Review of “Firebird” by Kathy Tyers

Lady Firebird Angelo departs her home world expecting death in space combat. Captured instead, she finds a startling destiny among an ancient telepathic family—and a new kind of battle against implacable enemies.

Note: this review is for only the first book of the “Firebird” series.  The cover photo is linked to a Kindle trilogy which includes the first three books.

How I Discovered Firebird

Believe it or not, aside from Tolkien or C.S. Lewis, this is my first real foray into the world of Christian speculative fiction! I’m excited!  I’ve always been suspicious of fiction that is labeled “Christian”, because I had read some as a child and found it moralistic, poorly written, and more concerned with the preaching of a message than the unfolding of a story.  I wanted to write good fiction from a Christian worldview, but I wanted to distance myself from “Christian fiction” as a whole.

However, when I discovered the Speculative Faith blog, I realized that there are other Christian writers out there, and even published Christian authors, who truly care about telling a story and telling it well, not just concealing a preachy message in a shallow narrative.  I started looking around for some Christian speculative fiction to read, and after the first book I bought turned out to lose my interest, Firebird caught my eye.  It sucked me right in.

My Take

There were times when I could not put this book down!  The night I finished it, I was literally up until 3 a.m., gobbling up the final chapters.  Lady Firebird’s universe is fascinating, we are immediately pulled into her situation and concerned for her, and there is a great deal of history that gives the story depth.  My only complaint about the writing itself is that Tyers occasionally uses the “info dump” – breaking the narrative with large chunks of backstory told through the characters’ thoughts, which I find distracting and sometimes tedious.  Other than that, the writing was excellent!

The protagonists were realistic and flawed, yet always likeable, and I had no trouble rooting for them.  The antagonists – while sometimes bordering on too odious – are solidly detestable.  I know the key to realistic characters is having both good and bad qualities in some amount, no matter what side they’re on, but I like my villains to have a satisfactory amount of villainy.  Enough of these wishy-washy gray-area villains that are so common in stories nowadays!

I did not find this book “preachy”.  Yes, it had a heavy amount of religious content.  It even has a conversion story.  But it felt natural, not contrived – the religious elements were an integral part of the characters and their world, rather than a message the author formed a story around to preach.  Neither is Tyers setting out to convert her readers or educate them about Christianity; I find it annoying when a Christian author assumes their reader is ignorant of Christ and feels the need to “teach” them, so I can’t imagine how annoying unbelievers find that approach!  In many ways, Tyer’s handling of the Christian themes reminded me of the way I incorporate my own faith into my books.  Probably, a non-believer would find the religious aspect of Firebird irritating, but I thought it was a refreshing example of science-fiction rooted in God’s truth, not Eastern mysticism or agnosticism, or other worldviews common to the genre.  This book gives me hope that the way I handle faith in my stories is not completely unacceptable in the publishing world!

The Romance

It may not be obvious from the pitch, but one of the biggest plotlines in the story – if not the biggest plotline – is a romance.  This took me by surprise, and at first I was annoyed, as I am not much of a romantic and romance novels are not my thing.  In order to keep my approval, a romance has to be good, and Firebird’s romance passed the test.  The love story is sweet, and compelling.

That said, here comes my only misgiving about the book.  Firebird has very little sexual content (there are a few chaste kisses, but that’s about it).  However, the romance manages to be very sensual even with minimal physical interaction between the couple.  The man in the relationship has psychic/telepathic abilities, so there is a lot of mind-to-mind interaction, which is naturally very intimate.  Imagine being able to share thoughts, emotions, and even feelings directly with your spouse!  The idea is a powerful one, especially to those of us in relationships in the real world.  Perhaps reading this book would not affect single readers in the same way…but as a married woman I found this aspect of their relationship very sensual, and at times I was uncomfortable reading it.  I also felt like it set unrealistic expectations for romance, which in the real world is not the powerful, mind-melding experience this fictional one can be.

However, because the romance is not focused on their physical interactions, it centers instead on how important it is for spouses to be united in all ways.  The “marriage union” doesn’t refer merely to sex, after all, but also to the union of a husband and wife’s minds, hearts, intentions, wills, and desires (or, that is how it ought to be)!  Firebird makes that clear, and I appreciated that science-fiction-infused picture of a strong relationship.

In Short

I would definitely recommend Firebird!  It is not incredibly deep or insightful, as it is a space opera and not meant to be so, but it is an enjoyable tale, portrays truth, and it is well worth the read.  Those prone to romantic fantasies might want to tread lightly, especially during the latter half of the book, but it is an incredibly clean story and there is no objectionable content that I can recall.  It was so wonderful to read a science-fiction novel grounded in the Christian worldview.

I am now embarking on Book 2 of the series, Fusion Fire.  So far, it is just as good!

Leave a comment

10 Comments

  1. Greytawnyowl

     /  June 2, 2012

    Ooh, that sounds intriguing. I haven’t been a fan of her other books (Shivering World, Truce at Bakura), but I want to give this one a try.

    I completely agree with what you say about Christian speculative fiction and its plight. That has much been my experience (so much that I decided that I would not write “Christian fiction;” as in, no God mentioned explicitly or discussed. It’s never worked, though… 🙂 ) I haven’t read much (though really, what IS “Christian speculative fiction”? Written by a Christian? Christian worldview? Christian characters?). One thing I do suggest is the Binding of the Blade series by L. B. Graham. It’s explicitly Christian fantasy, but never feels preachy (preachy really bugs me 😀 ). I recommend it highly. I do enjoy religious content that is not preachy, and done well.

    Thank you for your thoughts/minor warning on the way romance was dealt with. I like to call myself a “romantic realist.” 😀 I’ve read similar sounding before (unrealistic view), so I think it will be all right.

    Really? I love grey villains myself. Only when they’re human, though. No one is completely good, but no God-creation is completely evil, either. I’m one of the ones who really wished (Harry Potter SPOILERS!) Voldemort had taken the chance for redemption. (SPOILERS end)

    Thank you for your review! I let you know how I like the book, if you’d like. 🙂

    Reply
    • Yes, I think that as Christians we simply cannot write fiction that is not Christian in nature. It’s impossible. 🙂 I think “Christian speculative fiction” refers to any work of fiction in the speculative genre (so, science-fiction, fantasy, paranormal, superhero, alternate history, etc.) which is written by a Christian from a Christian worldview. (There was actually a big discussion about this very topic at the Speculative Faith blog this week!)

      I’ll have to check out the “Binding of the Blade” series!

      I guess what I mean by “gray villains” is villains who aren’t obviously good or bad. I HATE it when you can’t understand the bad guy’s role in the story. Having gray characters isn’t a bad thing, per se (they spice it up because you don’t know whose side they’re really on), but when it comes to the “archenemy” of the story, I find it really annoying when you aren’t sure if they’re bad or not.

      Reply
      • Greytawnyowl

         /  June 4, 2012

        Definitely. I’ve tried. 🙂 Thanks for the link!

        Oh, yes. I understand what you mean now. Those kinds of characters are especially annoying because they don’t promote enough conflict. Weak antagonists as opposed to weak protagonists, I guess.

        Reply
  2. Bethany,
    Thanks for bringing me back to the world of a trilogy I enjoyed so much. Other than Lewis and Tolkien, these books were my first experience with Christian speculative fiction too.
    Sometimes though, while reading them, I felt a little guilty. It’s hard for me to credit paranormal stuff as part of any Christian ‘world.’ Still, I gobbled them up.
    I’ve heard that Tyers wrote them for the secular market and later changed them. This may be why the paranormal element is so strong.

    Reply
    • Maria, I generally think of paranormal as being supernaturally caused, whereas the special abilities possessed by the Sentinals was natural and scientific in origin. But that’s just my take. 🙂

      Reply
      • Sarah,
        You’re right about the distinction. Still, I felt a little uncomfortable.

        Reply
      • I would agree about the scientific vs. supernatural cause of their abilities. It didn’t make me uncomfortable at all (except for the sensual parts of the romance, but that’s not necessarily related to the fact).

        Reply
  3. Bethany, I encountered the original trilogy many years ago, when it was published by Bethany House. So it was neat to rediscover it when MLP released it and the sequels (Wind and Shadow, and Daystar).

    As you go on, I’m sure you’ll find more Christian spec fiction authors you enjoy. The quality is definitely growing, and Christian fiction as a whole has matured in craft over the last 5-10 years (in my opinion).

    Reply
    • Yes, I’m hoping I find many more good Christian speculative books! I’m sure they’re out there. 🙂 I think there is less science-fiction than fantasy, though, and I’m less inclined to read fantasies, especially Christian ones – I guess because the genre in general tends toward copycatting and similar worldbuilding, and Christian fantasy tends to be overly allegorical, which I can’t stand. But I do enjoy a good fantasy, as long as it’s fresh!

      I wonder if many Christian authors feel “safer” writing fantasy, because of classics like the works of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and also because they feel they can more easily portray their faith in a fantasy world? Hmm. This seems like a topic for another post…

      Reply
      • Greytawnyowl

         /  June 6, 2012

        Those are interesting thoughts….That would make a great post! I have definitely noticed that trend.

        Reply

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