Damnation Books, 86pp standard paperback,
£3.50 on Kindle (Dec 2015)
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (@mangozoid)
Bird of Prey is a short novella with a very big idea… Starting from humble beginnings, namely the showroom of a London auctioneer, this tale rapidly escalates into an extraordinary journey across Europe, in search of the secret behind the Zhar Ptitsa of Russian legend, the mythical Firebird that will return to seek vengeance for the evil and suffering that the Russian Czar (Tsar) Ivan the Terrible inflicted upon the world…
When a little old lady calling herself A. Romanov wanders into Fowler & Sons (a private auction house) clutching a small box with a crystal bird inside. Within days the crystal bird begins to grow and shed ‘feathers’, setting in motion a series of events that transform the comfortable life of Walts Walter, antique dealer, into something altogether more adventuresome. Needless to say, the bird eventually escapes and takes flight, albeit straight into the River Thames. Resurfacing a short while later, and shorn of its crystal shell, the magical creature flees from Walts and a team of shady Russians as it sets off on a one-way trip to the Red State.
As Walts delves deeper into the history of the mythical Zhar Ptitsa, it soon becomes readily apparent that this bird is a whole lot more than it seems. Sure enough, we are treated to a Tintin-esque race across Europe, during which he becomes obsessed with the bird and handily picks up a charming young lady called Kate who is similarly obsessed by the beast, and just so happens to have a degree in History and a wealth of insider knowledge about the Firebird of legend and Anastasia Romanov, youngest daughter of the last sovereign of Imperial Russia. Cue a whirlwind romantic tour of coffee houses across the continent as the two of them join together in their pursuit of the bird.
I won’t say any more for fear of ruining the climax, suffice to say that I personally didn’t care for the ending so much. The author does a wonderful job of building up the suspense as he lays down the foundations for a ‘big reveal’, but for me it just fell a bit flat. There’s nothing really wrong with the writing, but I did feel that it promised much and delivered little. Worth a look perhaps, but when there are so many other good novellas out there just now, I fear it’ll get lost in the shuffle, if it hasn’t already… By all means try it yourself, if you have the time, it is a very quick read…
* This review originally appeared on the British Fantasy Society (BFS) website here