Title: The Firebird
Author: Susanna Kearsley
No. of Pages: 544
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Paranormal
Origins: Sourcebooks Landmark; She Reads Book Club
Release Date: 4 June 2013
Bottom Line: A surprisingly strong and highly enjoyable work of historical fiction
“Nicola Marter was born with a gift so rare and dangerous, she kept it buried deep. When she encounters a desperate woman trying to sell a small wooden carving called “The Firebird,” claiming it belonged to Russia’s Empress Catherine, it’s a problem. There’s no proof.
But Nicola’s held the object. She knows the woman is telling the truth.”
Thoughts: While the official title of The Firebird indicates that it is the second book in the Slains series, rest assured that, based on Susanna Kearsley’s own website, it is not a sequel. Rather, it is a companion book. This means that anyone can pick up this charming novel and enjoy Nicola’s search for the mysterious Anna without losing anything to a lack of knowledge or understanding. References to the first book might exist but in no way hamper a reader’s ability to understand the current story. Therefore, others should not let the “Slains #2” affect the decision to read it or not.
In fact, you should read The Firebird. It is obvious that Ms. Kearsley has done her research. Even better, she shares all of her research, including pictures of key buildings and locales, on her website, so readers do not have to look up the Summer Gardens or the old Summer Palace. Her descriptions are spot-on, and those who are interested will derive great pleasure in realizing just how accurate she is. Those who are not interested can take comfort in the fact that the mental images created from her descriptions are going to be as fairly close to the real thing as one can get from mental images. Yes, Ms. Kearsley definitely did her research, but more importantly, she was able to convey that research in such a way that adds dimensionality to flat descriptions.
Then there are the characters. Nicola may be the medium for Anna’s introduction, but Anna is the true heroine of the novel, and Rob is most definitely the hero of the modern sections. Nicola is the tie that connects the two, but she is the weakest of the three characters. Anna has a vibrancy to her that overshadows Nicola’s indecisiveness and unwillingness to test out her skills. Rob is just fun. With his Scottish burr and careful control over his (still obvious) emotions, he allows Nicola to shine a little brighter. Without him, she is too broody and too negative to be thoroughly enjoyable.
What makes The Firebird so special, though, is the story – specifically Anna’s story. Her journey from Scotland to Russia is fascinating, while her experiences in St. Petersburg are historically enlightening. This is especially true when one realizes how many of the people with whom Anna interacts are real historical figures, something Ms. Kearsley carefully details in her Author’s Notes. A reader cannot help but sympathize with Anna and cheer her on through her journey as she showcases a determination and courage that belies her age. The relationship between the exiled Jacobites and the Russian nobility is equally absorbing, and fans of the Outlander series will enjoy making connections between the two books. Any issues over the idea that Anna’s story only comes to light through paranormal skills rapidly loses strength as Anna endears herself to Nicola and Rob and just as swiftly to the reader.
The Firebird is a great example of a successful cross-genre novel. The historical fiction elements are most excellent – enlightening and entertaining, while the mystery behind Anna’s past as well as of the origins of the Firebird figurine remain intriguing. The paranormal element is the linchpin of the story and provides a great message about not being afraid to showcase any given talents. The characters are lively, and the story pulses with a vitality that has everything to do with Ms. Kearsley’s ability to pen a sentence as it does to the vibrant historical setting. Easy to read and quick to devour, The Firebird is a great selection for a fun and enjoyable romantic summer read.