The Firebird is a book based on the classic Russian fairy tale of the same name. Ivan is a self-styled tsar who has many strong, trained, warrior sons, but none of them are very bright. Except for Ilya, the middle son. He is much smarter than his brothers so they naturally assume that he is a sorcerer and use every opportunity provided to beat him to a pulp and just generally make his life miserable. When someone steals Ivan's prize cherries, he sends his sons one by one into the orchard to discover who the thief is. Ilya knows who the thief is because he spied on the orchard and saw her. It was the Firebird. As a reward for not telling Ivan who was stealing his cherries, she gives him the gift of speaking to animals. As his older brothers fail to discover the thief, they become convinced that Ilya is the thief and give him the worst beating of his life.
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Ilya now fears for his life and can think of no other plan to save himself than to pretend that the beating addled his wits and turned him into a fool. However, not even his pretense protects him as his brothers continue to play cruel jokes - such as tying him to his horse and setting the dogs on him during a hunt. Using his newly acquired skill to communicate with his horse and the dogs chasing him, he is able to get away. However, when his horse is killed, he is lost out in the forest in the middle of winter with no supplies. A kindly ex-employee of his grandfather takes him in for a time and then Ilya becomes restless and follows the feeling of magic back into the woods. There he comes upon a giant maze which leads to an evil sorcerer's castle. After catching one glimpse of the 12 beautiful maidens that the sorcerer keeps captive, he falls in love with the lovely Tatiana. He decides to do whatever it takes to free her and to kill the evil sorcerer. But, with evil demons, a dragon, and other impossible tasks, can Ilya accomplish what so many other heroes could not?
I thought this book was just average because there was such slow story development that I almost set it aside. I usually finish books in a day or 2 and this one took me a week and a half to plow through. The characters were likeable enough and the story was fine, but Mercedes Lackey spent well over half of the book just setting up the story. The first part of the book just dragged by as the author described Ilyas terrible life and the horrible things that his family did to him. She weakly explained that Ilya didn't dare leave because he couldn't survive out in the forest alone long enough to get anywhere else where he could survive. But, if Ilya's home life was actually as bad as it was potrayed, Ilya definitely had enough backbone to leave - long before the whole cherry tree incident. By the time Ilya actually does leave his father's land, there isn't a whole lot of time left for the real action in the book. The reader is going along at a nice slow pace and then suddenly is raced through to the ending where everything changes and nothing ends quite the way it was set up to. The ending was quite abrupt and left the reader hanging, too. If this book was a duology or a trilogy, then it would be understandable that Lackey spent so long setting up the story line and left the reader hanging at the end, but, as far as I am aware, it is a standalone novel. Perhaps Mercedes Lackey was planning on writing another novel to follow this one and it never happened?
The review of this Book prepared by Debbie