The Firebird
by Susanna Kearsley

Sourcebooks Landmark (June 4, 2013), 2013. ISBN 978-1-402-27663-7.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 06/05/2013

Fiction: Historical; Fiction: Mystery; Fiction: Paranormal/Science Fiction/Fantasy

Susanna Kearsley is a dynamic writer who, with each new book, continues to develop new fans while keeping the old ones. The Firebird is no exception. Adding to the enchantment of this new book, she has used an innovative approach by taking characters from two previous works, unrelated to one another, to develop the storyline of The Firebird. It is a remarkable concept and delightful adventure.

Drawing characters from Shadowy Horses and Winter Sea, Kearsley has developed a plot the keeps you reading long into the night. Protagonist Nicola has an often-suppressed ability of psychometry; a form of ESP. She can touch an object and read its history. As a professional antique appraiser, this skill sometimes comes in handy, but she finds it a burden when she cannot substantiate such obtained information with historical research and facts. Rob, with more keenly developed psychic talents, struggles to bring Nicola's skills to the fore and help her accept her endowment as part of who she is. Together, they have decided to help Nicola's client, Margaret Ross, who is desperate to discover the provenance of a wooden carving, The Firebird, said to have belonged the Russian Empress Catherine the First.

From this point, the story diverges into two: one a historical tale, about the Jacobite Anna, and the other a modern story of Rob and Nicola. Each story is skillfully woven with the other, so that they flow comfortably and easily. The Jacobean timeline is full of historical interest, a well sketched look at the politics, the architecture, the military, and the social life of the 17th-18th centuries. Anna is sent from home for her own safety to France and then to Russia. With each move, her relationships become more complicated, and her security more erratic. Losing faith in herself and her abilities to determine who can be trusted, she withdraws into herself and warily watches the world around her. She becomes quite real, both to the reader, and to our searchers Nicola and Rob.

As with other Kearsley titles, when writing about the past, she focuses on the parlous times when parents often no longer saw their children after their extreme youth. Valuing family and friends, the characters cling tightly to their children even as they must let them go because constant wars and changing loyalties make children vulnerable and easily used as pawns in a greater game.

Even though Rob and Nicola have their own personal histories and struggles, following Anna's story, both historically and psychically, helps bring the narrative to fulfillment in a gentle yet thorough way.

This story stands alone fairly well, although I would recommend reading The Winter Sea, at least, to fully appreciate the finer points of the previous book as it applies to The Firebird. The Shadowy Horses, which features the boy-child Rob, is also a good read and gives the reader a better base from which to understand Rob's adult paranormal skills. Because The Firebird provides so much to the reader that enriches and delights, it is well worth devoting a block of uninterrupted time to it.

Read an excerpt from this book.

Susanna Kearsley began writing because of a bet with her sister. When her second novel, Mariana, won the Transworld Publishers' Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize competition, she was off and running as the author of many highly popular books, most of which defy genre classification. She lives in Ontario, Canada. Visit her website.

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