I might not have read The Firebird, the so-called companion novel to The Winter Sea, as quickly if I hadn’t been getting on a cross-country flight several days after finishing it, but I thought carrying a Kindle and a book would be easier than carrying two actual books with me. I’m trying to minimize weight, people. I got slammed with a $75 charge for my suitcase being over the free weight limit on the way home from Boston, and I’d prefer to never have that happen again. I probably should have planned to Kindle the book after The Firebird too, but I thought it was time for me to read All the Light We Cannot See. I was also starting to miss holding an actual book in my hands, much as I enjoy that my Kindle acts as its own light source.
The format of The Firebird is essentially identical to that of The Winter Sea. Two story lines; one is present day, one is in the past. Both stories have a female protagonist, and the modern-day protagonist has a supernatural ability to see the past. Nicola Marter’s ability is more direct than Carrie McClelland’s, however. Nicola is a true “psychic.” She can hold an item and see glimpses of its past. The heroine in the historical narrative is Anna Moray, daughter of Sophia and John Moray of The Winter Sea. How the stories of these two women intertwine is a bit different than that of Carrie McClelland and Sophia Paterson-Moray-McClelland in the first book. Here, Nicola is an art appraiser who works in England. She hides her “gift” from the world, which is silly to me because an art appraiser would easily be able to use an ability to learn about objects to her advantage. But one day, a woman named Margaret Ross comes into her office, and her story makes Nicola rethink the moratorium she has placed on using her power at work. She has an old family artifact, a plain carved wooden bird that they call the Firebird, and the family lore says that Empress Catherine I of Russia once owned it and gave it to an ancestor who was living in Russia. Nicola learns via the bird that Margaret is dying of cancer and she wants to sell the item in order to finance a trip around the world before she passes away. She also sees the moment Catherine I gives the bird to Anna, Margaret’s ancestor. After learning all of this, Nicola desperately wants to help Margaret establish provenance (the fancy term for proof or documentation that an item is what people say it is), but doesn’t think that she will be able to do so on her own. So she contacts an old “friend,” Rob McMorran, who is also psychic, and who actually uses his abilities to do some good in his community—he’s a police officer, and everyone knows of his abilities where he lives, and no one cares. Rob and Nicola dated for a while several years before, but broke up because Nicola wanted to keep her skills hidden, and Rob refused to live that way. It’s pretty obvious the two still have feelings for each other right from the start. So they begin to hunt down Margaret’s ancestor, first in Scotland, and then eventually in St. Petersburg, where, conveniently, Nicola needs to go for work, anyway.
Meanwhile, back in the eighteenth century, Anna Logan (really Moray but she’s hiding out, remember?) is living with friends of her mother’s in Scotland, near Slains, where all of the historical action took place in The Winter Sea. The path that leads Anna to St. Petersburg is fairly convoluted, and to relay all the details would be more plot summary than I feel like getting into right now, and besides, this is a book where not knowing is at least half the fun. We get to spend time with some friends from The Winter Sea (no, I’m not telling you who) as they help Anna on her adventures. Anna, of course, has a romantic story line as well as the story of the Firebird to deal with, and it is almost as heart-rending as the story of her parents. And the ending. Oh, the ending. I actually cried.
As far as Nicola and Rob, initially I didn’t like the psychic thing, I think just because I liked the ancestral memory idea from The Winter Sea so much, but ultimately it was fine, and it’s used as a metaphor for Nicola harnessing her inner strength and being comfortable with herself and that sort of thing. Her romance with Rob was a bit more exciting than Carrie and Graham’s. There are setbacks and cliffhangers and things here that Carrie and Graham don’t have, which I appreciated at the time, since John and Sophia had so much drama, but I really got into the “will-they-or-won’t-they” with Nicola and Rob. By the time they finally got together, after maybe four hundred pages of holding hands and accidentally reading each other’s thoughts, I was a bit twitterpated myself. I must say, however, that Rob and Graham and Graham’s brother Stuart all seem remarkably similar in appearance—tall, muscular, sort of longish sort of curly dark hair—I think Kearsley might have a type.
I was reading on Kearlsey’s website that she doesn’t consider The Firebird to be a sequel to The Winter Sea, that they could be read in whichever order and maybe you don’t need to read both, but I really do think that this book would be more well appreciated by reading The Winter Sea first. Maybe that wouldn’t be true for everyone, but I’m glad that’s what I did. I recommend this book for the same readers who would like The Winter Sea! Next, I’m going to try a heavy-hitter: Pulitzer Prize winner All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. I’m sort of reluctant to read/review this before Bethany because it’s an Important Award Winner, and I always base my opinions of Important Awards Winners off what she says about them first. Except for The Goldfinch. I actually really liked that book.