RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

B+

Title: The Firebird
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Publication Info: Sourcebooks Landmark June 2013
ISBN: 978-1402276637
Genre: Paranormal

Book The Firebird This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Malin. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.

The summary:

Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes sees images; glimpses of those who have owned it before. It’s never been a gift she wants, and she keeps it a secret from most people, including her practical boss Sebastian, one of London’s premier dealers in Russian art.

But when a woman offers Sebastian a small wooden carving for sale, claiming it belonged to Russia’s Empress Catherine, it’s a problem. There’s no proof. Sebastian believes that the plain carving—known as “The Firebird”—is worthless. But Nicola’s held it, and she knows the woman is telling the truth, and is in desperate need of the money the sale of the heirloom could bring.

Compelled to help, Nicola turns to a man she once left, and still loves: Rob McMorran, whose own psychic gifts are far greater than hers. With Rob to help her “see” the past, she follows a young girl named Anna from Scotland to Belgium and on into Russia. There, in St. Petersburg—the once-glittering capital of Peter the Great’s Russia—Nicola and Rob unearth a tale of love and sacrifice, of courage and redemption…an old story that seems personal and small, perhaps, against the greater backdrops of the Jacobite and Russian courts, but one that will forever change their lives.

And here is Malin's review:

Nicola keeps her psychic gift – her psychometry – secret from everyone around her, warned by her Russian grandfather that she mustn’t reveal her abilities to anyone. Apart from her family, only a few people in the world know what she’s able to do. One of them is Rob McMorran, a man she while studying in Edinburgh. His psychic gifts were much greater than hers, and they shared an attraction that may have turned into something greater, if Nicola hadn’t gotten spooked and run away. Now she realizes that she’ll need Rob’s help.

Nicola is about to go to Russia to acquire a mural for her boss. What better time to investigate further into the case of the Firebird carving that Margaret Ross brought to their office to have authenticated? Nicola doubts that her powers are strong enough that she can manage on her own, and she goes to Berwick upon Tweed to see Rob for the first time in over two years. Her plan is that he’ll come with her to Dundee, where Ms. Ross lives, and with his psychic gifts, she may get more clues as to what to search for in St. Petersburg to help prove that the carving was originally in the possession of the Russian Empress.

Rob is a police officer in Berwick and works as a volunteer lifeguard. It’s quite obvious that the entire town knows about his abilities, and that they are a great aid to him in his job. One of the reasons Nicola couldn’t stay in Edinburgh, was that she felt that her powers made her a freak, and she can’t quite understand how Rob can so proudly and openly display his clairvoyance. When they meet again, it becomes obvious that he was already expecting her, and he agrees to come with her on her journey.

Their quest to authenticate the carving takes them on a more complicated trip than Nicola had first anticipated. When investigating the life of Margaret Ross’ ancestor, they first go further north in Scotland to Slains castle, only to discover that Anna, the woman who was given the carving originally, was taken from Scotland to Belgium as a young girl.

Anna Logan discovers when she’s about eight that the family she’s grow up in are not actually her own, and that her parents had to give her up to keep her safe. Her great uncle comes and takes her to Belgium to stay in a convent, as in 1815, it was not safe for Jacobites in Scotland, and he fears for her safety. Traveling with him is the injured Lieutenant Jamieson, who Anna grows very close to. He spends a lot of time with her until his leg is fully healed, and promises to return to the convent to bring her to her family before too long.

However, as Anna’s parents and relatives are all prominent Jacobites, there are those who would want to use her as leverage to gain secrets. She has to leave the convent, and eventually, through a series of dramatic events, ends up going to St. Petersburg with a naval captain, who eventually becomes vice admiral to the Russian tsar. She is raised in his household alongside his own daughters, but always feels longing for her real family. To aid her foster father’s further rise in society, she goes to live with General Lacy, as a companion to his pregnant wife. There she meets the general’s Irish kinsman, a young man named Edmund O’Connor. While they initially seem to always be at odds, time and proximity causes their feelings towards each other to change.

Spending so much time with Rob, chasing through Belgium and France and St. Petersburg for Anna’s history, Nicola’s own feelings are reawakened. While they have to hold hands when sharing visions of the past, Rob behaves like a perfect gentleman, behaving almost like a brother much of the time. At other times, he seems decidedly flirtatious, which confuses Nicola all the more. During their journey, Rob keeps pushing her to use her psychic abilities more and more, and challenging her perceptions that being able to do such unusual things is a bad or undesirable thing. He can’t understand why she represses and hides her talents; she’s afraid of ridicule and unnerved at how willing he is to show his skills to the world.

There are two parallel stories in The Firebird, a narrative device that readers of other of Kearsley’s books may find familiar. This book is actually a sequel to one of Kearsley’s earlier novels, The Winter Sea (or Sophia’s Secret, as it is known in the UK). It’s also, as far as I understand, loosely connected with her novel The Shadowy Horses, where Rob McMorran first appeared. Anna Logan is actually Anna Moray, daughter of Sophia and John from The Winter Sea. Her life is an eventful one, and throughout, she seeks love, belonging and to be reunited with her true family. That’s not to say that she doesn’t experience a lot of love and care in both of her foster families. The Logans and the Gordons care for her deeply, and while she may not have had the life her parents wished for her, it’s by no means a bad one.

I read The Winter Sea several years ago, and must admit that unfortunately, I don’t remember all that much about the plot now. I do remember Kearsley’s writing being completely spellbinding though, and being drawn into the story, captivated both by the story in the past and present. When reading Lauren Willig's books in The Pink Carnation series, I tend to get annoyed every time I have to leave the story of the brave spies of the past, which feels interrupted by the framing story set in the present. Here, I was almost more compelled to read about Nicola and Rob, although Anna’s story was also fascinating to me. It’s a big book, which takes its time to reveal all its secrets, and I especially loved the sections set in St. Petersburg, which I was lucky enough to visit about five years back. This book really made me want to return.

The carving that Nicola is trying to authenticate is a Firebird, which appears in several Russian folktales. There are different versions, but all seem to amount to the same thing: whoever goes to chase after the Firebird, may return from the journey with something entirely different from that which they set out to find. This is absolutely the case for both Nicola and Anna, and I very much enjoyed taking part in their romantic journeys.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Not sure what that amounts to using letters, a B+?


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Jacki Knight says:

    OK, I’m a little confused by the timeline. Is the bit in the past supposed to be in 1715 rather than 1815? That would make more sense to me since 1715 was the year of the first Jacobite rising and by 1815 there was a whole world of difference in the treatment of Scots people.

    Also Princess Sophie (Yekaterina Alexeyevna) was born in 1729 and died in 1796 so she couldn’t have crossed paths with someone in 1815. And 1815 was the year of Waterloo and Belgium was hardly the place for travellers, however intrepid….

  2. 2
    Barb in Maryland says:

    Jacki—
    The book is set in the early 1700s.  The 1815 is a typo.
    The historical part of the previous book (The Winter Sea) concerns an earlier attempt at a Rising in 1708.  Anna was a baby in that book.  So she is a young girl in 1715.

    I loved both books, BTW.

  3. 3
    Malin says:

    @Jacki Knight – I’m sorry the 1815 is TOTALLY a typo, and I should have proof-read my review better. I had mixed up the dates for the review deadline and ended up writing this almost the same day it was due, in a hurry.

    The bits with Anna’s childhood start in 1715, yes. Very sorry about the mistake. It’s a great book, though.

  4. 4
    Amanda says:

    I was curious to know why you gave the book four stars, when you really didn’t say anything negative about it. What would have made it a five-star book for you?

  5. 5
    Amanda says:

    Can’t edit my comment, but I should have said, “you didn’t really say” rather than “you really didn’t say.” :-)

    Also, in case it’s not obvious, I’m not SBTB Amanda.

  6. 6
    Malin says:

    Generally, for me, full 5 star books are the ones where I pretty much have a shiver going down my spine at some point while reading them, books that engage me so much that I can’t stop myself from telling everyone I know about them, buying them as presents for people and generally making myself a bit of a pest because I feel so strongly about them. They usually make me extremely emotionally involved, be it laughing and/or crying. These are books that I will happily re-read time and time again, and where I wish the characters were real so I could be their friends. Books like The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay, Unraveled by Courtney Milan, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving or Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase, or every single book by Rainbow Rowell are in this category for me.

    Books that I rate 4.5 stars are books that I feel strongly about, will happily re-read, but there are certain small niggles that keep me from loving them whole-heartedly. Here I’d list The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Unveiled by Courtney Milan, Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas or Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase are in this category for me.

    4-star books are the ones I really like, that I enjoy reading, but that I don’t necessarily need to own, or would buy as gifts for all my friends and that I may not actually want to re-read. Quite honestly, most of the books I have listed on Goodreads are probably classified as 4-star reads (because I try to avoid books I think I won’t like). These are books that divert me and entertain me, but where there’s just something missing, you know? I can’t always put my finger on what it is, but they just don’t grab me THAT way. The Firebird was well-written, but perhaps a bit too slow in places, and Nicola definitely annoyed me a bit, especially to begin with. I felt that her reasons for denying her powers could have been better explored, and because I really liked Rob, I felt she should appreciate him more. Even when she changed her mind later, she never quite developed into a person I really liked. I tend to want to focus on the positives rather than the negatives when I write reviews. I hope this answers your question, Amanda?

  7. 7
    Jacki Knight says:

    Thanks all for the explanation. Sorry if I came on as too nit-picky but Napoleonic era Russia is a favourite of mine (thanks Dinah Dean/Jane Holt).

    I’ve ordered the book and look forward to reading it.

  8. 8
    Amanda says:

    Yes, you answered it very completely—thank you. I also like to focus on the positives, but without both sides, the review is not as useful. I don’t know what space constraints you may have been working under for the initial review, but I appreciate the addendum.

  9. 9
    Shannon says:

    @Malin.  I guess I’m like my high school English teacher.  She only gave As when something was completely amazing.  I’m the same way with book reviews.  Most get a B, B+ or a B-, because I am picky about what I read, and I read good stuff.  I can only think of two books that I gave 2 stars/D.  I usually don’t write those reviews, but I was bothered that there were like five reviews raving about the book, and I bought it on those reviews.  I figured I had to provide an alternate perspective.  I, too, would rather be positive than negative.

    As for this book, I read your review, agreed with it, and wished again for a book that would blow me away.  They are rare, and I do treasure them.

  10. 10
    Malin says:

    @Shannon. Ha! Maybe it’s the fact that I am a language teacher (I teach English and Norwegian to secondary school kids in Oslo). I just always believed that the top marks should be saved for something out of the ordinary. If I rate everything too highly, the rating stops having any meaning. Whether I will rate a book highly is actually usually an emotional issue rather than one of pure quality. If they make me feel strongly, I am much more likely to overlook faults in plotting, characterisation or the writing in general. The last romance I read that I felt that I could rate 5 full stars (or an A/A+) was Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran. If I have to be completely objective, there were bits of the plot that weren’t entirely perfect, but the book was just so emotionally satisfying to me that I couldn’t rate it any lower.

    Apart from that, the only books I’ve rated 5 stars in the last few months are the two most recent Jim Butcher books. Now that the Dresden Files has really hit its stride, it’s absolutely blowing me away. I’m loving the books and the characters so much that I can’t quite objectively rate them.

  11. 11
    Susan says:

    I’m torn about the three books in this loose “series.” I was very excited to start The Shadowy Horses.  Maybe too excited because, although it was good, it just didn’t deliver everything I’d hoped.  As a result, I put off reading The Winter Sea until recently.  Maybe precisely because I didn’t have such inflated expectations, I really liked it and then immediately upon completion embarked on The Firebird, which I also liked. 

    Taken individually, I’d probably give the books a C+, A-, and B+, respectively, but they’re probably stronger than that as a whole.  I read so many books, and have such a bad memory these days, that it takes a special book to take root in my mind for the the long term.  Sometimes it’s not even clear when I first finish a book that it’s going to be one that I just can’t let go.  It can be surprising sometimes which books/series tend to grow with me over time, and I can’t always verbalize what it is that makes them different.  I think these books fit into that category, tho.  (I don’t know if any of this made sense.)

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