Review: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Posted July 1, 2013 by Heather in Book Reviews / 22 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher / She Reads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Firebird by Susanna KearsleyThe Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on June 4, 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Paranormal Romance (?)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 544
Source: the publisher / She Reads

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Nicola Marter was born with a gift so rare and dangerous, she keeps it buried deep. When she encounters a desperate woman trying to sell a small wooden carving called "The Firebird," claiming it belonged to Russia's Empress Catherine, it's a problem. There's no proof.

But Nicola's held the object. She knows the woman is telling the truth.

(from the back cover)

Hang on to your hats and mark it on your calendars, folks: I gave four (out of five) stars to a Historical-Fiction-Paranormal-Romance novel. (See? I don’t even know what genre this book falls into because I don’t typically read/enjoy this type of book.)

I was so pleasantly surprised with The Firebird, and that makes me happy. This is the first book I received as part of the She Reads Blog Network / Book Club, and I was so worried that I wouldn’t enjoy it. Paranormal romance isn’t usually my thing. But the historical fiction part of The Firebird swept me away, and even the modern-day romance part is pretty good. So thank you, Ms. Kearsley.

Here’s the deal: Nicola has the paranormal gift of psychometry. (This is made known at the very beginning of the book, so no spoilers.) She can “see” the history of an object by touching it. In her capacity as the personal assistant to a man who owns an art gallery, Nicola comes into contact with an object (The Firebird) that its owner thinks once belonged to Empress Catherine of Russia (Peter the Great’s wife). The owner would like to sell the artifact, but she has no proof of her claims. Of course, Nicola has seen a piece of its past, so she knows the woman is telling the truth. She decides (for reasons not given here) to help the woman prove The Firebird’s origin. Nicola is already heading to Russia for work-related purposes, so it will be no big deal to look into the history of The Firebird while she’s there. But Nicola’s gift has limitations, so she turns to a friend for help. Cue romance and historical fiction.

The historical fiction part of The Firebird takes place in Scotland, Belgium, and Russia in the early 18th century and tells the story of King James II and the Jacobites. It follows the story of a young girl named Anna (a Jacobite herself), who receives The Firebird as a gift from Empress Catherine. I learned a ton of stuff about that part of history from Anna’s story–it is very interesting stuff–and the romance in this part of the story is truly romantic and down-to-earth.

Anna is a fantastic character with her I-don’t-want-to-be-a-proper-lady, I-want-to-be-a-soldier attitude. Go, Anna! You break that mold! I would love for Kearsley to write another book about her that continues where The Firebird left off. I would definitely read that book.

The big reveal in Anna’s story is a bit predictable–I knew what it was going to be very early on in Anna’s story–but that didn’t detract from the story at all. I still wanted to read every little detail about all of these fascinating people. (In the author’s note at the end of the book, Kearsley explains how she came to write Anna’s story, which characters are actual historical figures, and which of them are fictional. Most of the characters in the story were real people, and the overall situation of the Jacobites in the story was a real thing.)

As far as the romance in either story goes, it’s not over-the-top at all. It’s there, but it’s not all gushy and ridiculous. Yes, the men are all dark and handsome and strong and heroic. There are brooding eyes and looks that say more than words. There is tension and unrequited love and all that jazz. Although I’m a romantic at heart (is that redundant?) and my relationship with Eric is a very romantic one, I don’t like the romance in books a lot of the time. I don’t know why that is. But the romance in The Firebird was done right, I think, and it is truly romantic. It also isn’t the main purpose of either plot, so it’s easy to just go with the flow and enjoy the actual stories.

(And Kearsley gives a nod to Stephen King’s The Dead Zone early on in the book, which immediately put her on my good side. How very wise of you, Ms. Kearsley. Heh. Also? Lucky stones. How did you know that would hit so close to my heart?)

I did not know–until I read the author’s note at the end of the book–that The Firebird is a companion book to The Winter Sea, also written by Kearsley. Thankfully both books can be read as stand-alones, although now I want to read The Winter Sea, too. Hopefully I can get to that one soon.

The writing in The Firebird is very good, the historical fiction aspect is super interesting, and I enjoyed the book much more than I expected to. I highly recommend The Firebird to anyone who enjoys reading historical fiction and/or paranormal romance novels. I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.

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  • I would probably be wary about reading that genre myself but it looks like it was a good read so I’m considering it…. 🙂

  • This is the second review I’ve read for this book. Both historical fiction and paranormal romance are hit or miss for me, but the combination sounds really interesting.

  • Oh I’ve read Winter Sea! I need to read this, obviously. I like a little time travel romance!

  • sj

    Y’know…you and Amy both make me interested in things I normally wouldn’t touch with a pole of any size.

    NOT COOL, HEATHER. <.<

    • “A pole of any size” is SO PUNNY in this case. Hee!

      • sj

        ZOMG IT TOTALLY IS.

  • Based on the book’s description, this is something I would never pick up on my own. Paranormal and romance are SO not my things! But after reading a few reviews of it, I’m kind of intrigued. Both you and The Relentless Reader seem to have loved this book despite it being out of your comfort zones. My curiosity is piqued!

  • I’m glad that the historical fiction part kept you hooked, and that you enjoyed this one. It wasn’t for me, but I agree that the romance part wasn’t too over the top.

  • I was so pleasantly surprised at this one. I wasn’t expecting it when I got it, and when I read the back cover, it didn’t make me all that excited at all. However, I am thoroughly glad I read it. I thought Kearsley did a fantastic job with her research, and the historical fiction was amazing. I was okay with Nicola, but I adored Rob. Overall, I was just very impressed and would definitely consider reading more of her works.

    • Agreed.

      Rob is wonderful. I didn’t mention this in my review, but I have this…thing…for Scottish men, and Rob was Scottish and more. Just a great character.

  • Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    Hooray! We both had the same experience with this book. I was all grumpy, thinking that there was NO way I was going to like it. Tah-dah, I totally did 🙂

  • I keep seeing this beautiful cover everywhere! I’m glad this turned out to be a wonderful read.

  • I love that you’re breaking out of your comfort zone! I’ve heard that Kearsley’s books are really good which is why I have several of them myself. Just need to get around to reading them. Great review, Heather!

    • You’d love this one, at least (can’t speak for the others until I read them). Thanks, Michelle!

  • I’ve been hearing so much about this one lately–presumably because everyone I follow is apparently in the SheReads book club (ha!) but this does sound intriguing–though not something I would have picked up on my own. Glad you enjoyed it! I’ll be keeping my eye open for it (I wouldn’t be surprised if someone suggests it at my next book club meeting…seems we read a lot of SheReads books)

  • I really enjoyed this book and I’m with you – I would definitely read a sequel if she were to write one!

  • How fun when your expectations aren’t too high but then you like it so much more. I wish that would happen to me more – I really want to try and like something and then it really frustrates me when I just can’t.)

  • Ooh, this sounds pretty good! You’ve certainly made me want to read it. I really like the sound of Anna’s character, and I’m glad you’ve said that the romance isn’t too over the top. I’m often put off by silly romances in an otherwise very good book!

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  • I’ve only read one Susanna Kearsley novel, but it just happens to be The Winter Sea, so I’ll have to try and find this one sometimes, too. Thanks for the review!

  • I’m impressed Heather. When I started reading the review, i said, but Heather does not like romance? Then I read on and understood. The review is lovely and that says a lot about the book. Certainly a must-read for me 🙂