Book Review: Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

I have been burned too many times by classic retellings, and yet I still decided to pick this book up and read it, for two reasons. First, I am a massive fan of Jane Eyre. Jane is one of my favorite protagonists in literature, mostly because she is such a strong character despite her horrible upbringing (or possibly because of it) and she still gets her happy ending.

Second, I discovered Alexa Donne’s YouTube channel and I love her videos. So I figured if I liked the way she made videos, I might like the way she wrote as well. Plus, it is also her debut novel, and I love reading the first novel a writer ever releases. But, when I came out of this book, I had extremely mixed feelings.

Release: May, 2018

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) “Seventeen-year-old Stella Ainsley wants just one thing: to go somewhere—anywhere—else. Her home is a floundering spaceship that offers few prospects, having been orbiting an ice-encased Earth for two hundred years. When a private ship hires her as a governess, Stella jumps at the chance. The captain of the Rochester, nineteen-year-old Hugo Fairfax, is notorious throughout the fleet for being a moody recluse and a drunk. But with Stella he’s kind. But the Rochester harbors secrets: Stella is certain someone is trying to kill Hugo, and the more she discovers, the more questions she has about his role in a conspiracy threatening the fleet.”

Non-spoiler review

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I found the concept of setting Jane Eyre in space in the future to be fascinating. It’s one thing to set the novel in modern times, but in a post-apocalyptic space world, it could have been so interesting. And I liked Stella, for the most part, and even Hugo was slightly more nice than his classic counterpart. But there were so many contradictions in this story (from character’s behaviors to world building) and it felt disjointed. It’s definitely a romance set in space, as the space part is mostly second to the romance, except for the ending. Speaking of the ending, it was super rushed and really took away the enjoyment I had for the earlier scenes.

I have so much to talk about in this review, so I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible (for me, at least). And I will probably be comparing this book a lot to the original classic, but again, I’ll try not to too much.

The beginning took me a while to get into. Instead of showing us Stella growing up with her Aunt Reid, we started right before she goes to the Rochester. Because of that, I felt we couldn’t really grasp what Stella went through in her early life. One of the best themes in the original is that Rochester treats Jane as an equal while no one else does. However, in Stella’s life, we immediately meet Jon, George, and many others who treat Stella very well. This makes her supposed “struggles” seem more shallow(like having to ration water and her Aunt Reid being a jerk) and Hugo treating her like an equal later less poignant.

Speaking of Hugo, I didn’t hate him, but he vexed me greatly. On one hand, he’s only nineteen and half the time he acts like he’s forty and the rest of the time he’s actually nineteen. It’s explained in the book that he is mature past his years…but no one is that mature at nineteen. He’s also a drunk, which I think is undervalued in this book.

The romance feels…stunted. On one hand, Hugo and Stella will have completely ordinary conversations, getting to know each other and then Stella will revert into YA tropes (like commenting on how hot Hugo is…I mean, really?). But, for the most part, I liked the romance.

I really liked the space setting and many of the details included, though it did feel background to the romance itself. Like Rori, the intelligent computer onboard the Rochester (she was also my favorite character, which worries me a bit that a computer in my favorite character in a book) and the use of the word “frex” as a swear word. 

I also enjoyed the Rochester crew, especially Jessa and Xiao. Though I felt a lot of the characters weren’t really developed beyond any shallow traits. But again, I think this is because the focus was the romance.

Another small complaint was I still have no idea what the title means. Brightly Burning? What is? Hugo and Stella’s love? The literal fires set throughout the book? What is the point of the title? I really want to know.

Despite my moderate complaints, I did enjoy most of this book…until the ending, when everything just fell apart.

Spoilers Ahead!

Alright, so since Hugo is only nineteen, he doesn’t have a wife that he’s hiding (like in the original). Instead, five years ago his mother took some medication that made her lose her mind and kill her husband (Hugo’s father). Since then, he moved his ship to orbit the moon in order to protect her and hide her. It is she who sets fire to his room and cuts Stella’s hair.

The main reason Jane leaves in the original is because the woman is Rochester’s wife, meaning she can’t marry him. Since that is not Stella’s problem, she has no reason to leave, right? Well, nope, because the government found out about Hugo’s mother and  also that his medical scientist created a dangerous virus which the government wants to use to kill off the poor people, including those on the ship Stella came from. To protect his mother, Hugo says he gave them the virus (though later he says he didn’t and Hanada, the doctor, was also blackmailed to give it to them). Stella is furious, knowing it will kill a lot of people, so she leaves Hugo and goes back to the ship she was on. And then, when she spills to the media what the government is doing, the government puts the blame on Hugo, who must go into hiding. Later he goes to earth alone as banishment, after his mother starts a fire and dies, and Stella follows him (mostly because she is also wanted by the government for telling the media their plan). He’s burned badly when the Rochester crashes, but Stella finds him and they are reunited on earth. The End.

Yes…the ending is that insane. I had so many questions throughout the ending which were never answered. What is Mason’s motive? What is the government’s motive to kill so many poor people? These people grow their food, so it makes no sense. George’s “death scene”/”just kidding he’s alive” was also pointless.

It was like the author wanted to stay with the point of Jane Eyre but when Hugo couldn’t be married, she had to find another reason for Stella to leave so she concocted this ridiculously pointless motive for her to run away. It was insanity and so frustrating to read!

Conclusion

I liked a lot of things about this book, and, despite not liking the ending and having some issues throughout the story, I did think it was mostly well-written. I know Alexa Donne is coming out with another book in a couple years called The Stars We Steal, which seems to be a space romance based on Persuasion by Jane Austen (or maybe I just read the plot and thought that because it sounds like a similar plot). I want to read it, hoping it’s better than this one.

Now, part of the reason I didn’t like this book is because I’m not a huge fan of modern romance, but I do think this book had so much potential, if it had been rewritten a bit to make more sense, especially by the ending. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, this probably isn’t the book for you, since the science elements aren’t really explained.

I’m curious, if you’ve read it, what were your thoughts? If you haven’t read it, does the premise sound like a book you might enjoy? I know I’ve been doing a lot of book reviews this week, but I promise Wednesday will be the last for a while. Anyway, let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

  1. It seems the novel goes pear-shaped… But the setting is really interesting! I’m not a big fan of Jane Eyre. In my humble opinion, the author’s emotions are a little too strong for me that it seems that sometimes she is venting . What’s more, I don’t like the ending that Rochester is blind and loses his property while Jane Eyre goes back to him with fortune. I’m wondering if Charlotte wanted to create equality between them by writing the ending. But I don’t think it’s complete and true equality. I think Jane is so brave and strong that she doesn’t need this plot to be equal to Rochester. They’re mentally and spiritually equal but the ending more or less makes the strength weak.

    Considering the Historical reason, the idea that Jane Eyre conveys is still amazing. The novel is also poetic!

    I really like the idea of story retelling. From my perspective, it should not focus on imitating the plot of the original. On the contrary, I hope to read a book that not only inherits the excellent idea and highlight of the original but also surpasses it and explain the new idea from the perspective of people living a Modern society nowadays. I think my standard is too high and ideal though Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting thought. I never considered that Charlotte Bronte wanted to bring Rochester down to Jane’s level in the end. To me, it was a test of their love. I think Charlotte wanted to demonstrate that love “looks not with the eyes, but with the heart” (as Shakespeare once said). Jane could have wanted Rochester simply for his fortune or good looks, but after he lost all that, she proved she loved him because of himself. Though I suppose there are many ways to decipher the ending.

      And I could not agree with you more about retellings! I want a book to take an idea and make it incredible, bringing it into the modern day. My standards are really high too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It makes sense! Thank you for your opinion! I like your explanation😄 It’s interesting to know different views from the perspectives of different readers!

        And speaking of retellings, that makes two of us!😃

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Heh, I admit I hated Jane Eyre so much I outlined an action version of it where she fought zombies and monsters. 😀 But then, I read it for the first time for a class in uni, and our teacher pretty much loathed the book too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol, Jane Eyre fighting zombies and monsters! I totally want to see that book in print. It’s like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but for Jane Eyre. That would be amazing! And yes, I’ve met a few people who cannot stand Jane Eyre.

      Like

  3. I’m not crazy about Jane Eyre, so this unlikely to read this, but the upcoming Persuasion-like one sounds promising. Last year I read a sci-fi Persuasion story that was pretty good, called For Darkness Shows the Stars.

    Liked by 1 person

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