Burning Bright by Melissa McShane (The Extraordinaries #1)
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Nautical
Genre: Curiosity Quills Press on August 15, 2016
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 »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? « Hide Spoiler
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.