Spanning three hundred years between its two storylines, The Firebird offers up a nice twist on the typical time travel adventure. The present is told by first person narrator, Nicola, an art dealer with a gift for being able to see the history of anything she touches. She and Rob, her even more talented friend, who wants to be more than just a friend, set out on a journey of psychic sleuthing, to prove a small carved bird was actually passed down from the Empress Catherine, widow of Peter the Great.
The past, told in third person, is navigated by Anna, the original recipient of the firebird. We follow her from her narrow escape from Scotland, as an engaging and precocious child, surrounded by a world of political intrigue she is too young to grasp, to her young adult life in St. Petersburg. The author skillfully captures eight year old Anna’s voice and thoughts, showing the character’s child-like understanding of the events that swirl around her, in stark contrast to the assumed perspective of the adults, to great effect.
Filled with beautiful description, the style of writing is relaxed introspection and interior with a healthy disregard for ‘active’ writing and rules about adverbs. Kearsley has a fondness for words like darkly, warmly, thickly; all those lovely words the grammar fascists insist be deleted from drafts. And it works, creating a calm and dreamy flow of narration that perfectly fits this time transcending tale.
And yet, when they had been admitted to the neighbor’s house and met the man himself, a cheerful man the same age as the colonel with a lively, smiling wife to keep him company, and Anna had been washed and settled in beneath a mound of woven blankets on a palette by the kitchen hearth she did not want to close her eyes, because she knew that if she slept and woke it would be morning, and the stay of execution would be over.
The developing romance between Nicola and Rob, and the mystery surrounding Anna were a delight to follow. The beautifully detailed history and descriptions of St. Petersburg—where I’ve never been, and know nothing about—were of great interest and delivered up in palatable small bites.
At 526 pages, The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley is a long, delicious read. In Kearsley I’ve found a new favorite, one whose body of already published work will keep me happily reading for many months.
I read and reviewed this book for She Reads.