Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review: The Firebird

The Firebird
By Susanna Kearsley June 2013

About the Book

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 has held the object. She knows the woman is telling the truth.

My Review

In The Firebird Kearsley does what she does best, effortlessly blending the factual with the fictional and adding strong romantic and supernatural elements. Here, the author shines, as she uses Rob (a character from her earlier book The Shadowy Horses) and blends him with historical characters from her Jacobite history The Winter Sea. It is truly amazing how she takes modern characters from one book and connects them with eighteenth-century characters from another. Rob, and a new character Nicola, both with psychic powers, continue the story that left off in The Winter Sea. 

Nicola, who works in the art world, meets a woman who is looking to pawn a firebird carved in wood. The woman is badly in need of the money and says one of her ancestors was given the carving by the Empress Catherine of Russia, Peter the Great’s wife. Unable to prove the claim by normal means, the woman is turned away, but Nicola can use her powers to see something’s history only by touching it, and so by holding the firebird, Nicola sees that the woman is correct.

The woman’s ancestor, Anna, is the daughter of Sophia and John Moray from The Winter Sea. Born to staunch Jacobites during the Jacobite rebellions of the early 1700s, Anna remains unaware of her true parentage and is carefully hidden by the Jacobites to protect her and her family from those who would harm them if her true identity were revealed.

On the run from English spies, Anna begins a new life in the Jacobite community of St. Petersburg, Russia. Despite the distance, the Jacobites there continue to work to restore their ousted king. Nicola and Rob follow Anna through eighteenth century St. Petersburg and quickly become invested in Anna’s story, that of a woman without social status, blood relations, or wealth who must hide who she is and carve out her own life in a new land, finding her own path while remaining true to her past.

I’ve said this before, but I’m continuously amazed by the depth of Kearsley’s detail in research and story telling. The majority of her characters are real and she faithfully tells their life stories while weaving in fictional characters to connect the dots. The full descriptions of historic St. Petersburg are captivating, and learning about the Jacobites’ work in Russia adds an entirely new dimension to the story. As with most Kearsley books, there are stories of love, loss, and courage in both the present and the past, as the modern-day characters seek to uncover the stories of those long gone. I am anxious to see if Kearsley will revisit Anna and the Jacobites in a future book.

To get the full picture of what Kearsley achieves, first read The Shadowy Horses. Then read The Winter Sea, and follow that with The Firebird for a trio of stories you cannot put down.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer,

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