Successfully blending a contemporary romance with an historical adventure is no easy task, but in The Firebird, author Susanna Kearsley goes one step further, bestowing supernatural abilities upon her protagonist. Since birth, Nicola Marter has had psychic powers: when she touches an object, she catches glimpses of who owned or handled it previously. Nicola, who works for an art dealer, views her ability as a curse and hides it from most people, particularly her professional colleagues. But when she is presented with the opportunity to assist an old woman who needs proof of a family heirloom’s origin, she embarks on an adventure that takes her from her home in London to Scotland and Russia.
Accompanying her on this journey is Rob, a man Nicola once dated and still loves, who has psychic abilities far superior to hers. Nicola and Rob begin to “see” the past and trace the life of a young girl named Anna, an ancestor of the heirloom’s elderly owner. A vision of Anna with Catherine the Great sends Nicola and Rob on a quest to prove that the piece, known as the Firebird, actually belonged to the Russian empress.
As Nicola and Rob follow clues from Anna’s life, the novel’s focus shifts to the young girl, and the present-day love story is put on the backburner. The shift is so pronounced that scenes featuring Nicola and Rob in the second half of the novel seem jarringly out of place. The rich details of Anna’s story, which includes the appearance of several historical figures, carries the novel, while Nicola’s story pales in comparison.
The similarities between Anna and Nicola help balance things. Both characters are headstrong and determined, and they both have secrets to keep. Nicola hides her special abilities, and Anna must hide her lineage to protect herself and her family during wartime. Kearsley’s attempt to align her protagonists is clear, but Anna’s tale still overshadows Nicola’s.