Burning Bright by Melissa McShane

Burning Bright (The Extraordinaries #1) by Melissa McShane
Published in August 2016 by Curiosity Quills Press.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you Curiosity Quills Press for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: historical fantasy romance.

My rating:

In 1812, Elinor Pembroke wakes to find her bedchamber in flames—and extinguishes them with a thought. 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 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 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 joins the Royal Navy.

Assigned to serve under Captain Miles Ramsay, she turns her fiery talent on England’s enemies in the Caribbean. At first feared by her shipmates, a growing number of victories make her truly part of the 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?


Burning Bright is a curious book. It’s a historical romance with fantasy elements yet it’s actually very slow and light on romance – so maybe it’s a historical fantasy with romance elements? You know I’m rubbish at classifying books.

I liked the story a lot, actually. Elinor makes an important decision and joins the royal navy instead of being bartered off to the highest bidder like a prize mare when her talent manifests. She can manipulate fire – and what makes her Extraordinary is the fact that she can put fires out as well as light them. Her father, a renowned scholar of people with magical talent, is a cruel, ambitious man, and I really respected Elinor from the start because she made the best decision she could in such a situation.

There is the fact that Elinor is a bit of a special snowflake. Not only is her talent incredibly rare, she’s also the first woman to join the navy. And she remains the only female character in the story (well, there’s her sister but she’s barely there and has no real function in the story). I’d hoped we would meet more kickass ladies with awesome talents but nope, nothing so far. I’m really hoping this will change as the series progresses!

Other than that, I liked the worldbuilding (the magical system) and the setting – a large part of the story takes place on a ship, there are pirates, and we sail the clear waters of the Carribean, so this was pretty unusual. I haven’t read many books with such a setting, so I enjoyed it a lot.

I did wish the romance wasn’t quite so slow at times. I guess it’s more realistic from a historical point of view but I kind of wanted Captain Ramsay to make his move (or for Elinor to finally tackle the man) sooner. I dislike insta-love but a healthy dose of insta-lust wouldn’t hurt here because the entire romance is pretty clean. I know, I’m probably too used to traditional historical romances where the characters are tearing at each other’s clothes by Chapter Two, but romance was really, really slow here.

There are also some interesting thoughts on war and killing in this book, which isn’t something you’d typically expect from a romance, so this makes it lean further towards the fantasy genre, I think. Elinor thinks a lot about the lives she takes in the naval battles she participates in – it’s rare to get such an in-depth exploration. I don’t really understand people who choose to be soldiers (like picking this as a profession – that’s just beyond me), but I do understand duty and the wish to protect people. So yeah, this was a welcome addition to a story that could have veered into fluff pretty easily.

I’m curious to see how the story will continue. This one had a pretty decent ending (meaning that it could have functioned as a standalone) so I wonder whether we’ll get a new set of characters. I’ll be on the lookout for it for sure.


Have you read Burning Bright? What did you think?

Historical fantasy romance is an interesting mashup of genres – do you know any similar books?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • I’m looking forward to this one myself, so I’m glad to hear it had so many positives! Totally with you on the people who choose to be soldiers thing – I’ve never been able to fully understand it.

    • I hope you’ll enjoy reading it – it’s an interesting novel. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.

      And yeah, the soldier thing… I really understand fighting to protect certain ideals, or the people you love, but at the same time, I can’t figure out how killing people for a cause is a good thing.

  • Hmmm, this sounds interesting! I occasionally make a foray into romance, and this sounds like an excellent book to pick for that…

    • Well, like I said, the romance in this one is REALLY slow so it might be more to your liking if you’re not into the traditional historical romance. :)

  • This sounds like a good story, though I would probably crave more of the romance too. And the lack of other female characters is a little frustrating. I am interested though in this one to check out the discussions on war and killing. It sounds like it takes a thought-provoking direction. Hopefully, the next book will fix some of the issues you had.
    Lovely review, Kaja!

    • Yeah, the issue of war was really dealt with in a very interesting manner, especially since it’s basically a historical romance novel – and those don’t often deal with problematic topics like this one.

      And I hope we’ll see more kickass ladies in the sequel! I think there’s a lot of potential in this world, so I’m looking forward to reading more.

  • I hadn’t heard of this book at all but you and Danya have reviews up so I think this is one I will have to take a sneaky nose at.

    It sounds interesting, I do find historical fantasy romances a strange one. I think you always end up expecting something different than you what you get as different books emphasise different things. Some are heavier on the romance and sacrifice the good fantasy elements, others do the opposite. I know what you mean about slow romance, though. I love slowburn but sometimes you want them to speed it up a bit and screw being historically accurate. It can be frustrating. When done well you can accept it but this one may have been a tad too slow frustrating you so much.

    And I love the fact it’s actually the MC choosing her path rather than having things chosen for her, that’s one thing which really annoys me in historical books when a character’s path is chosen for them. And the fact she actually considers the consequences of her actions and the number of people she may be killing is cool. I mean, I could never join the army or anything because I couldn’t put up with the idea of killing people but the fact she has chosen it (from a list of very bad choices) and follows through and still has time to consider and feel guilty of what she does? That is pretty cool. That definitely makes me want to read more.

  • I think you’ve got it when you say historical fantasy with a dash of romance. Not enough romance to be fantasy romance or historical romance (alas).

    You know, I was thinking the same thing. The romance WAS awfully clean – perhaps too clean? I’m suspicious. Is the publisher one of those secretly religious imprints? I recall reading another fantasy about a year ago, also from a publisher I was unfamiliar with, that had a glaring lack of sizzle…it turned out to be an “inspirational fiction” imprint.

    I wonder where McShane will take this series. Obviously there’s more to be done with Napoleon etc. but the plot of this one did feel quite wrapped up.