Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. My views remain my own.
The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
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 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?
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.
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.