Thank you to Atlantic Books and Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
The first thing that attracted me to this book was the cover, it is absolutely beautiful and when I saw that it’s written by G. Willow Wilson I knew I had to request it!
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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 did really love parts of this book, the beautiful setting, not only inside the Palace but outside too. The writing is so good that it draws you into the story and makes you want to know more. I was especially intrigued by Hassan’s ability to draw maps of places he hasn’t seen and how that had actually helped the Sultan remain in power as long as he did.
Fatima was a really great character, she was curious and wanted more in her life and felt angry that because of her position she had no influence in the world aside from being respected as she may be carrying the child of the Sultan. She’s witty and speaks her mind and is a loyal friend who would risk everything to save Hassan. I especially loved the friendship between Fatima and Hassan and I hope we get to see more books with the friendship as the main relationship.
The history and mythology is wonderful too. I loved how the history of the Spanish Inquisition, a pretty terrifying time in history is woven with mythology and fantasy. There are jinns and they search for the island that they know about in the poems, where they hope to be safe. And despite it only being known in poetry and is probably fiction, Hassan is one of the few people who can make it a reality.
I think my main issue with the story was the pacing. It started off really well and I really enjoyed the beginning and learning about the world but then it started it drag in the middle and made me lose interest so the ending felt a little anticlimactic.
This is a story about what freedom truly is, not just surviving but being safe. It’s about taking your life in your own hands and making it a reality. I think there will be people who really love the story and the beautiful world that G. Willow Wilson has written.