Title: Burning Bright
Authors: Melissa McShane
Genre: Fantasy, Historical, Romance
Date of Publication: 15th August, 2016
Page Count: 318 pages (ebook)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)
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 have a soft spot for historical romances, so this was right up my alley – you get the formal conventions of the time (where the mere brush of hands is something to swoon over!) and more verbose repartee (why use one word when you can sound like a Thesaurus?) along with magical powers, yesss! ❤
Usually in regency romances, when a society miss is faced with an overbearing parent who wishes to marry them off against their will, the fair maiden has little choice but to either a) find a rogue to compromise her 😉 or b) masquerade as a man and go into service. However, when one manifests an Extraordinary Talent, there is another way out – joining the Navy!
All right, obviously this isn’t adhering to the social strictures of the time period, but the author has created an alternate universe where men and women both have the potential for powerful magical abilities, so I can handwave away the unlikely event of Elinor being permitted to board the Athena to serve with Ramsay’s crew. Of course she isn’t accorded the respect and deference she is due simply because she’s a Scorcher – society isn’t that progressive, it might begrudgingly accept her much-needed assistance in the battle against pirates and foreign enemies, but it isn’t all smooth sailing. Elinor faces some opposition and lingering hostility along the way, but I love how she holds her head high and maintains her calm dignity and poise throughout. She really is my dream protagonist with her practical resourcefulness and determination to prove herself through hard work rather than taking offense at being scoffed at by the crew. No whining, no hysterical fits, just a quiet steely resolve. ❤
I have a lot of issues with the all too common crop of heroines these days who are immature, mouthy and brash, the type who will talk big but can’t follow through and whose lack of caution and rational thinking gets them into trouble that the tough manly man love interest will need to rescue them from. But praise Elinor for not being one of them! At the start, she’s rather the opposite – she’s meek and mild-mannered, sometimes by nature and sometimes to fly under the radar until she can quietly accomplish her goal. She has this amazing gift, but it only manifested on her 21st birthday when she’d long been thought useless and a disappointment to the family – Elinor can (and will) do great things, but her ability to conjure and control fire doesn’t miraculously give her a boost of self-confidence all at once. Her naturally quiet temperament plus the rigid attitudes of the time toward women – namely, they should be seen but not heard – means that Elinor struggles to assert herself sometimes, but as someone who is similarly shy and retiring, it’s such a joy and pure wish-fulfillment to see her grow throughout the story into a whole new woman who is more self-assured and authoritative.
It feels a little odd to describe this as a ‘coming of age’ story, but it shares some similar tropes, especially with ‘The Hero’s Journey’ that Elinor embarks on and how she goes from being dependent on her family with no real status of her own to developing her power and forging a new role for herself in society, regardless of what others have planned. The story is filled with danger and thrills and adventure, but there are some poignant moments of self-discovery and character growth that have me wriggling with triumph and satisfaction at Elinor’s breakthroughs, whether in her personal life or in leveling up her magical ability and proving herself to those who doubted her with a showy display of skill and courage!
This is described as a romance, but it’s of a very slow-burn (heh) variety – that’s my favorite kind, so I adore this! But readers who are more inclined to steamy bodice-rippers may not find it as appealing because Elinor and Ramsay’s courtship is based on slowly growing mutual respect and trust in each other, on a chaste affection that gradually turns into love. Considering how scandalous it is merely for them to be in the same room as each other if the door isn’t open, it wouldn’t be realistic for them to be tearing each other’s clothes off a couple chapters in!
And in this day and age of insta-love ad nauseum, I am definitely a fan of an understated romance which develops in the background while these characters are engaging in battles against pirates and embroiled in political conflicts with their own organization. I find it more emotionally satisfying that they learn to have faith in each other’s abilities and have each other’s back in battle so that they’re firm comrades before anything romantic ensues. Plus Elinor and Ramsay are just so sweet and adorable with their droll witty banter! 😀 I love the speech mannerisms in these historical novels, I wish I could be as eloquent, lol.
Verdict: I wholeheartedly enjoyed Burning Bright – the protagonist was wonderful, easy to relate to and root for, and the plot had me hooked. I loved reading about Elinor practicing and using her Scorcher abilities, and was so jittery with anticipation and on tenterhooks reading about her misadventures; the author does very well with drawing out suspense and then nailing the frenetic action! I can’t wait to read more in this series. ❤
Personal Rating: 5 out of 5 kitties approve this book!
Disclaimer: I received a digital copy free from Curiosity Quills Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.