Revamped classics and fairy tales are still big, especially in the YA world, and apparently the world needed another Jane Eyre retelling. What drew me to this one, however, was the setting – Jane Eyre in space! In Brightly Burning, we follow Stella Ainsley as she moves from her ship and job as engineer to a private ship orbiting the moon, The Rochester, and a new position as tutor to Tessa, the ten (and three-quarters!) year old sister of twenty-year-old Hugo Fairfax.
The story remains fairly close to the original at the outset, so I won’t bore you with all the details, but Stella, who is just about eighteen, has been working as an engineer on her ship, the poorest of the fleet that escaped Earth after a supervolcano exploded, causing a second Ice Age about two hundred years earlier. However, she gets far more joy out of teaching kids, and so has been looking for work elsewhere. Out of the blue, Stella lands a job on a small private ship with only about eight souls on board. Everything seems pretty perfect until she hears strange noises in the night, meets the woman everyone thinks Hugo will marry (for business, of course), and discovers a secret Hugo has been keeping within the bowels (or maybe the attic) of the ship.
But that’s where the two stories diverge. It starts with the characters – we still have Grace Poole, but she’s an officer on the ship, and not nearly as useless as the original. Iris Xiao, the ship’s first officer, is a Mrs. Fairfax replacement, but she gets her own story as well (complete with a bit of a side romance!). And of course, how can we forget Bianca Ingram (formerly Blanche) and her family, or Mr. Mason, now a government official instead of a visitor from the Caribbean. The parallels are everywhere between the characters, but what’s interesting is how the story adapts to the environment. It’s hard to get into too much detail without spoiling anything, but think about Mr. Rochester’s dark secret, and then remember that Hugo is, like, twenty. Things have to adapt.
I will say that the world-building could have used a bit more oomph – the reader is simply told about the events that have led the characters to this point and place within a question and answer session during a class on Stella’s ship. We never really get an explanation as to how the different ships in the fleet are actually governed, or how the fleet works; instead we get a bit beaten over the head with socioeconomic standards and divisions. Which okay, fine, but I’m guessing there is something more than just that. And I had a lot of other questions as to how things like communications or inter-ship travel worked, because it seemed to me that these things hadn’t changed much (or at all) in this vision of the future and were basically the same as they were in the 1990s. Are there even still satellites for email? How does that work? How do they have WiFi (or the Sci-Fi equivalent)? Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but overall there were way more questions about how things work in this world than actual answers.
But in the end, I’m still a sucker for retellings, and enjoyed the book overall; the combination of familiar characters and story with a twist just made me happy. Plus Stella is an absolute badass. When things go down, she puts herself right in the middle of the mess, determined to make things better for everyone, and it’s fabulous. Brightly Burning keeps all the major beats of the story, makes Jane Eyre even more of a fighter, and fully embraces its outer space setting. Fun times all around.
Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo