The Bird King
by G. Willow Wilson; G. Willow Wilson
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Pub Date 12 Mar 2019 | Archive Date 12 Mar 2019
Grove Atlantic, Grove Press
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.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 318 members
Fatima is the last concubine in a kingdom quickly falling to the Spanish Inquisition. Her best friend Hassan has magical powers to create and edit maps, and when inquisitors label him a sorcerer and threaten his life, they run away together, beginning an epic adventure across land and sea in search of the island of The Bird King.
I really enjoyed this novel. It reads like a grown-up YA or even J-level adventure along the lines of The Glass Sentence, one of my very favorite novels (and series). The plot moves quickly and the characters are diverse and entirely believable, so I was hooked from the very beginning. This is a book I'll buy so I can reread every so often. It's really that good.
(The Bird King hasn't been released yet. I got a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for a review, though that had absolutely no bearing on my opinion of the book. Y'all know me better than that.)
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.
"I'd like to thank the publisher for providing me with an ARC in return of an honest review."
I am at a loss of words.
This is the kind of writing that deserves all the awards in the world. There were so many lines and passages that made me stop and just soak the words in. I was awed by the details and nuances of the writing. The research that went into this must be applauded.
Before I go into the story, I'd like to take some time to commend the author for giving us a glimpse of what the Islamic empires were indeed like back in the day. There's a lot of misconception about Islam in the present time. And a lot of that is owed to the fact that it's linked with all things conservative and unprogressive, in many spheres. But back in the days, the Islamic empires were known for their richness in cultures and tolerance, be it in the Middle east, West or the Indian Sub-continent. I could go into details about how Muslims at large were far more progressive and accepting back then than they are now, but this is not the post for that. I'd just like to applaud Wilson for showcasing a culture the details of which have faded over time.
I was overcome with sadness as I read through the beginning. We start with an empire that is about to be lost. Thinking of the realness and the actuality of that part of the story made me melancholic as reading about history generally does. After all, there's always someone that loses in history. Never a happy thing to read about.
"Let me tell you something important. The real struggle on this earth is not between those who want peace and those who want war. It's between those who want peace and those who want justice. If justice is what you want, then you may often be right, but you will rarely be happy."
I love that although this book is a high fantasy, the backdrop is a real historical event. It makes me appreciate the nuances even more. The author blends historical fiction with high magical fantasy in an effortless manner.
There is a wonderful cast of characters each of which had richly stood on its own. But it was Fatima and Hassan who were the heart of the book.
Fatima is a not a character made of goodness. She's selfish and spoiled. There's vanity in her. But what I loved about her were her vulnerabilities. Beneath it all, she is a character that just wanted to be loved. The concept of consent that played out in her mind was beautiful to see. The part where she says that she would have perhaps fallen in loved the Sultan if she could have the freedom to initiate her affection, spoke volumes.
"Yes, you were taught to waste your anger. It's convenient for girls to be angry about nothing. Girls who are angry about something are dangerous. If you want to live, you must learn to use your anger for your own benefit, not the benefit of those who would turn it against you."
Hassan is the palace mapmaker. From the very first scene, I felt so much affection and adoration for him. He had this naivete that was unexpected. His and Fatima's friendship is EVERYTHING. And the author rightfully explores it compellingly.
Theirs is a love story without any romance. The love these two have for each other is complex and inexplicable. Fatima feels the closest to him because he is the only one who doesn't desire her. He's the sodomite between the two, but he's also the one with more faith than Fatima. They have a complicated relationship because there is jealousy and bitterness along with affection and love with no happy resolution in sight. This book is the journey of these two to make a story for themselves, for once, that's not made up.
"What if our stories are like my maps? What is a story but the map of an idea?"
This was a fantasy story but that was by no means the main focus of the book. Amidst all the actions and adventure, the themes that play out are characters' search for love, happiness and freedom. The character growth and evolution that we witness is the real winner for me.
"Happiness, she decided, came only in pauses, neither regularly nor predictably."
The writer excels in world-building and is outstanding in her prose. Because of that, the pace might feel uneven at places, but I didn't mind it. The ending was bittersweet and I kinda ended up wanting more. But I guess this isn't a book that can be tied neatly with a bow. The feelings it invoked me deserve as many stars as I can give it.
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