I’ve been a big fan of Susanna Kearsley for several years. I discovered her not long after I powered my way through the Outlander books. And I felt like her writing had a similar vibe—what I call historical fiction with a twist. In the case of The Firebird, the twist is part time travel and part psychic awareness.
Nicola has a skill called psychometry. When she touches something, she sees its past. It may be just a few flashes, or even a whole scene. But mostly it’s a skill she hides, because that’s what her family taught her. Sometimes, however, it’s a curious and useful skill for her work in the art world.
In a client meeting, Nicola touches a family heirloom that the owner claims was given to her ancestor by Empress Catherine of Russia. She sees that it’s the truth, but has no concrete way to prove it. And proof is what the client needs to sell the heirloom. Based on her short vision, Nicola sets off with the assistance of her friend Rob.
Rob is even more gifted at psychometry. And, unlike Nicola, he’s not ashamed of his skill. He’s developed it over the years, and encourages her to do the same. Their journey takes them from England to Scotland to continental Europe and then Russia.
Typically, a Kearsley novel will grab me by the shoulders and force me to finish it within a week. This one was unexpectedly quite the opposite. Admittedly, I was reading several other books. But still, no great book takes me the better part of a month to finish.
I wasn’t entranced by the story, nor the characters. Nicola and Rob were far from captivating. And Kearsley’s balance of action and description seemed uneven. Just as I’d get involved in the present-day story, it would switch to the past. Now normally I wouldn’t find this difficult. I recently loved it in Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. Instead, I just felt disconnected from The Firebird’s settings and pedantic descriptions.
On the other hand, the main character from the past-tense story line was a charming young girl who grows into a young woman during the story. I rooted for her to find answers and peace, as the mystery of the heirloom unfolded.
Perhaps because of this, the book finally grabbed me around 70% of the way through. But that’s practically too late, since I was tempted to abandon the book near 50%. But if you’ve got some patience, you may find it works for you.
I’ll give this three stars, because it’s mostly well written. But I can’t go higher because of how conflicted I feel.