Ahoy there me mateys! I received this fantasy eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. So here be me honest musings . . .
the bird king (G. Willow Wilson)
Title: the bird king
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Publisher: Grove Press
Publication Date: TODAY!! (hardcover/e-book)
This was a heart-achingly beautiful book. I was drawn to this title because of the lovely cover and because there is a character who can draw magic maps. Ye all know how this Captain loves maps of any kind (Arrr!). And while I loved how the maps worked, turns out that they were the least awesome part of the book for me. Because the two main characters, Fatima and Hassan, were the beacons of love and delight in this tale.
Reading this book is like watching a blossom unfold before yer eyes. It takes forever to get to the end point and yet the journey of the blooming is part of the magic. It progresses slowly and subtly and there is a sense of wonder when it be over.
This book starts the voyage in the form of a historical fiction tale. It is set in 1491 in the Iberian peninsula. The last Muslim stronghold, Grenada, is poised to fall to an Aragonese and Castilian force led by Ferdinand and Isabella of what would become known as Spain. Fatima is a slave living in the Alhambra palace during the siege. She is a concubine to the Sultan and a companion of the Sultan’s mother. Fatima is pampered and spoiled but cannot forget that her position is tenuous and she is not free. Her only friend is Hassan, the maker of the magic maps.
The historical fiction part starts to slowly morph into fantastical elements with the introduction of Hassan and his maps. Hassan’s maps are a thing of wonder because they be of places he has never visited. While his skill is utilized, he is not a treasured member of the Court because his magic makes people uneasy. Worse yet, he is gay in a society where that should equal death. But desperate times cause his nature to be an open secret. Fatima often sneaks out of the harem to spend time with her friend. Hassan makes maps so Fatima can visit off-limit places within the palace. One of the other games they share is making up endings to an unfinished tale called The Bird King.
However with the siege in full force, starvation mounting, and surrender on the horizon, both Hassan and Fatima’s lives are irrevocably changed. For a delegation has arrived at the palace to discuss the terms of the treaty to end the war with the Sultan on the losing side. One of these terms is that Hassan must be turned over to the Christian delegation and the Inquisition for being a sorcerer.
And this be where the book truly starts to grow. The magic elements sprout with the addition of a jinn named Vikram. As Hassan and Fatima flee for their lives, the magic elements continue to develop until the reader doesn’t know what is real and what isn’t. I won’t spoil any details for ye here but I am so glad that I was given a chance to read this wonderful book and see the story fully bloom.
So lastly . . .
Thank ye Grove Press!
Side note: the book also introduced me to a type of bird I had never heard of – hoopoes. Arrr!
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, 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.
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