Firebird (Lackey novel)
|Media type||Print (Hardcover, Paperback)|
The story revolves around the life of the clever young Ilya, who is one of the eight sons of a local boyar (Russian nobleman) named Ivan (who insists on being referred to as "Tsar"). Being in a household where the philosophy is 'survival of the fittest', Ilya has to contend with his jealous and overcompetitive brothers, who fear him for his intellect and abuse him constantly. His only friends are a priest (Father Mikhail) and a shaman (Ruslan), who are both as unwanted as he is, and Mother Galina, the elderly woman who runs the dairy.
His already dismal life takes a turn for the worse when the legendary Firebird, an enormous hawk of fire similar to the phoenix, visits his father's prized cherry tree orchard and begins eating all of the ripe cherries. Days pass on and more cherries disappear, causing Ivan great anger as the culprit remains unknown and free. In a fit of rage, he promises a great reward: whoever catches the thief and brings him or them to him will become his heir. However, this proves to be useless as well for none are able to catch the culprit without falling asleep. After failing his attempt, the third son, Pietor, takes the opportunity to tell off his father and escape from Tsar Ivan's domination (stealing a horse and provisions for his escape in the process).
Curious, Ilya spends the night at the orchard and, through the use of charms and some pins, manages to stay awake enough to see the Firebird. Shocked at what he's seen, Ilya remains quiet about his discovery and soon finds that he has been given the ability to understand the language of and speak with animals. However, having seen the Firebird, he is also, however, cursed with terrible luck afterwards, which leads to his being violently beaten by his remaining brothers and left for dead in the family crypt. Rescued by the priest and shaman, Ilya, with their help, concocts a plan to make himself appear harmless by pretending that his mind has been broken and he has become a fool in the traditional sense. This works for a while, but his brothers concoct another scheme to get rid of him: getting him to accompany them on a boar hunt, trying his legs to the saddle and making his horse bolt off. With the horse's help, Ilya escape unharmed, but the boar being hunted attacks and fatally wounds the horse, leaving Ilya to wander the forest in early winter. After narrowly escaping the attack of a rusalka (a female water spirit), he stumbles upon the hut of a wolf-hunter who takes him in and helps him. After staying with the hunter for a while, Ilya leaves to try to find the Firebird, who is the only one who can remove his bad luck. He soon stumbles upon the castle of Kashchei the Immortal, who has kidnapped and imprisoned the most beautiful princesses from all over and turned to statues all those heroes who have tried to rescue them (including Ilya's brother Pietor), and finds himself within reach of Princess Tatiana, the most beautiful girl in the world. Pretending again to be a half-witted fool, Ilya must use all his wits to defeat the Kashchei and win the Princess’ freedom. With the help of the Firebird, a vixen and a nightingale, he learns of a way to destroy the Kashchei and free all of the captives. But once he saves Tatiana and the others and she has sworn in front of witnesses to marry him, he realizes that things are not as he would have wished: Tatiana is not all she appears to be on the surface but is in fact selfish, vain and spoiled, and his own feelings lie elsewhere. On the very day of his wedding to Tatiana, through a hint dropped by his friends the vixen and the nightingale, he discovers that Tatiana has been unfaithful to him with Pietor. In front of witnesses, he exposes her deceit and repudiates her in theatrical fashion, and, knowing that Tatiana will now have to marry Pietor (who does not really want her and who will mistreat her just like Tsar Ivan mistreated his own wife), rides away to be reunited with his true love, the Firebird Maiden.