Title: The Bird King
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Publisher: Grove Press
Page Count: 403
Publication Date: 2019
Category/Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, Fantasy
Good Reads Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.75)
My Rating: ★★★★☆(4.0)
New from the award-winning author of Alif the Unseen and writer of the Ms. Marvel series, G. Willow Wilson
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.
The prompt for my 2020 Reading Challenge was to read a book by or about a religious minority.
The Bird King is set in 1491 Grenada, Muslim based but when the Spanish Inquisition is running strong and the last Emirate is about to fall. Fatima is a concubine. Hassan is the Sultan’s mapmaker with the ability to open up doors to other places and transform lands. Together this unlikely duo is put on the run to save their lives from the Spanish Holy Order.
“Once a story leaves the hand of its author, it belongs to the reader. And the reader may see any number of things, conflicting things, contradictory things. The author goes silent. If what he intended matter so very much, there would be no need for inquisitions, schisms and wars. But he is silent, silent. The author of the poem is silent, the author of the world is silent. We are left with no intentions but our own.”
Filled with Magical Realism and mythical adventures this book takes a sheltered and spoiled girl and turns her into a strong protagonist who takes her life into her own hands and chooses to hope for and seek a better world. It promotes a message of tolerance and a celebration of diversity.
It illustrates the concept that the manifestations and practices of different faiths should not cause strife among adherents because, ultimately, all faith is rooted in the same belief system.
The writing and prose is magical, rich with emotion. It is a thought-provoking read for those who appreciate a very slow burn literary fantasy.