By Susanna Kearsley
“Hiding the person you are,’ he said, ‘won’t make you happy. I never hide who I am. What I am.”
Having read The Winter Sea, I was looking forward to The Firebird because I was very interested in knowing what became of Anna, the daughter of the protagonists in Slains #1, and hoped for a glimpse or two of them. I was also excited that the character of young Rob from the first book I read by this author, The Shadowy Horses, was a player in this one. It does deliver in that regard, but I wish she had incorporated some of the contemporary players in The Winter Sea and more than just Rob of Shadowy Horses as well. Although the book kept me interested as far as the historical part of the dual timeline, It was ultimately a bit of a letdown. Kearsley is so meticulous about her historical research and so careful to be faithful to her real but little-known actors on history’s stage, that her plot and character development took a distant second in this one. Every single person in this book actually existed except Anna herself, and a few stray innkeepers and such. Wikipedia got a good workout by me, and her historical notes at the end actually expose what contributed to the weakness of this book. Having to be faithful to all that she discovered in original source materials put too many constraints on what SK could actually do with the character and plot.
The contemporary part of the story did not rescue it. It was dull, except for a brief little unexpected discovery at the end, and very repetitive. Unlike The Winter Sea, it did not join past and present together in a big emotional wallop. There were a lot of loose ends. Nicola’s fascination with a certain painting at the Hermitage which was set up like it was going to be responsible for some kind of revelation was just dropped cold. It felt rushed, and left some pretty gaping plot holes. The heroine was irritating and nonsensical, and our Rob, from The Shadowy Horses, was nice, and grew up to be a fine young man, but there was no suspense or conflict in the relationship.
There were flashes of excellence in this book, and I can’t give it less than a 3 because I have so much respect for Kearsley’s writing and her hard work.
February 11, 2016