In the first of a new series from Paula Brackston, Xanthe Westlake and her mother Flora move to small town Marlborough to rebuild their lives. Flora bought the property and stock from a now-deceased fellow antiques dealer and retailer. He left the place in a pretty big mess, but the women are up to the job.

Right from the start, we learn that Xanthe has a special talent called psychometry. That means she gets visions and feelings when she holds certain objects. And if you’ve read other recent reviews from me, you realize it’s become an unexpected theme. This is the third—and best—book I’ve read lately where the main character has this talent.

At a nearby auction, Xanthe spends a pretty penny on an antique chatelaine. Chatelaines were typically worn by the woman of a fairly grand house. They included practical items like thimbles, tiny scissors, and also things like prayer books or small perfume bottles. The various items hang on chains from a central piece attached to the belt of her dress. Xanthe’s new chatelaine “sings” to her, producing both feelings and visions. 

What she does with those visions is the meat of the story. Brackston tells a present-day story, including the Westlakes integration into their new home and shop. She also weaves a seventeenth century story into the plot, with Xanthe trying to save a young woman from almost certain death. Of course, the stakes and the drama are high!

My conclusions

This is everything I hope The Firebird would be and more. Xanthe’s character and story drew me in quickly. She is resourceful, smart, and likable flawed. And absolutely my favorite kind of heroine.

Brackston draws a clear picture of Marlborough in both time periods, as well as the manor house and people of the times. She strikes the perfect balance between action, character development, and descriptions. Plus, there’s a little romance thrown in for good measure too.

After reading Unmentionable recently, I also appreciated Brackston’s ongoing mentions of the smelly realities of the 1600s. She never romanticizes the time period, but rather tells it like it is. Chamber pots, trenches of varied, stinking waste, and necessary houses all make appearances.

Brackston builds suspense by pulling Xanthe back and forth between time periods. There’s just one “baddie” character, along with several folks who are understandably confused at her continued disappearances. It’s interesting to see how she parlays her present-day knowledge and talents into assets in the centuries-old story line.

I thoroughly enjoyed this historical fiction (with a time travel, psychometry twist) novel. Now I’m excited to read book two, coming in October 2019.


Many thanks to NetGalley, the author, and St. Martin’s Press for a digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.