Review of Brightly Burning, by Alexa Donne

Brightly Burning

by Alexa Donne

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 394 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Teen Speculative Fiction

This book is a science fiction retelling of Jane Eyre, and is tremendously good. It reminded me of For Darkness Shows the Stars, a science fiction retelling of Persuasion, which I also loved.

However, the last time I reread Jane Eyre I was disappointed that now I can see a whole lot of things wrong with the relationship, so reading this book, I was somewhat upset with myself for finding it very romantic.

Now, they did clean up some of the more unsavory details. The ward of Captain Fairfax, in this book, is not his illegitimate daughter from a youthful indiscretion, and he doesn’t actually have an insane wife shut up in the attic. Nor is he many years older than our heroine.

However, he is Stella’s employer. She’s in a subordinate relationship to him, and he orders her to spend some time with him each evening, enjoying his library of actual paper books. And, similar to Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre, he tries to make her jealous, and succeeds abominably. He brings a woman to their spaceship along with her family, and Stella learns that the families have long planned to one day combine resources with a marriage. To make matters worse, Captain Fairfax (of the ship Rochester) requires Stella to be present when the groups socialize in the evenings – just as Mr. Rochester did to Jane Eyre.

The end of the book does have things play out somewhat differently than what happens in Jane Eyre – though the gist is quite similar.

Once again, I don’t really see why I want our heroine to end up with this guy. And yet I do find the story romantic.

Maybe it rings too true when I remember the pain of unrequited love as a teenager having crushes? Only in our book, it turns out the love is not unrequited.

Or maybe it’s seeing someone who thinks herself small and insignificant being noticed for her shining character? In this book, Stella won’t let things progress between them until Captain Fairfax acknowledges her as an equal. (I’m glad that point was made, but it doesn’t quite make up for the disparity in power between them.) The truth is that in this book, Stella is the only one who seems willing to stand up for what’s right. So I’m not sure she should have fallen for him. But it is lovely that he found her, despite the fact that she wasn’t seeking his attention.

All that aside, as a science fiction retelling, this is cleverly executed with much obvious love for the original. The story is wonderful.

Parents, you might want to read both Jane Eyre and this book before you hand them to your teenage daughter – but I promise you’ll have a whole lot of fun if you do that. As well as having lots to discuss.

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