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Firebird    by R. Garcia y Robertson order for
by R. Garcia y Robertson
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

R. Garcia y Robertson mixes a witch's cauldron of a fantasy in Firebird. Set in medieval Asia and centered on Markovy (an alternate Russia), it's filled with perilous hero quests and protagonists with mysterious pasts, and spiced with magic and fascinating twists on old myths and legends.

It opens, 'Once upon a time in the north woods that circle the world, a witch-girl gathered fungus for the Bone Witch's supper, when she heard the fire jay call her name.' The girl is Aria, raised by the Bone Witch (who is much more benign than her name sounds) ever since she was sold to her as a child 'thrown away in time of civil war and famine.' The fire jay guides Aria and warns of danger throughout her adventures. This time he leads her to a young and gallant foreign knight burying a treasure. Aria helps the knight, Sir Roye de Roye, to a place of safety, tends his wounds, and brings him food, but those actions have dire consequences for her protectress.

Their haven is destroyed by brutal men seeking the buried prize, and Aria and her knight sent on a quest by the Bone Witch, to return the Firebird's Egg to its nest so it may hatch and lift the curse set on Markovy when it was stolen. It's no easy task as the nest lies 'atop the Burning Mountain, deep within the most trackless part of the Iron Wood.' And deadly Tartars - who have their own powerful technologies (including sky-boats) and magics - are also after the prize, pursuing our hero and heroine to the end. The young lovers are separated along the way, believing each other dead. Aria is given to Persephone, the Killer of Children, and meets the Old Man of the Mountains, while Sir Roye helps a nubile blonde boyar noblewoman, Sonya, escape from the Tartars.

The paths of Aria and her knight converge again in Markov, where she learns about her past and meets a half-brother. Though surrounded by treachery, Aria finds new friends and supporters - including Sonya and competent harem dwarfs - and wends her way to completing her perilous quest, thus setting freedom 'loose on the land' of Markovy. Firebird is an amazing read, not to be missed by anyone who enjoys great fantasy.

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