The Firebird / Susanna Kearsley
Toronto: Simon & Schuster Canada, c2013.
I always await new books by Susanna Kearsley with great anticipation. She is one of my favourite writers of this kind of book; romantic, suspenseful, slightly paranormal with the inclusion of psychics, those who can see ghosts, and/or time travel. The settings are always intriguing and the characters engaging.
The Firebird is no exception. There are links between this book, and two earlier ones, The Winter Sea and The Shadowy Horses. Now, the Shadowy Horses is one of my favourite of her books (full of ghosts, and archeologists, and Scotsmen!), so I was a bit worried about seeing the characters all grown up here. Would they lose their appeal? Nope. If anything, Robbie the boy (from Shadowy Horses) has grown into a handsome, charming, sensible gentleman in this book.
This novel is a little different: rather than England or Italy, it's set largely in Russia. The modern day characters travel to St. Petersburg for business -- heroine Nicola works for an art dealer, and is very good at authenticating paintings. This could be due to her strong talent in psychometry, being able to see flashes of the previous owners of an item she has in her hands. Her strong talent that she would prefer to deny.
Unfortunately for Nicola, she touches a small wooden carving that instantly enthralls her with the flash of its history she sees. And she knows that the only person who can help her now is a former boyfriend, Rob McMorran, who makes no effort to hide his particularly strong gift of the second sight.
Off they both go to Russia, ostensibly for Nicola's work but also chasing down the source of the carving. The Russian setting is lush and romantic, and Rob and Nicola encounter a vivid past wherein Scottish residents of St Petersburg in the time of the Empress Catherine live and plot as loyal Jacobites. These characters develop a wider story for those in The Winter Sea. It's very intricate, all the pieces coming together to make sense in light of the structure of the other two books. There are no gaffes, and all the writing is enjoyable. The descriptions of St Petersburg are wonderful, past and present, and though at times there does seem to be a lot of research showing, I found it enjoyably educational.
The past narrative was much deeper and dreamier than the current day, though, and I did find a bit of an imbalance in the two stories, as if both were fighting for supremacy in this book. This was a solid, entertaining read featuring a dreamy modern-day hero -- but I do believe that little Robbie and his shadowy horses will always be my favourites.
Explore Susanna Kearsley's website for a look at this book, to be released here in Canada at the end of this month. Read the opening chapter to get a taste of the style and main characters, too.