Review: ‘The Firebird’ by Sophie Masson


I had the devil’s own time finding a decent image of the book cover. Sad. 😦

Ivan, youngest son of the powerful, greedy Tsar Demyan, is resigned to a life of misery and humiliation at the hands of his brothers, brutal Yuri and sly Igor. And to add to his torment, Yuri has been promised in marriage to the girl Ivan has loved all his life — the bold and beautiful Princess Tamara, daughter of a neighboring king.

Then one day, Ivan sees the legendary Firebird in his father’s garden. The tsar, obsessed with the beautiful creature, orders his sons out in a quest to capture it and bring it back to the palace. Determined to find the bird before his brothers do, Ivan embarks on a thrilling journey of reckless endeavor and strange magic.

The Firebird is a sweet little story that draws on Russian folklore — not something I’ve read a huge amount of, although a lot of the tropes were familiar (such as the kind and honest younger son suffering from abuse at the hands of his cruel and conniving older brothers).

I found The Firebird an interesting but somewhat straightforward tale; there was only one plot twist that I didn’t see very far in advance, and that was because we are only told the relevant information shortly beforehand.

Ivan, said youngest son, is passive and mopey to the point that I wanted to shake him. Once his quest begins, he shows a little more strength of character, but he is intuitive, rather than logical, and kind to the point of naiveté. Because The Firebird is a fairytale, that naiveté becomes a strength rather than the debilitating weakness it would be in a more-realistic genre. (Is that too cynical of me?)

I quite like Tamara, who is betrothed to Ivan’s evil oldest brother in order to save her kingdom, a betrothal that is the cause of Ivan’s moping. I think I’d have preferred this story if more of it were from her perspective.

A lot of the chapters are unfortunately from the perspective of Ivan’s brothers, Yuri (the cruel one) and Igor (the conniving one). They are irredeemably evil — though, again, they would have been worse in a different genre — and I didn’t really enjoy their chapters very much. It was entertaining seeing them being led around by the nose by a bunch of elderly Russian magicians, though.

What kept me reading (well, listening to my audiobook) was that Sophie Masson’s writing is delightful: her descriptions are as vivid and beautiful as her story is whimsical. At the end of the day, I think this is a “it’s not you, it’s me” situation — I did like The Firebird but I didn’t love it as much as others who dig this genre will.

PS I felt a bit the same about Stardust, which is a similar story, with a similar protagonist. I think maybe “fairytale” isn’t my thing? I’ll stick to “fairytale retellings” instead.

Three stars

shutterstock_166209737_smlIn case you missed it, earlier in the month  I was over at Aussie Owned and Read, with my four tips for ways to see your writing anew.

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