I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Burning Bright by Melissa McShane
Series: The Extraordinaries #1
Published by Curiosity Quills on August 15, 2016
Genres: Historical, Romance, Fantasy
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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?
Very rarely do I read books from smaller presses, especially if it’s not one I’m familiar with. I’ve read some Entangled and Spencer Hill because they publish some authors I already know. Curiosity Quills was a total gamble based on the fact that this premise is such Christina bait. Historical fantasy was my favorite subgenre of 2016, and I want so many more in 2017. If you enjoyed Dark Days Club and/or These Vicious Masks, you will likely enjoy the hell out of Burning Bright, like I did.
Burning Bright takes place in 1812. England’s at war with Napoleon, and, oh yeah, some people have talents. The talents vary: there are Speakers who can communicate across distances, Bounders who can jump across space, Movers who can move things with their minds, and Scorchers who can manipulate fire, to name a few. There are also Extraordinary talents, which means they have one of the regular abilities turned up to eleven.
Elinor, 21, is a talentless spinster and her family’s given up on her prospects until one night she sets her room on fire in her sleep. She wakes up and puts the fire out, also with her mind. Turns out she’s an Extraordinary Scorcher, and all of a sudden her family’s thrilled to give her another season in London and sell her off to the highest bidder. Talents are highly sought after in wives, much like dowries, in the hopes that they will breed more talented children.
Having loathed her first London season, Elinor’s less than thrilled. Plus, her father, who’s always been emotionally abusive and loathsome, is suddenly playing nice, but it’s not genuine. After her first night out in this new season, where she meets with success, an asshole forces a kiss on her and, because of his future title, her dad’s like “you will marry him.” Elinor says fuck that (not literally) and refuses to either marry a dick who won’t treat her any better than her father or to stay with her family, hated forever. Instead, Elinor chooses option three: she marches down to the Admiralty, barges in, makes a spectacle, and demands to be the first woman allowed to serve in the Navy. And that’s how Elinor escapes an abusive dad to go fight pirates.
Like, come on, how badass is that plot? Is it not what dreams are made of? The talents are really cool, and the Extraordinary/regular talent distinction makes the world building feel distinct. Elinor’s a massively powerful Extraordinary Scorcher, and she’s the only one in England, but she’s not the chosen one or the only Extraordinary Scorcher in the world. She does become massively proficient at her talent without training, which normally annoys me, but for some reason didn’t here. I think it’s because her struggle isn’t learning how to use her power, but how to keep her power from using her. Her Scorching power is constantly wanting her to burn the world down, and she has to fight against this dark urge. She actually goes Dark Phoenix levels of out of control sometimes and it’s intense.
Risking her reputation and her life, Elinor sets sail with Captain Miles Ramsay, with whom she had a brief awkward run-in at that first ball. These two are so cute and go from distaste for one another to friends to love. These two make such a good team, and I totally ship it. There’s something about couples who totally support and trust one another that really gets me. View Spoiler »Holy shit, I did not expect him to lose his hand saving her from burning herself up with her fire though. Jesus. Ouch, my feels. « Hide Spoiler
I loved the adventure of Burning Bright, the sea battles and the daring exploits. Elinor slowly comes out of her shell, embraces who she is, and faces down her personal demons. She’s been raised a lady, and she doesn’t immediately become okay with living on a navy vessel. It’s so charming as she makes friends with some of the crew; she and one of the men even have a little book club going, and it’s so freaking cute!
More historical fantasy for me, please. This genre is just the best. Let’s take all the romantic elements of history and then give women magical powers so they can fuck the patriarchy. Best thing.
“He sees me as a kindred spirit. I am quite cast down wondering what it is about me that he sees as his kin.”
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