from the very start.
Talky Talk: Retelling
As I mentioned above—and those of you with classic lit backgrounds might have surmised from the whole “teacher on the Rochester” thing—Brightly Burning is a retelling of Jane Eyre. I’ve never been able to get through Jane Eyre, but I know the plot well enough to see the connections. Thankfully, I didn’t have such a problem with Brightly Burning; the story is fast-paced and exciting, and is written for a modern audience. Donne’s choice to set the story in space works surprisingly well, too. I would have liked a little more background world building as to why humanity had to leave Earth, although I inferred enough from the story that it didn’t detract from my enjoyment on the whole.
Side note: There’s a mention of a spaceship called the Wuthering Heights in the book, and as someone who constantly gets Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights mixed up, I was super confused at how meta the book got for a moment.
Bonus Factor: Shades of The 100
Forever more I will be reminded of The 100 when I read about a society that left Earth because of environmental issues and has spent generations since living in spaceships orbiting the planet. There are no warrior tribes involved in Brightly Burning, sad to say, but Octavia Blake is one of a kind.
Bonus Factor: Book Love
Stella loves reading, but books aren’t easily accessible aboard the Stalwart. When she gets to the Rochester, she finds that Hugo has a huge library. And when he realizes how much reading means to her, he grants her permanent, 24-7 access.
Tightness seized my insides, shock and awe and gratitude bubbling up, making me warm all over. “This is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me,” I croaked out, surprised to find myself on the verge of tears. It would be too mortifying to cry in front of Huge; I faked a cough so I could wipe my eyes, compose myself.
“It’s not a big deal.” Hugo shrugged, like he’d just given me a handkerchief.
“But it is,” I insisted. “You’ve given me access to something precious. Something few other humans will ever get to touch in their lifetime.”
I can totally relate, girl.
Relationship Status: There’s Something There
I appreciate how you modernized the Jane Eyre story, Book, for someone like me who struggles with the classics. And I loved how you kept me guessing, even though I thought I knew what was happening/going to happen. I think you’re well deserving of a second date. (Or more?)
If you love retellings of classics—albeit from a slightly earlier time period—as much as I do, you might also enjoy McKelle George’s Speak Easy, Speak Love, a retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. (Be sure to check out the rest of our retellings tag, too!)
If you like your retellings to be set in space, might I recommend Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, starting with Cinder?
And if you prefer suspenseful stories set in space that are not at all retellings, check out Pitch Dark by Courtney Alameda.
FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from HMH Books for Young Readers, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Brightly Burning is available now.