Overall enjoyment: 4/5
World building: 4/5
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.
I was given a free copy of The Bird King by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I started this novel with some hesitation. The concept sounded interesting, but historical fiction is hit or miss with me. This novel was definitely a hit. I would say until towards the end the novel is fairly slow paced. I enjoyed it, but if you’re looking for some fast-paced crazy action this generally won’t be for you. The amount of love and care that I felt from this book was incredible. Just the amount of historical facts sprinkled within the novel was wonderful and then the fantasy elements just blended seamlessly together.
World building. The detail described throughout the book is wonderful. I read it and definitely could imagine the world. I’m not familiar with that time period in history or that particular area at the time, but it was easy to imagine. As a speculative novel there wasn’t anything to crazy from our normal world when it comes to governments, religion, etc.
Characters. This is what really sells the book to me. Wilson focuses most of her attention on mostly three or four character at a time and its perfect. Fatima is amazing. A concubine who was educated and uses that to power her through a tough journey. Hassan, our devote Muslim who draw fantastical maps. I don’t want to give a ton away, but I feel like you do get to really see into who these characters are and to watch them grow. They’re messy and imperfect, but there’s just something I find so interesting about all the characters we meet in this novel. Maybe it’s the realism, but I fall in love with them.
Diversity. This books diversity is mainly through Hassan I would say. He’s a devote Muslim who also happens to be openly gay. There are other characters in the book who are also Muslim in the first half of the book. Fatima I believe would identify as Muslim if asked, but she’s not very religious.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The ending left me feeling a little unsatisfied, but I think it was a realistic way to end it and it is probably the best way to end it. Fatima has some great quotes about women that I really enjoyed. I would call her a determined feminist. If you have any interest at all in historical or speculative fiction I would highly recommend this book! It will be released on March 12th.