Book Review: Brightly Burning, by Alexa Donne

Alternately titled: Yes, It Is Possible To Like a Person Without Loving What They Write.

The last couple of months, I have enjoyed watching and following the YouTube Channel of traditionally published YA author, Alexa Donne. I like her, I like her videos, she has some fantastic advice to share with aspiring writers interested in strengthening their writing muscles and improving their chances of getting published. I’ll say it again: I like her. A lot.

Occasionally in the course of her videos she will bring up her books she has published, including her debut novel published in 2018. In a nutshell, Brightly Burning is a creative retelling of the classic Jane Eyre in a sci-fi setting. I like Jane Eyre (though it’s been years since I’ve read it), and I enjoy science fiction, and I like Alexa Donne, so checking out her book for myself was a given conclusion. I placed a hold on the title at my public library, and a week later drove home with the book in my possession and began reading as soon as I got home.

I don’t know if I could even explain why I wasn’t hooked by the story, but there it is. I was committed to reading it, and I did enjoy it enough to keep reading. But while some books manage to hook me into reading the entire novel in a few short days, this book took me two weeks to get through. Especially in the beginning chapters, I found the pacing somewhat slow– or perhaps the pacing was fine, but I simply had not become invested enough in the story to be eager enough to give up hours of my time each day to find out what happens next. I will give credit where credit is due: once I got into the second act, I did get more into the story and its characters, and finished the last two thirds in three or four days.

Overall, it was a fine story, faithful to the original from which its author drew her inspiration while also being different enough and containing enough of its own added plot elements that it didn’t feel too derivative. Young Adult readers who have never read Jane Eyre might find that this novel piques their interest in exploring the original story. And while it has been years since I’ve read it, I might be bold enough to suggest that Brightly Burning even improves upon the original in some ways, mainly by updating the story to appeal to a contemporary audience.

Every author has their own style, and a portion of Donne’s writing style seemed to involve the insertion of some of her favorite book titles and characters (e.g. one of the fleet ships is named Wuthering Heights; and once the main character, Stella, writes an anonymous letter and signs it “Hermione Granger.” The main character telling the story also mentions reading several books by name). If she had done this once or twice, it wouldn’t have bothered me so much; but it happened often enough that it pulled me out of the story at times. The moments where she does this well are when Stella briefly describes the plot of the book she’s reading, rather than merely dropping the title. I believe this distinction falls under the popular advice within writing circles of “show, don’t tell.”

The ending was satisfying. I found some of the supporting characters far more interesting than the lead, but then I believe that might be a weakness that Ms. Donne and I both share. In the [somewhat paraphrased] immortal words of Miss Elizabeth Bennet (who as it so happens also gets a brief mention in the novel): “a fault indeed, but I cannot criticize it.”

None of these criticisms diminish my enjoyment of Donne’s videos, or my appreciation of her as a person. And I think that is a message that all published and aspiring writers can take from this blog post: If someone you love and admire– and who loves and admires you– reads your work and doesn’t find it enjoyable, don’t take it personally.

Ms. Donne, I wish you all the best, and will enjoy following your career in the months and years ahead. And hey, you’re published and I’m not, so, what do I really know 😉 (I realize that might have come across as sarcastic and if it did I’m sorry– I really do like you!)

Here is the link to check out the novel on Goodreads. You might like it. I’m not going to tell other people what they will or won’t like, and some might even love the novel for reasons that fell flat for me (not being big into the romance), and to each their own.

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