Burning Bright by Melissa McShane

In an alternative Regency era England where people can develop magical powers, Elinor Pembroke discovers that she’s an Extraordinary Scorcher. She can not only summon fire, but completely control it – a very rare talent. Pressured by her ambitious and cold father to marry well, Elinor chooses instead to join the British Navy and the war effort against the pirates in the Caribbean, under the command of Captain Miles Ramsay.

Burning Bright worked for me on several levels. Elinor is a compelling character; she goes from being overlooked to being a hot “commodity” in the marriage market. She decides instead to forge her own path, which is not easy for a well-born woman in 19th century England. It is an absolute joy (and a cathartic experience, I must say) to see Elinor derive bravery from her powers and her newfound independence. She steadily gains the confidence necessary to shut down (and sometimes slightly scorch, ahem, totes by accident of course oops didn’t mean to) the condescending and abusive men who underestimate or try to hurt her.

I liked what McShane did with the setting, how magical powers influenced England and its social structure, but also changed how warfare is waged. We get to discover the different talents and their usage in naval battles. The plot is mostly a high seas adventure, which is loads of fun but can also be quite dark (Elinor is expected to burn down pirate ships…).

I was surprised by how low-key the romance was. Fans of romantic subplots will be satisfied because the relationship is based on mutual respect; they actually like and trust each other and they share sweet moments that made me go “awww”. But the love story isn’t the focus here.

I would recommend the book:

  • For people who enjoyed Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky or Temeraire by Naomi Novik
  • For fans of slow-burn romances and fast-burning jerks
  • For people who enjoy a good dose of adventure in their Regency fantasy or a pinch of fantasy of manners in their adventure story
  • For people looking for a cool female character arc