Tuesday, May 01, 2018

To the New World! Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

I glanced up to see globules of liquid dancing up from my drinking glass. They shimmered red, like droplets of blood, though I knew it was just cherry-flavored nutri-drink. Dammit, that's my protein ration for the day wasted.

The gravity stabilizers were failing again.

The equipment aboard the agricultural spaceship Stalwart was always breaking down. Stella Ainsley, who doubles aboard as teacher and maintenance engineer, is valued for her skilled small hands, but is nevertheless restless with her first work assignment. Almost 18, half through her expected lifespan in space, Stella feels some romantic stirrings for her fellow crewmen, George and Jon, but she suspects that the decrepit old ship is destined to be de-certified sooner rather than later.

So when a job a governess aboard the high status Rochester, a moon orbiter, comes open, Stella jumps at it. In the days after the apocalypse has left Earth in an ice age, being tutor to the young sister of the captain of the ship seems to offer Stella a better life. At least onboard the Rochester, there will be better food--vegetables and hope for occasional meat--and new people, and by comparison to the Stalwart, what seem like posh quarters.

"How do I turn the lights on?" I mumbled to myself, then jumped as the lights flicked to life, like magic. Maybe Sergei was onto something and this ship was haunted.

A sound, high-pitched and bloodcurdling, jolted me out of my moment. It was like a laugh. But that couldn't be. I was spooking myself. I got up, taking eight steps across the room--insanely large--and pushed the square button.
Whoosh, the panels parted and I gasped. I had my own bathroom.

Stella's bold move to the new ship pleases her. Her pupil Jessa is a sweet eleven-year-old, there's even bacon for breakfast, and the strange but handsome Hugo Fairfax, the ship's captain, takes a special interest in her, even inviting her to evening reading sessions from his enormous library in his stateroom. But Stella soon discovers that life on the Rochester has similarities to life in the court of Louis XIV. Staff members angle for the captain's favor, and when the luxe private ship Ingram docks for an extended stay, the beautiful Bianca seems obviously to have set her cap for Hugo. There is a swirl of rumors and intrigue among the elegantly gowned guests, and just as Stella begins to believe that Hugo truly cares for her, she discovers a horrendous plot among the vying aristocrats to reduce the population of the fleet through a deadly virus created by the Rochester's medical officer, Mari Hanada. Stella faces the choice of going along with the plan or trying to escape back to Earth, hoping to be part of the colonization of a livable area of the planet.

Alexa Donne's forthcoming Brightly Burning (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) is a heady mix of Gothic romance, science fiction, and an apocalyptic survival story. Savvy readers may recognize the bare bones of the plot of Jane Eyre, with a wink and a hint from the author when Stella takes the pseudonym of "Jane" as she manages her escape, while elements of that classic love story are played out in a futuristic fleet of spaceships in low orbit around Earth. There is a strong and varied cast of characters with many motives, underlain by an all-too-possible post-apocalyptic setting. Unlike the gentle Jane, however, Stella is a self-admittedly bold heroine with a strong moral sense who finally loves wisely but also well.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home