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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.