THIS latest historical romance from acclaimed Ontario author Susanna Kearsley crackles with imagination.
The Firebird focuses on two contemporary clairvoyants who chase down a fabled firebird with hopes of discovering its charming owner's secrets circa 1725.
First introduced in present-day London within the offices of a principal Russian art dealer, the mythical firebird takes the form of a wooden carving.
Kearsley later explains the firebird's place in Russian folklore with a fairy tale in which chasing a firebird leads to untold hardship, adventure and rewards.
Using a form of extra-sensory perception called psychometry, Nicola Marter and Rob McMorran, the novel's central characters, chase their firebird through Scotland, over to Belgium and all the way to Russia during the early 18th century.
A tale of family, friendship and love, the novel's narrative is driven by loyalty. Kearsley tests her characters' faith in themselves and each other, which is most becoming in a work of historical fiction.
The Firebird is firmly rooted in the context of Jacobitism, and these characters, the real and the imagined, fight for what they believe in. (The Jacobites advocated the return of the Roman Catholic Stuart kings to the throne after James II was deposed in 1688.)
Fearlessness is something that relates Kearsley's modern characters to her historical ones. Their inner strength shines in moments of triumph and struggle alike. Time after time, they rise to any occasion in not only expected, but surprisingly delightful ways, as well.
Nicola and Rob are both gifted with ESP. Each views their abilities differently, and as they disagree over matters of what can be proven versus what can be intuited the tension is palpable as they set out on this fact-finding mission together.
Kearlsey, a former museum curator with several bestselling novels under her belt, seamlessly weaves past with present through emotional storytelling.
Though her settings sometimes lack the details to firmly anchor the reader in time and space, her characters are extraordinarily well-developed. Every bit of dialogue is convincing; their words are seldom wasted.
Kearsley restores to life historical figures who may otherwise be long-forgotten. Col. Patrick Graeme, John Moray, Capt. Thomas Gordon and others are so much more than names on a page attached to records of centuries-old battles. In The Firebird, they are fathers, friends, husbands and soldiers; they are believable and compelling.
In fact, fans of Kearsley's may recognize Col. Graeme from her 2009 hit The Winter Sea. A few of her other characters are now perfectly poised for a followup of their own. One can hope!
With intrigue and verve, Kearsley has penned what is sure to become yet another bestseller. While the fate of some of these characters may already be known, surely this retelling of their journeys is all her own thanks to The Firebird's ensemble of original voices.
Jennifer Pawluk is a Winnipeg communications specialist.
By Susanna Kearsley
Touchstone, 464 pages, $20