Burning Bright was a pleasant surprise and one of my favorite reads this year. Author McShane avoids so many of the usual cliches in the romance/historical romance/fantasy genre to give us wonderful but nicely nuanced characters in a brisk adventure. It is by no means a perfect book but it was one I was thinking about afterwards and wishing there were more in a series.
Story: Elinor manifests a talent of controlling fire – a talent that is considered ‘extraordinary’ because of the depth of control she has over it. But she is a 21 year old in Regency England and there is little she can do with the talent other than be a brood mare to make more extraordinaries. To avoid her father’s machinations, she convinces the royal navy to take her as a ‘weapon’ against Napoleonic and pirate forces. But she will find many complications onboard ship as she tests and pushes her powers to help the navy survive.
Rather than was eloquent on why I like the book, I’ll give concise bullet points:
– Avoids cardboard character syndrome of super good or super evil. Nearly every character is nuanced and if they become an adversary of Elinor, it’s because of character defects or the mores of the era.
– Avoids insta luv by giving us a beautiful slow burn of a romance that is very understated and never upstages the action.
– Avoids the ‘beautiful character’ syndrome by making Elinor and her captain fairly plain and not beautiful or handsome. Elinor is courted by various people for her talent and not her looks.
– Avoids romance cliches of attraction – Elinor and her captain are attracted to each other because of their characters. Elinor doesn’t smell him (the old “he smelled like wood and cinnamon” cliche ugh), doesn’t admire his physique, and doesn’t spend paragraphs blushing or wondering what it would be like to kiss him.
– Elinor doesn’t spend the book being rude to the captain or others (a sign of a bad writer who can’t figure out a way for the heroine to show mettle) and has quiet strength. Indeed, often she has to swallow her words and stay silent from the insults of various side characters.
– The book flows nicely and the story is about the adventure and not the romance.
– The magic is interesting and well described.
– There are heavy consequences to impulsive actions. She does not have mysteriously survive unscathed when jumping into unprepared situations
– That cover!!
– It would be easy to say this is Austen inspired because of the setting and because Elinor has quiet strengths much like so many Austen characters. But the wit and sparkle of an Austen isn’t here, though Burning Bright’s Elinor did remind me much of Elinor from Sense and Sensibility.
– It did hit the cliche of “overheard key plot mystery” when our character is magically in the right place and the right time to overhear key points discussed by the bad guys.
– Anyone spending only a few minutes thinking about the magic in the world (even though it was a rare talent) would have found better uses for the magic users.
– Both the captain and Elinor are special snowflakes
In all, I have favorited this author on Goodreads and Amazon and hope for more books in this world. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.