I wanted to give Firebird a chance, really I did. I have a fondness for Lewis’ Space Trilogy and will always have a soft spot for Zenna Henderson. I honestly wanted to give this book a chance, even though the preface did not impress me very much. (It offers a solemn disclaimer that this is an imaginary story about God having created multiple planets instead of Earth. The disclaimer also states that this is basically New Testament fan fiction, and is about an Evil Religion and a Good, Real Religion.)
Our heroine is a noblewoman named Firebird Angelo. Her society is kind of oppressive and has a state religion that looks a great deal like Roman Catholicism if you belonged to a Christian denomination that had a bug up its butt because the Seven Virtues are not in the Bible. (The religion is a state religion that follows certain exemplary traits. Among the requirements of the religion are specific actions referred to as disciplines and charities.) One particularly unpleasant aspect of this culture is that spare heirs are under a death sentence only slightly ameliorated by the spares or “wastlings” being given the “opportunity” to go into the military and die in battle.
During a military action that Firebird does not at all approve of, she is captured by the enemy! She is prevented from committing suicide and is interrogated by a telepath who is a member of the Good Religion. For some reason these two are extremely Sympatico, though they are no Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan. Firebird decides she wants to live after all, which causes some consternation among her family because they very stupidly let someone with knowledge of state secrets lead a mission that resulted in her getting captured. As a result, Firebird’s people lose the war and the enemy ends up occupying their planet. In between her family trying to kill her and the most boring conversion arc in the history of ever, there is a very uninteresting romance. There is also something about a member of Firebird’s family working on a bio-weapon.
Some other minor irritations:
- Firebird is briefly given an assumed identity to protect her. The name is Mari. Mr. Telepath insists on calling Firebird Mari even after the assumed identity ruse is over. Firebird never protests this or questions it. (Spoiler: Firebird is apparently destined to be the mother of the Messiah. Or something.)
- Firebird’s conversion arc is rendered extremely boring by her already having doubts about her religion. Also, there’s a little song and dance about how the Good Religion is not allowed to convert, but they hope one day to be once more allowed to proselytize!
- Not having boy children is a punishment or a flaw that can be corrected by medical intervention.
- Mr. Telepath is horrified that Firebird was a frontline soldier.
- Mr. Telepath is also horrified by Firebird’s loyalty to her own side and willingness to commit suicide to avoid interrogation.
- There are also soul bonds but the soul bonding is boring.
In short, I did not really care for the world building, and the plot was kind of flat. I found it extremely difficult to become engaged with the characters, mostly because I was too busy grinding my teeth.
The Annotated Firebird on Powell’s Books (This is not the edition I read. Which I count as a small blessing.)