Whoops. It looks like the warp drive just fell out of Jane Eyre, and the resulting mess isn’t pretty.
Where do we start with this one?
Stella Ainsley was packed off by her wealthy aunt to find work as a space ship engineer, and after finding herself at a dead-end on one of the dodgiest vessels in the fleet she jumps at the chance to work as a governess on the much-more prosperous vessel Rochester. What does it matter that the Rochester is supposedly haunted? The Rochester’s young captain, Fairfax, is a charismatic rogue who Stella quickly takes a shine to, and when a series of accidents makes Stella suspect that a saboteur is behind all of the Rochester’s ghostly rumours, she decides to track the culprit down and win Fairfax’s love. What she doesn’t expect to discover is Fairfax’s awful secret, although fans of Charlotte Bronte’s far more enjoyable source novel will already have an inkling about what’s to come.
Okay, so here’s the problem. Mining a classic story for a sci-fi or horror novel is hardly an original idea, but parodies like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters have proved that when it’s done well the results can be hugely entertaining. Heck, even Shakespeare’s The Tempest got a space-age refurb courtesy of the still-wonderful movie Forbidden Planet, and there are dozens more examples scattered around if you’re bored enough to look for them. So, on paper, a Jane Eyre re-envisioning set on a haunted starship sounds like a very cool concept, and for us it conjured up images of doomed women in high-tech corsets fleeing through the corridors of a steampunk Event Horizon.
And that’s where we made our biggest mistake, because Brightly Burning is nowhere near as fun as the concept might suggest. As science fiction it’s pretty hopeless (we mean, really, a space engineer-turned-governess is the equivalent of Star Trek’s Scotty quitting the engine room to open a pre-school), as a romance it’s dull and unbelievable (why Stella is fawning over a spoilt brat like Fairfax is beyond belief, and our liking for her character really suffered because of it), and as a ghost story it’s… well… not exactly chilling (but, in fairness, the same could be said for the original Jane Eyre.) And what’s with a future where people become space captains at fourteen and life ends at forty? If Charlotte Bronte had suffered a talent by-pass and attempted to write Ender’s Game (without any of the action) it might have come off something like this. Except much, much better.
Good idea, shame about the execution. And if anyone tries to sci-fi up The Turn of the Screw we’re taking the first UFO out of here.
BRIGHTLY BURNING / AUTHOR: ALEXA DONNE / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW