The Firebird’s Tale, by Anya Ow
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Release Date: December 6, 2016
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
The Firebird’s Tale begins with the end of a familiar story: a Prince who never smiled, and by Imperial decree, has to marry the one who managed to make him do so.
Except that it was all an accident, and the Prince would say he didn’t actually smile at the thief who dared to rob a Tsar, and the thief was not even a woman—or, as it turns out, even human.
Enemies to Lovers
I really enjoyed The Firebird’s Tale, a high fantasy novel set in a kingdom not unlike Russia called The Ironlands. It takes place during a time not long after magic had been burned from the lands and magical creatures are all but extinct. The book, which draws inspiration from fairy tales and Slavic folklore, offers some political intrigue and a sweet romance as the newlyweds Aleksei and Nazar embark on their new journey together – quite literally, as it turns out, as Aleksei is compelled to help Nazar on a quest to find a missing key.
As the blurb suggests, our two heroes are thrown together in a cheeky fairy tale spin-off whereupon – as is wont in fairy tales – they are married by some arbitrary royal decree. The Firebird’s Tale puts the “And they lived happily ever after” on pause and explores life after the royal wedding – in this case, the inherent threat Aleksei and Nazar pose to each other and the slow burn of their fragile courtship.
“Interesting, isn’t it? How your people seem to treat their progeny as currency?”
“Stories are stories.”
“Says the Tsesarevich wedded on the back of a smile.”
I adored Nazar’s character. He’s mischievous and impertinent and is the perfect match – or foil – to the serious and stoic Aleksei. Inherently free-spirited with a wanderer’s old soul, Nazar feels trapped by the marriage despite his growing fondness for Aleksei. His is a complicated character and I thought the author did a wonderful job showing us his true colors; I really felt his internal struggle and sympathized with his plight. By comparison, Aleksei took a while for me to warm up to. His affections may have run hot and cold at times, but I loved watching him fall slowly but surely under Nazar’s spell.
One of the highlights of the book for me was the many stories told during their journey across the Ironlands, which included fables, allegories, and some interesting twists on familiar fairy tales. Not only did I look forward to each tale and the accompanying exchange between the newlyweds, but the stories also helped speed up some of the slower parts of the book. The stories became a way for our two vastly different heroes to find common ground – although not always – but most importantly, the tales provided precious insight into their world and how things came to be.
Overall, I found The Firebird’s Tale to be beautifully written and the fantasy world well-crafted. However, I did find it difficult to keep track of the multitude of magical species that came up, and I wasn’t sure if it was because I wasn’t well-versed in fantasy, Eastern European folklore, or a combination of the two. Regardless, I personally would have loved a glossary or footnotes for words like leshy, vucari, indriks, vodnanoy, etc – especially when the plot thickened and some of these creatures and entities came into play.
To be perfectly honest, I first jumped at the chance to review this author’s debut novel after reading a powerful F/F sci-fi short story by her titled The Mourning Hour. The Firebird’s Tale did not disappoint, and I was charmed by the story and overall premise, and the ending left me wanting more. The book closes on somewhat of a loose end – not a cliffhanger, mind you, but it certainly wasn’t “And they lived happily ever after.” All in all, it was a thoughtful and compelling read that I’m happy to recommend.
One of the first things I ever drew was a five-legged dog: I’ve been adding more randomness to life since the 80s. I practiced as a lawyer for a few years before switching to advertising (it’s better for the soul). Now designing, doodling and writing on the side in between work. Born in Singapore. Based in Melbourne. Culturally food obsessed.
You can purchase The Firebird’s Tale at:
Less Than Three Press
I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.