By: Melissa McShane
Published: August 15, 2016 by Curiosity Quills Press
Format: eARC courtesy of NetGalley
Genres: Fantasy, Adult
In 1812, Elinor Pembroke wakes to find her bedchamber in flames—and extinguishes them with a thought. At 21, she is old to manifest magical talent, but the evidence is unmistakable: she not only has the ability to start fires, but the far more powerful ability to control and extinguish them. She is an Extraordinary, and the only one in England capable of wielding fire in over one hundred years.
As an Extraordinary, she is respected and feared, but to her father, she represents power and prestige for himself. Mr. Pembroke, having spent his life studying magic, is determined to control Elinor and her talent by forcing her to marry where he chooses, a marriage that will produce even more powerful offspring. Trapped between the choices of a loveless marriage or living penniless and dependent on her parents, Elinor takes a third path: she defies tradition and society to join the Royal Navy.
Assigned to serve under Captain Miles Ramsay aboard the frigate Athena, she turns her fiery talent on England’s enemies, French privateers and vicious pirates preying on English ships in the Caribbean. At first feared by her shipmates, a growing number of victories make her truly part of Athena’s crew and bring her joy in her fire. But as her power grows and changes in unexpected ways, Elinor’s ability to control it is challenged. She may have the power to destroy her enemies utterly—but could it be at the cost of her own life?
I’m a bit of a serial reader; after finishing a book, I almost always start my next book immediately. So, the mark of a really great book is one that makes me hesitate to begin a new book. Burning Bright was one of these books – it made me so incredibly happy, that I had to stop and just bask in the afterglow.
There are so many different aspects of this book that make it exceptional.
Firstly, there’s the talent-based magic system. In Burning Bright, certain people manifest “talents” between the ages of eleven and twelve, which grant them superhuman abilities. For example, Movers can carry incredibly large loads and Scorchers are able to start fires with just a thought. While superpowers aren’t a new concept, what I found really interesting was the fact that the magic system was two-tiered. So, not only are there Movers and Scorchers, but there are also Extraordinary Movers and Scorchers who possess additional abilities. Extraordinary Movers can not only carry heavy loads, but they’re also capable of flying. Extraordinary Scorchers can control and extinguish fires in addition to starting them. The two-tiered talent system was also reflective of the preoccupation with social status and rank in the Regency period. However, I do think readers would benefit from some sort of table or chart listing the different talents and their capabilities.
The characters in Burning Bright were also fantastic. The amount of time and thought that the author put into developing all of her characters was highly evident; even the secondary characters possessed unique features. For instance, there was the Jane Austen-loving midshipman Mr. Hervey and Peregrine, the nature-obsessed Healer. I could go on and on about my love for so many of the characters, but I’m going to focus on the main character Elinor.
At twenty-one, Elinor Pembroke thought she was doomed to a life of being ordinary until she unexpectedly manifested an Extraordinary Scorcher ability – the first British person to do so in over one hundred years. With her sudden increase in status, Elinor becomes a pawn in her father’s efforts to increase his own wealth by orchestrating an advantageous match for her. When Elinor is forced to choose between two choices offered to her by her father, either marrying someone she can’t stand or living an unhappy life as a spinster, Elinor devises a third option for herself – joining the Royal Navy in order to fully utilize her talent. I really admired Elinor’s determination to make a life for herself on her own terms. In a time period where unmarried women were so sheltered and women were not considered to be much more than the property of the men in their lives, Elinor’s tenacity is, dare I say it, extraordinary! Aboard the ship Athena, Elinor is under the command of Captain Miles Ramsay, a seemingly stoic Extraordinary Mover, and treated as an equal. I adored the dynamic between Captain Ramsay and Elinor, and the development of their relationship was so much fun to watch.
The plot of Burning Bright was absolutely riveting. From the beginning set in gentille, Regency London and then across the Atlantic to the pirate-infested Caribbean islands, I was hooked.
With its magic, lovable characters, and exciting plot, Burning Bright was an incredibly entertaining book. I highly recommend it to all lovers of fantasy and historical fiction.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.