Burning Bright by Melissa McShane (The Extraordinaries #1)

Genre: Historical Fantasy, Nautical

Genre: Curiosity Quills Press on August 15, 2016

Source: Publisher

Rating StarRating StarRating Starstar_half

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

In 1812, Elinor Pembroke wakes to find her bedchamber in flames—and extinguishes them with a thought. View Spoiler »

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BURNING BRIGHT by Melissa McShane is part traditional Regency era novel, part nautical fantasy – a combination that’s a ton of fun and sure to entertain anyone who enjoys historical fantasy.

Stifled by her overbearing and emotionally abusive father, Elinor Pembroke is desperate to escape her life. But there are few options for a girl with no fortune and average looks; few options, that is, until her Extraordinary magical gift manifests. Most members of the upper class are gifted in some way, but Extraordinaries are rare and valuable…especially the women, who are often treated like broodmares.

Understandably, that life holds even less appeal for Elinor than her current straits, and our plucky heroine takes matters into her own hands: she will leverage her gifts to gain entry into His Majesty’s Navy, and join them in their fight against Napoleon. Although untrained and untested, Elinor’s Scorcher abilities enable her to conjure and resist fire, a powerful weapon on ships made entirely out of wood. That’s not the sort of thing the Navy can turn down, even if Elinor is a woman.

Obviously, this book isn’t exactly an accurate representation of the social attitudes and opportunities available for women (or working class people) during the period. Thankfully I was able to embrace the inaccuracies for what they were: an opportunity to give Elinor a story that is considerably more fun than it would’ve been otherwise. It was very refreshing to read a historical fantasy with a heroine who has just as many allies as she does detractors, since it gets a bit depressing reading about people who have to slog through obstacle after obstacle. That said, Elinor doesn’t have it easy and she does encounter some nasty characters among the crew of The Athena, but for the most part BURNING BRIGHT is just a fun adventure novel.

I haven’t read any fantasy novels set at sea other than BURNING BRIGHT so while I can’t compare it to others, I can say that I absolutely adored the setting. The well-oiled machine that is a naval ship, the cramped quarters below deck, the gorgeous vistas described from the deck of The Athena, and the Caribbean islands that Elinor and the crew docked at really made this book for me. Based on how much I enjoyed this setting, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more nautical fantasy novels in the future!

Melissa McShane also does a good job bringing the battles at sea to life, and I was almost holding my breath during a few particularly tense scenes. These battles were particularly important because they were really the only times we got to see Elinor use her Scorcher abilities and show everyone what a badass she is. I definitely wanted to learn more about the magic behind Extraordinaries and their abilities, and overall I though that the magical aspects of the world building were lacking. Hopefully that’s something that McShane fixes in the sequel!

Overall BURNING BRIGHT is a fun, fluffy historical fantasy – the perfect reading material for a dreary weekend afternoon.

Have you read any fantasy novels set at sea? Did you read BURNING BRIGHT? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Sounds like a fun historical, I have to admit I haven’t run across many (or any!) fantasy books in this time period that deal with a woman on a ship. And that cover is gorgeous!

    1. It was a lot of fun! I’m finding myself drawn to books with a nautical setting lately, so fingers crossed that I’ll discover an awesome lady pirates book soon. 😉

  2. That sounds really fun! I’m a huge fan of stories that follow the pattern of ‘normal person develops really destructive magic powers!’

    I think my favourite recent fantasy-with-old-timey-wooden-boats is Red Seas Under Red Skies. Interestingly, the cover for that book also has a ship on fire. I guess it makes sense for storytelling — why put a big wooden ship in your book unless you’re gonna set it ablaze?

    1. I really like that plot line too! This one was definitely a fun read.

      Ohhhhh yeah! I completely forgot that book is set at sea! Somehow I still haven’t read it (despite having a copy sitting on my shelves). I really need to get to that ASAP. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

  3. Definitely looking forward to this one!

    1. Yay! I hope you enjoy it, Lorraine. I had a lot of fun with it despite some of its shortcomings. 🙂

  4. Ohh set at sea, nice! I like historical fantasy

    1. Me too to both of those! Historical fantasy is definitely my new favourite genre.

  5. I love historical fantasy! And set at sea? Even better. I’d not heard of this book or author before. 😮 Wonderful review, Danya!

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

    1. Me too! I used to be a total urban fantasy junkie, but lately the historicals have been winning my heart. Thanks Alyssa! 😀

    • Lynn Williams

    • 6 years ago

    Oh my, that cover is rather gorgeous! This sounds like something I would enjoy – I will make a note although to be honest I’m so far behind!
    Lynn 😀

    1. Isn’t it? I think it’s especially nice since it was put out by an indie publisher. They’ve been killing the cover design game lately!

  6. I’ve been meaning to comment on this review for a couple of days and just haven’t. I hadn’t heard of this book then you and Kaja both posted reviews at basically the same time and now I’m thinking I need to read. It may take a few historical liberties with how much a woman could do but it sounds interesting enough for me to forgive it. Especially as it means a woman has the chance to get out of a bad situation and into one which is far better for her. It doesn’t sound like a groundbreaking book but it does sound fun and I want to get reading. Great review.

    1. HA, I know that feeling well! Sometimes I’ll open all the blog posts I want to read and comment on in separate tabs, and then I just….don’t. It’s awful!

      That’s the perfect way of looking at it, I think! Sometimes I just get tired of reading about downtrodden women, you know? Obviously the 19th century was not a good time for women, even if they were white and upper class, so reading about a woman who has a lot of options was refreshing. I’ve definitely been ODing on historical fantasy lately!

      Thanks, Becky! 🙂

  7. yes it’s always great when heroines aren’t constantly being attacked by the enemy with little back up. Sounds like a great historical read, although not for me! Tori @ In Tori Lex

    1. It was definitely a refreshing, fun read! Good for fans of historical fantasy, but as you say – probably not the best choice for some readers.

  8. Ohhh nautical fantasy AND regency? Hold the front door because I need to check this one out. I love that the heroine has a positive support network, it’s something that’s so lacking in fiction. I am glad you enjoyed this book despite its historical inaccuracies, sometimes a book is allowed to just be fun!

    1. Hahaha I know, right? That is like bookish crack to me.

      It was definitely one of my favourite things as well – sometimes a protagonist needs allies as much as she needs enemies to make her interesting. I only wish there had been more characters who were women! Oh well, you can’t have it all. 🙂

  9. You haven’t read the second book in Lynch’s series, have you? It’s a fantasy book set on a ship, alright. The second half is spent on a pirate ship with lady pirates, I love it. And I don’t remember – have you read The Girl From Everywhere? It’s also about pirates of a sort, I liked it a lot.

    This is sort of off topic but I *hate* the word “Scorcher”, I can never write it without messing up the spelling. I know how to say it but writing it is horrible.

    I enjoyed the setting, too, I’ve never read a book set in the Caribbean. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel and hoping for some more world-building!

    1. Ugh, no, I haven’t. I don’t really have a good reason why either. I’m sure that I’ll love it, I just…haven’t made it a priority for some reason. But clearly I should, because lady pirates! I have reading The Girl From Everywhere, although I guess it didn’t give me as much of a nautical vibe because so little time was actually spent at sea.

      HA! I love hearing about English words that bug you (I think my personal favourite is still your hatred of the phrase “keep my eyes peeled”).

      I’d love to read more books set in the Caribbean, if only because it’s starting to get cold and depressing here in Canada!

      1. Haha, I’d forgotten I’ve already ranted about the English language to you. And that IS a disgusting phrase, just try to picture it. You know which word I really like – and it’s generally despised by English speakers? Moist. It’s such a good word for what it describes. Moist. Love it. 😀

        Are you far enough North in Canada that days are very short? I mean, it gets dark here by 5pm and it’s kind of sad because we can’t spend the afternoons outside anymore but I’m never too depressed by winter.

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