Let me get a couple of things out of the way at the outset:
1. Even a cursory glance at my review history should show that I'm not a "shill" or friend of the author.
2. I was not solicited to write a review nor did I receive a free copy in exchange for this review.
3. The difference between a writer and a hack is a paycheck. I've been a freelance writer for many years and have the check stubs to prove it. I say this only to indicate that I do have some idea of what I'm talking about when it comes to writing and the construction of prose.
4. Finally, my methodology when reviewing books is to start with 5 stars and then deduct and add based on the merits (or lack of same) of the piece.
As debut novels go, "Firebird" ranks among the best I've read in quite some time. Yes it's flawed, but before you crucify this author I suggest you go back and read Stephen King's "Carrie" or any debut piece by a currently established author and compare apples to apples. As debut "indie e-books" go, this novel is nothing short of incredible. Let's be realistic here. We live in a day when virtually anyone with a few buck and some free time can self-publish to a large market. Even Danny Devito's character from "Throw Momma From the Train" could put his mystery novel up for sale. If you are unfamiliar with that particular movie, Devito plays a student in a community college creative writing course. His masterpiece is a murder mystery with only two characters - one of which is murdered in the first paragraph. Devito is actually surprised that his teacher (played by Billy Crystal) was able to identify the killer.
I'll do my best to avoid spoilers here because I do recommend you pick up this book and give it a try. The negatives - some of which have been pointed out by other reviewers:
I did deduct 1/2 star for grammar. If typos and grammatical errors are frequent enough that I find myself being pulled out of the story, I will generally take away a full star. I feel that proper grammar is a factor in the quality of a book, but it's one of many. It's rare that I will completely trash a novel based on poor grammar and spelling alone. In this case, the most annoying problems I found were the usage of British spelling (tyres instead of "tires," for example) and improper usage of question marks. The British words wouldn't bother me, but as another reviewer pointed out, these were American characters and some effort was made to use regional colloquialisms (with mixed success) to provide characters with accents, so the effort should have been made to use what the character would see as proper spelling. For future reference (in case the author reads his reviews) a question mark is used only when an actual question is asked. For example:
"Imagine how large the adult animal might be." (Since this is a commanding statement, no question mark is necessary.)
"Can you imagine how large the adult animal might be?" (Here, an actual question is being asked, so the question mark is proper.)
This sort of thing constitutes a minor quibble for me as a reader and since I'm of the human species myself and just as likely to make the occasional error as anyone else, I only docked the review by 1/2 star.
I nibbled off the remainder of the star because several of the characters were so similar to one another that I had to keep trying to remember the few slight differences in personality traits in order to keep everyone from blending together. Once I got roughly 2/3 of the way into the book I simply gave up trying and was able to just think of everyone as "part of the pursuit group" and at no point did I get lost. Again Anthony, if you read this review, please allow me to offer a sliver of advice. Before you start a draft of a novel, take some time and create a character list or, "Dramatis Personae." Take a sheet of paper for each character of note and write up a couple of paragraphs about his or her background - something that makes them different from the other people in the book. Use them as reference points as you write. For example, if one of the characters is an intellectual sort, he or she should be the one to draw most of the conclusions as opposed to say, the truck driver that dropped out of high school. Not only will it make the characters more individualistic, it will provide the reader with a greater sense of continuity.
So why do I recommend this book? Well, I don't give anything a 4-star review by default. I mentioned Stephen King's debut novel earlier for a reason. Even though "Carrie" was uneven in parts and had some flaws of its own, you could already see that the author had a unique voice and perspective. In short, you could tell even then that it wouldn't be long before King would find his groove and start turning out some sensational stories. One very special skill that King had then (and still has to this day) was the ability to get you to root for the "freak." Let's face it, the first time any of us watched, "King Kong," we felt sorry for the big ape and were quietly rooting for him and cheering him on. We knew that Carrie was different from the other kids her age, but we understood that it wasn't her fault. As a result, we were all rooting her on - even when the body count began to rise and she arrived home to deal with her own mother. From the mangled remains of Freddy Krueger to Godzilla, the baddest monster of all, one of the things that makes them special is that the person(s) that created these characters found a way to make us want to root for them.
Well in the case of "Firebird," one of the reasons the human characters seem so generic and homogenized is that the creature at the center of the tale is so cool and interesting that the people are boring in comparison. If you're a fan of monster-based science fiction, this is arguably one of the coolest critters to appear in a lot of years. It not only has cool natural skills, but the animal ties nicely into not one, but two myths with the author doing a wonderful job of generating plausible explanations for the development of the legends surrounding the creature.
As the reader you will be required to buy into one rather large aspect of suspension of disbelief in order to truly absorb yourself into the story, but I found the overall pacing and excitement of the book to be good enough that I eagerly accepted the presented explanation and just enjoyed the ride.
I guess the best way to sum it up is this...
"Firebird" is not a perfect novel by any means. But it is a mighty fine and fun debut novel from a writer that is only going to get even better as time goes by. At full price, the Kindle version of this book is selling for a fraction of what "Carrie" cost when it was first published in hardback almost 40 years ago. Yes, the book is a bit slow in a few places and several of the characters are a bit too indistiguishable from one another. The story itself however, is more than exciting enough to make up for minor shortcomings and the creature is so well thought out that it feels like something as magical and legendary as a unicorn or troll has sprung to actual life on the page. Is that worth $3 bucks to you? For me, it would be a bargain at twice that. I can't wait to see what idea is going to spring out of this guy's fertile mind next!