The Firebird

Written by Susanna Kearsley
Review by Janice Parker

When art gallery assistant Nicola Marter takes hold of a small, carved bird, known only as the Firebird, she can tell at once that what the prospective seller says is true: that the carving had once been owned by Empress Catherine of Russia. What she can’t tell the seller is how she knows this, for Nicola was born with the gift of psychometry, which allows her to see detailed visions of an object’s past owners, their lifetimes and adventures.

Nicola keeps her gift a secret from most of the people in her life, but when she feels compelled to find out more about the Firebird, she turns to the one person she knows will understand, her former lover and fellow psychometrist, Rob McMorran. Together they trace the fascinating history of the Firebird from Scotland to Belgium and finally to lavish St. Petersburg and the court of Peter the Great.

Kearsley, a former museum curator, has written a well-researched novel, basing many of her characters on historical figures and their involvement in actual events. Her details of the Jacobite movement in Scotland in the early 18th century and its continued support amongst a small enclave of expats in Russia is particularly interesting, with her scenes based in St. Petersburg both beautiful and evocative.

Kearsley uses a time-slip approach in this novel but, unfortunately, those scenes which take place in the current time work less well than the historical ones. The relationship between Nicola and Rob seems at times repetitive and, although Kearsley goes to some length in the beginning of the novel to set up Nicola as an intelligent, competent, fluent Russian-speaking character with a master’s degree, she seems to spend a good portion of her time consumed with self-doubt and regret. Fortunately, these scenes become less frequent as the novel progresses, giving the reader the opportunity to remain immersed in the delights of St. Petersburg.