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The Firebird

Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for The Firebird includes an introduction, discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
    Questions for Discussion:
    1. Nicola observes at the beginning of the book that her “image” is what compelled Sebastian to hire her. Sebastian cultivates his own image as a Frenchman in order to seem more attractive to clients, despite his proud English heritage. The difference between the “image” of a person and his or her true nature is obviously a very important theme in this book; how normal do you think it is for people to perform different “images,” or versions, of themselves? When do you feel comfortable just being your natural self?
    2. Nicola says of her need to help Margaret: “I couldn’t not help her. I’d never have lived through the shame” (page 17). Do you think her reaction was appropriate? When and where should we draw the line when it comes to helping others? Finally, do you think Nicola unconsciously knew that helping Margaret would bring Rob back into her life?
    3. Rob may be able to read Nicola’s mind, but he also seems to be able to read her (he completely knows who she is and how best to love her). How much of this do you think is owed to his psychic ability? Is true intimacy being able to read the people you love?
    4. “The world becomes a wider place, with but a little learning” (page 178). The Firebird brings to life so many beautiful different settings; which was your favourite? If you had to choose, would you prefer visiting England, Scotland or Russia? Why?
    5. “It was what my mother always told my brother and myself that she missed most of all about St Petersburg—the beauty that lay everywhere, in unexpected places, if you only had the eyes to see it” (page 277). Have you discovered any unexpectedly beautiful places? If so, what are they?
    6. “Since the Tsar’s death the Prince had kept close to [Empress Catherine’s] side, and the usual whispers had started to spread. General Lacey had recently said in disgust, of the gossips: ‘They’d have the poor Empress so busy with lovers she’d never be left with a moment to sleep. ’Tis the curse of a woman of influence that she must always be reckoned unvirtuous.’” (page 427). How well do you think this statement applies to today’s “women of influence”? Have we made progress, or do women still have stereotypes and prejudices to battle?
    7. As both women’s stories progress, Nicola begins to draw from Anna’s bravery in order to be braver herself. Is there anyone in your own life that makes you feel brave, or inspires you?
    8. Rob says to Nicola, “‘If we cannae be what we were born to be, the whole of it, we die a little on the inside, every day we live the lie. I’d die for you in every other way…but not like that. I’m sorry, Nick.’” Do you agree with Rob’s decision to leave Nick at that point of the story? When, if ever, is it appropriate to compromise your sense of self, values, faith, etc., in order to be with another person?
    9. Do you think Rob overreacted when Nicola didn't want to publicly admit that she used her psychometric abilities to determine that the Surikov painting was a forgery? If you had such an ability, would you want others to know or would you too want to keep it a secret?
    10. Just for fun: do you believe in psychics, or clairvoyants? Have you ever had your fortune told? Did it come true?

More Books From This Author

A Desperate Fortune
The Look Book

About the Author

Susanna Kearsley
© Jacques du Toit

Susanna Kearsley

A former museum curator, Susanna Kearsley brings her passion for research and travel to her novels, weaving modern-day and historical intrigue. She won the prestigious Catherine Cookson Fiction Award for her novel Mariana, the 2010 Romantic Times Book Review’s Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction novel for The Winter Sea, was shortlisted for a 2012 RITA Award for The Rose Garden, and was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel from the Crime Writers of Canada for Every Secret Thing. Visit her at or follow her on Twitter @SusannaKearsley.