Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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Book Impressions: Burning Bright, by Melissa McShane

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 16, 2016

BurningBrightA few years ago, I got hooked on the Bolitho novels by Alexander Kent. I also read a couple of the Master & Commander series by Patrick O’Brien, the movie based on the books, and a couple of the Horatio Hornblower films. Basically, the whole age-of-sail, nautical warfare, wooden ships and iron men thing. These were thrilling books, full of fascinating historical detail, exciting naval engagements, rescues, and derring-do. Pirates! Political Intrigue! Broadsides! Rescues! Man, that stuff is awesome, and I still love those novels.

But you know what they were missing?


Actually, I didn’t know they were missing that. I’m kinda stunned to realize that superhero stories – another favorite of mind – didn’t belong in a regency-era naval warfare book. Oh, and that it could also use a smattering of Jane Austen with an awesome and kind of scary female protagonist.

Fortunately, author Melissa McShane recognized that this was a completely AWESOME combination waiting to happen, and she had the writing chops to do it justice. The result is Burning Bright, one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’ve read some old classics and newer books by some of my favorite and best-selling authors this year.

The book is set in an alternate-history 1812, where a small number of people throughout the world are born with special powers – Talents. They may have the power to move objects with their mind, mold flesh, to see or communicate great distances. Most powerful of all are those of Extraordinary Talent, whose abilities are as far beyond those of regular Talent as those of regular talent are beyond the average human.

Scorchers, those who can create flame with the minds, are a rarity in Britain, and terrifying weapons in naval warfare. However, when Elinor Pembroke discovers she possesses the powers of an Extraordinary Scorcher – possessing the ability to control and extinguish flame as well as create it – she finds her power to be less than useless. It makes her little more than a prize for some nobleman to produce Talented offspring.  Facing either a loveless marriage or dependency on a domineering and abusive father, she opts for a bizarre choice: Naval service. Desperate for Scorchers – particularly Extraordinary Scorchers who can defend against enemy fire attacks – the Navy accepts her as a weapon in their arsenal.

McShane doesn’t shy away from the perils and problems of a woman in society in the early 1800s, even one (or especially one) who could kill a man with her mind. Women and warships of the era, in particular, do not mix, and to say that society would frown upon such a thing is an understatement. The bulk of Elinor’s problems cannot be reduced to cinders, and she is young and brash enough to fall prey to her own hubris about her abilities (in the same way that I probably would).

It’s also interesting that this is a book with a strong (and yet flawed) female protagonist set in the Regency period…  pretty much something that screams “female audience” … in a full-on military action / adventure story… generally stuff oriented towards a male audience. For me, this mix worked well. I hope that others will feel the same and that the story will find a broad audience.

As far as audience is concerned …  it felt like I had a laser-sight pointed at my head as the target audience. But aside from that, it’s a well-written fantasy adventure with intriguing world-building, solid characters, great and compelling action, and PIRATES! Lots of pirates. I found it a “page-turner” in the best sense of the term. Loved it.

McShane has several sequels planned, and I want everybody to buy this book so they can be guaranteed. 🙂  If it sounds appealing, please check it out.

Burning Bright by Melissa McShane

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