Book Title: The Bird King
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Release Date: 03/12/19
Star Rating: Lovely writing, diverse characters, unique setting.
Disclaimer: I received this book free from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.
“G. Willow Wilson’s debut novel Alif the Unseen was an NPR and Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and it established her as a vital American Muslim literary voice. Now she delivers The 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 to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?” – Goodreads
I found this book fascinating. The setting is uncommon. I don’t think I’ve read another recent book that focuses on a Muslim civilization during the Spanish Inquisition. I’m sure there are some but not that I’ve come across in the Fantasy genre. The setting lends itself to a book with rich description and detail.
Fatima is truly the star of this show. She is a concubine to the last Sultan in Granada and has been raised to be a creature of “love”. In reality she is a slave. She has been raised to be used by the Sultan, and while she is somewhat fond of him, in her heart of hearts she recognizes the truth of her situation. She is beleaguered but also a little spoiled. She does not know severe hardship, cold, or want. Now with the rise of the Catholic inquisition she has choices to make. Everything about her life, and that of her dearest friend stands in opposition to the new regime. Her life until now has been one of waste, her talents and abilities misapplied to the petty jealousies of court life. But if she is to escape a cruel fate she must reach out to grasp her full potential.
It’s a beautiful book. I noticed quite a few DNF’s and complaints on Goodreads in particular that the book is slow. I think that maybe this is because the readers were expecting a different type of book. This is not a book to speed through, and Fatima is not the usual “strong girl” that I think some readers are coming to expect from books. She’s not a fighter per se. There are some action scenes, but they are not the focus. The real action is in her personal growth and that of the people around her. I enjoyed the book very much and will be looking forward to reading more from this author.
Song for this book: Marrakesh Night Market – Loreena McKennit