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Firebird    by Mercedes Lackey order for
by Mercedes Lackey
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Mercedes Lackey's Firebird is an engaging fantasy retelling of Russian legend. Ilya Ivanovitch, a middle son of a minor Russian tsar, has no value to his greedy, paranoid father and is regularly beaten at every opportunity by his lumpish, brawling brothers, who dislike him for his intelligence and suspect him of witchcraft. His only friends in his father's palace are Mother Galina who runs the dairy, Father Mikail the priest, and Ruslan the shaman. They do what little they can to protect him - or at least help to heal his wounds.

Ilya is muddling along, avoiding his brothers whenever possible, when family matters reach crisis point. Tsar Ivan values his cherry orchard and keeps a guard on it. When cherries start disappearing overnight - and the guards regularly sleep through each theft - Ivan declares that each of his sons in turn is to be assigned guard duty and the one who catches the thief will be named his heir. Ilya's curiosity is aroused and, when an elder brother is on duty, he slips into the orchard and watches, jabbing himself with a pin to stay awake.

Ilya discovers that the legendary Firebird - with 'completely human, intensely blue luminescent eyes' - is the thief. Unfortunately, anyone who sees her suffers bad luck thereafter and Ilya's already bad fortune takes a sharp turn for the worse. Soon, his brothers are trying to kill him so that they can name his as the thief, while he's obsessed by the magical firebird's expressive eyes. After she leaves him the gift of a cherry, Ilya discovers that he can talk to animals and has visions of his ancestors, these abilities helping him to survive the continuing disasters that plague him.

After playing the Fool and barely surviving more fraternal attacks, Ilya manages to escape his family - and a perilous rusalka - and heads off to seek the Firebird and his fortune. He rescues her from the all powerful Katschei (who collects beautiful women and magical treasures but feels nothing for them) and seeks to defeat the sorceror - and his dragon - himself after falling for one of his lovely captives. Firebird is a delightful fantasy romp through Russian fairytales, with a hero for whom readers will root and a satisfying ending. Mercedes Lackey can always be counted on for an entertaining read.

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