“Firebird” by Kathy Tyers

firebird On the planet of Netaia, Firebird Angelo comes from a royal family that rules the stratified civilization with a rigid tradition of honor and detailed religious code. As an extraneous heir, Firebird faces the obligation of suicide once her older sister delivers a second child. Meanwhile, her planet nation prepares for war against the nearby Federation of planets.

While easily melodramatic, this sci-fi culture is handled well, the characters are nuanced and compelling, and the book overall was one I enjoyed.

Firebird is a protagonist who doesn’t waste time feeling sorry for herself, but is realistically bought in to the system in which she was raised. The whole idea of disposing of extra heirs – called “wastlings” – once the line of succession is assured is enforced through cultural-religious mores, and Firebird was believably shaped by the culture that raised her, while still longing for more. I found this departure from the “teenage-protag-is-the-only-one-who-sees-her-culture-is-depraved” cliché refreshing.

I was a little skeptical that the wastling culture could be carried off without melodrama – especially since my own real-life society slaughters babies for lesser offenses. (Of course, the Netaian’s system is more efficient and more methodical than our procedure of icing random babies. Efficient because they don’t execute their Plan B’s before the primary children fulfill the parents’ designs; methodical because it’s societally enforced across the entire class.)

Mrs. Tyers constructs her system believably by basing the entire culture on an honor, pride, and duty-centered religion. To refuse committing suicide is to defy the Powers in charge of the universe, and Firebird – while entertaining dreams of what might have been – doesn’t question what everyone around her accepts as truth.

And yet, another character voices the very objection I came up with. It was gratifying to see that the author had indeed thought of my objection, and rather than dismissing it – or having her characters dismiss it – she confronts them with the logical arguments of their culture, and forces them to think through their positions.

Romance is often the weak point of books for me, but I feel Firebird‘s romance was refreshing, as well. When Netaia’s aggression toward a nearby system brings Federate forces against them, Firebird catches the eye of a Federate officer named Brennen Caldwell – in the honorable way.

While Mrs. Tyers mentions the concept of “connaturality,” which is apparently like having a “soul mate” or matching personality, she never defines it. It wasn’t mutual “love at first sight,” but rather a gradual courtship of learning each other’s characters and personalities, dealing with the gaps in their worldviews, and coming to a mutual understanding about the relationship. While they move toward trust more quickly than I might have, it was a good look at a slow, thoughtful, intentional development of a relationship, and I deeply appreciate the author confronting the issues raised when a couple doesn’t share the same spiritual outlook – an issue all too often ignored in modern romance.

I do have one complaint. The villain seemed to stray into mindless sadism at a few points, without a clear, logical motivation to be hunting the protagonist. This element was less of an issue as the book went on.

One more brief note: Mrs. Tyres portrays psionic mutant mind-abilities about as well as anyone could, giving her telepaths weaknesses, protocols, and realistic struggles just like all the other characters.

The climax was suitably knuckle-biting, the battles varied, and the religion allegorical (rather than either preachy or stereotyped).

An enthralling book, with enough action and interpersonal relationships to keep everyone’s interest, Firebird stands out among the slew of young adult sci-fi books that just don’t have the same staying power.

Disclaimer: I received a free ebook copy of Firebird through a promotion from Enclave Publishing. I was not required to write a review.

While Firebird is followed by at least two sequels – Fusion Fire and Crown of Fire – there is no cliffhanger to punish you for not continuing the series. The book is available on Amazon (here), and through the author’s websiteKathyTyers.com.

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