The bird king

by G. Willow Wilson

Hardcover, 2019





New York : Grove Press, [2019]


From award-winning author G. Willow Wilson,The Bird King is an epic journey set during the reign of the last sultan in the Iberian peninsula at the height of the Spanish Inquisition. G. Willow Wilson's debut novelAlif the Unseen was an NPR andWashington Post Best Book of the Year, and it established her as a vital American Muslim literary voice. Now she deliversThe Bird King, a stunning new novel that tells the story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of Granada, the last emirate of Muslim Spain, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. Hassan has a secret--he can draw maps of places he's never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan's surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan's gift as sorcery and a threat toChristian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls? As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety,The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.… (more)

Media reviews

Truthfully, there are such wonderfully sad and beautiful layers to this book that it is difficult to do the title justice. If you wish for a brilliant read filled with subtle and fantastical elements, be sure to read The Bird King. It might just be your new favorite read.
3 more
While The Bird King will easily satisfy most readers with its fabulous adventures and intriguing characters – I wouldn’t mind meeting Vikram again sometime – it’s also a deeply thoughtful novel about how the world is what our perspectives make it.
Whether or not they can succeed in building a fragile form of paradise together, Wilson leaves no doubt that there are few things—in this world or the next—more worth fighting for.
The Bird King is ostensibly the story of a journey, of the limits to escape — but it is also a journey into story, and faith, and refuge, the family we choose and the friends we find. It's deeply beautiful and wondrously sad [...]

User reviews

LibraryThing member cmbohn
I was drawn to this one because I have enjoyed some of Wilson's previous books. This one sounded intriguing, both for the historical aspect and the fantastical element. It took me a little while, but it wasn't long before I was truly hooked. I feel like I learned so much from this book. I don't know much about medieval Spain. This has got the beginning of the Inquisition, and the threat to both our main characters is truly terrifying.

The strongest part of the book is definitely the characters. Both Fatima and Hassan were clearly drawn, fully dimensional characters with believable motives and flaws. I loved their relationship. Then there was the jinn. I liked that he was so untrustworthy, and yet so appealing.

If there was one thing that made this a little bit hard to stick with I think it was the pacing. It seemed a little uneven. But I would recommend it for those who want to try a mix of historical fiction and magical realism.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. However, that did not affect my opinion.
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LibraryThing member JJbooklvr
Set against the backdrop of the fall of the last Muslim stronghold in Spain, we follow Fatima and Hassan as they flee the Spanish Inquisition. Completely unprepared to survive on their own they manage to thanks to the help of a jinn and others they meet along the way. The bonds of friendship and love sustain them as we follow their fantastical journey rooting for them all the way!… (more)
LibraryThing member DebTat2
What an absolutely beautiful book, not only is the cover stunning but the story itself is as visually stunning as its exterior. From the exotic setting in Morocco to the fabled shores of the isle of Avalon the story is told in such splendid detail you can’t help being swept along throughout.

The characters are as colourful as their surroundings weaving together humans and mythical creatures alike all culminating in the quest to find the fabled Bird King.

I loved this book to the point I’m struggling to review it without spoilers and to do the story justice. If you enjoyed books such as Robert Dinsdale’s The Toymakers or Katherine Arden’s The Bear and The Nightingale then you won’t want to miss this one.

The Bird King will be published in the UK on March 12 2019 and can be pre-ordered now

A proper review to follow!

Thank you to G. Willow Wilson, the publishers Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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LibraryThing member Kathl33n
The Bird King is a book that I struggled to get through. I love historical fiction and especially in a time period or region that I know very little about. This book promised both those things so I was excited and intrigued to dig in. As I dug in I was immediately taken with the author's ability to provide vivid descriptions of the places in the book. The author also has a knack with describing and developing characters that made me almost immediately invested in them. But the story itself is where I was left disappointed. It felt like the plot had a bit of an identity crisis. What started out as historical fiction then had a little magical realism added in, which was ok with me. I like a bit of magic thrown in. But then it seemed it started to delve almost into fantasy and that's where it started to lose me. Maybe it was me. Maybe I just wanted it to stay more grounded in historical fiction. But hey - that cover! It was a complete joy to look at every time I picked it up. Many thanks to the publisher for providing with an advanced copy to read in exchange for an honest opinion.… (more)
LibraryThing member jnhk
The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson is a wonderful and whimsical tale of fantasy which takes during the reign of the last sultan. Our main characters are Fatima — the sultan’s concubine and Hassan — the palace mapmaker. Friends and confidants, the pair escape their imprisonment choosing freedom in place of comfort. Along the way they meet enemies, new friends and fantastical beings.

The writing is rich and diverse. The plot is interesting and fast-paced. The characters are well written and very lovable (or very easy to despise — in the case of the villains). While reading this novel it was very easy to imagine the characters, their surroundings and their adventures. This book could easily become an epic fantasy film! Thumbs up for this enjoyable tale of friendship, love, loss and the meaning of freedom.
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LibraryThing member nancyadair
I spend through G. Willow Wilson's The Bird King in a few days, enchanted by its exotic setting and well-drawn characters.

Fatima was one of the least powerful in the Sultan's household, a slave whose beauty made her a favorite concubine. Fatima lived a life of luxury, dining on sweetmeats and dressing in the finest clothes, always indoors and barefoot, even while outside the palace walls the Moorish Empire was falling to the Catholic Spanish army. What she lacked was self-determination and the power to say no to authority.

Her childhood friend is the slave Hassam whose red hair spoke of his Breton ancestry. The royal mapmaker, Hassam has the ability to create maps that alter reality. And while devote, Hassam's sexual preference is against religious law. They have shared secret trists, embroidering the story of the Bird King, whose story they learned from a partial manuscript.

The once great Moorish empire on the Iberian Penninsula is vanquished. The victor Spain is willing to be magnanimous, as long as the Sultan agrees to its terms: hand over the sorcerer Hassam to be made an example. Convert to Catholicism. And the Moors will be allowed to live, subjects of Spain.

The love Fatima holds for her only friend emboldens her; she will not lose the one person who loves her and not her beauty. She insists that Hassam flees for his life. With the help of a jinn, pursued by the army of the Holy Order, these naive and unprepared refugees discover that freedom has its costs.

Fatima's love and faith, and her willingness to lose what had once been her one power--beauty--supports this unlikely heroine as she seeks to find the Bird King's realm, where she hopes to find a refuge for her and Hassam.

Themes touched on are relevant: the nature and responsibility of power, the cost of freedom, true faith versus religious power, refugees seeking their place in the world.

I received an ARC from through Bookist First in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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LibraryThing member jakecasella
Kind of magical realism set within historical fiction. Enjoyable read, although I thought it had a few stumbles at the plot level—but the writing is quite lovely, and some of the characters/relationships are great. I would have loved to see more of the main magical conceit—a cartographer who can modify reality by making maps, which reminded me elliptically of Hutchinson's Europe books—and the novel might have clicked faster for me if I'd been familiar with the myths and poems it's playing with. Still, definitely enjoyed—and did not expect to run into one of my favorite characters from Alif the Unseen. Also just lovely for introducing me more to a fascinating aspect of European history, the centuries-long Islamic rule in Iberia. The more I reflect on it, and after hearing Wilson talk a bit at Wiscon about this, just kind of wild how much that's been erased from popular Euro-centric historical memory.… (more)
LibraryThing member Strider66
Pros: interesting characters, great melding of history and myth


Fatima is one of the sultan’s concubine’s in Alhambra, 1491AD. Amid the siege and her anger at her lack of freedom, her only comfort is Hassan, a gay scribe who can create maps to places that don’t exist. When a delegation from the Spanish monarchs arrives, Hassan’s life is put in danger and Fatima flees with him, hoping to escape the inquisitorial eye and find a better life.

I loved the blending of history and myth and the clash of beliefs that form the foundation of this novel.

The author has a solid grasp on the events and world of 1491, including a lot of minor details that bring the world to life.

I loved her depiction of jinn, which was different from any I’ve read before and made them fascinating. The island being a part of both Islamic and Christian myth was a nice touch, showing that some things are universal.

Beyond the jinn, there’s the magic associated with Hassan’s maps. It’s subtle and beautiful and while the plot hangs on it, it’s sparingly used.

The characters questioned their actions at every point in the book, which made them feel real. They blamed each other for bad decisions. They forgave each other for outbursts they regretted. Fatima is so full of anger and so unaware of the world outside the palace that her growth arc was huge. She’s very passionate and her reactions run the gamut. Luz was absolutely terrifying and I loved that the author played on a modern understanding of what the inquisition was to avoid graphic descriptions. There’s a little information but mostly the book relies on hints of what happens to those put to the question.

The book is fairly fast paced, with the characters constantly running into trouble.

If you like history with a hint of magic, this is a great read.
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LibraryThing member g33kgrrl
The Bird King follows Fatima, a concubine in the Alhambra in the last days of Muslim rule while Ferdinand and Isabella were consolidating Spain into one country. Fatima is joined by her friend Hassan, a mapmaker who enjoys the company of men and is allowed to do so surreptitiously because he is gifted in ways that few are. Once the Spaniards come, Fatima and Hassan's world is changed beyond recognition by a member of the Inquisition. What choices have to be made for survival? What choices change who we are, and are they worth it? How do we know who we are? The Bird King addresses these fundamental questions, and more.

As an aside, I knew essentially nothing about this time period or the history of Spain, so I found it all fascinating. I'd love to learn more about the time.

Readers of G. Willow Wilson's "Alif the Unseen" will also enjoy a visit from a familiar character as well.
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