She Reads July Book Club Selection: The Firebird

Book Review: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley (Sourcebooks Landmark; 544 pages; $16.99).


Spanning centuries and continents, The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley fuses history with mystery, romance, and the supernatural and will appeal to a wide range of readers.  Unfortunately, that did not include me. Although I did not love the story, I did not totally abhor it either.  My reaction was rather lukewarm.  Perhaps that is because of the way Kearsley writes her tale.  Half of this story is a tantalizing page-turner and the other half is as dull as a two-hundred-year-old blade.

Kearsley concentrates her narrative lens on two very different women in The Firebird: Nicola and Anna.

Nicola Marter has an extraordinary ability.  She has ESP but prefers to hide this gift lest her career as an art gallery assistant suffer for it. Even those closest to her do not know her secret. But when a woman dying of cancer claims an object that has been in her family for years once belonged to Empress Catherine of Russia, Nicola cannot ignore her visions.

She knows the lady is telling the truth.  When Nicola touches the piece, she glimpses the empress bestowing a small wooden carving called the “Firebird” upon Anna, the woman’s ancestor.  This revelation intrigues Nicola.  With her former lover, Rob, in tow, Nicola travels to Russia, determined to learn more about Anna.

Connection with the enigmatic and dynamic Nicola is effortless.  She literally jumps off of Kearsley’s pages.  Nicola drew me into this story; Nicola is the reason I kept reading.  I would characterize her narrative as exciting and suspenseful and even purposeful.  However, I felt no such bond whatsoever with Anna, who bored me immensely.   Compared to Nicola, Anna was simplistic, muted, and wearying.

I kept expecting the author to somehow link together Nicola and Anna.  Where on earth did I get such an idea?  From this: “Two women.  One mysterious relic.  Separated by centuries.”  It just did not turn out quite the way I had envisaged.

Kearsley does inject two fulfilling and absorbing subplots into her story.  The chemistry between Nicola and Rob, a fascinating minor character, sizzles.  Rob also enjoys extra sensory perception, but his talents are much stronger than Nicola’s.  In one instance, he sees the specter of a Roman soldier, and I got goose bumps.  Anna’s descendant, the cancer-stricken woman now in possession of the Firebird, wants to go on a cruise around the world before she dies but lacks the funds for her trip.  The ultimate source of her dream vacation is a priceless and clever addition.

I love that Kearsley writes about real people, events, and issues in her story; she truly helps bring the past to our present.  But it’s not enough here.  While Nicola’s narrative piqued my curiosity, Anna’s story barely held my interest.  I wanted more substance from The Firebird but never got it.

Kearsley desperately wants readers to connect with Anna, or at least that’s the vibe I get from the way in which she tells the tale.  Instead of taking us directly to the point when Anna receives the Firebird, Kearsley gives us a window into Anna’s early life.  As Kearsley meanders, the story loses mass and borders on futility.  My mind wandered, as I hoped in vain that a turn of the page would get me back to Nicola’s chronicle.

The problem is with Anna.  She cannot compete with Nicola.  Anna is not a powerful enough narrator and fails to take command of the page.  It’s a shame really because Kearsley clearly has talent.  Too bad she couldn’t have written less Anna and more Roman soldier.  That would have been a novel I would have gone mad for.

The Firebird is the July Book Club Selection for She Reads.  To read other reviews of this book, enter fun giveaways, and discuss the story, visit She Reads.

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Filed under book review, books, fiction, historical fiction, mystery, She Reads, Summer Reading, supernatural, women's lit

6 responses to “She Reads July Book Club Selection: The Firebird

  1. Great review Jaime! I find your thoughts to be honest and fair. I won’t be reading this novel, for sure.

  2. This is one thing I love about reading other readers’ reviews. Though on the whole I liked this story much more than you did, I agree wholeheartedly about the Nicola/Anna imbalance. I would have liked much more about Nicola/Rob. Toward the end of the book, I sped through much of Anna’s story. Love your idea about doing more with the Roman soldier. Yes!

  3. I had some issues with this book, too. But I think that it’s been giving us all a ton to talk about! Some other bloggers enjoyed Anna’s story more, which is the opposite of what you experiences.

    For me, it was a complete miss.

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