The Bird King

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.

The Bird King, a new fantasy novel from G. Willow Wilson (of Alif the Unseen and Ms. Marvel fame), combines history and the fantastical to produce an exciting and lyrical story set in Andalus in 1491. Our hero is Fatima, the sultan’s concubine, who was born and raised in the palace at Granada, the last remaining emirate. She has never left its walls. Hassan, the mapmaker, is her best friend and has a special ability. He can draw maps of places he’s never been to, and, even more intriguing, he can draw a map that changes the shape of the physical reality around him. When representatives from the Spanish Inquisition come knocking at the door, Fatima has to make a decision about the meaning of love and freedom.

That is when the adventure begins: there are chases and boats and folklore, and our main characters are helped (or not) by a cast of characters: human, jinn, and animal.

I was excited about the premise of this novel, and I really loved parts of it. I loved the way it combined historical fiction with fantastical elements; I loved its feminist message. I loved its exploration of how we make homes for ourselves and what freedom looks like. The early part of the novel, the part that took place at court, was my favorite. My appreciation waned as the novel went on, however, because I found the middle really slow and the ending anticlimactic. Where the story was going wasn’t obvious from the beginning; the book was working up to it. But the reveal came too late, the characters took too long to get to their end point, and the ending was a little muddled for me. I realize that’s very vague, but: spoilers.

I think this is definitely worth a read for readers who like fantasy or are interested in that period of history. If you’ve read or are planning to, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐/5

Find it here: Goodreads | Grove Atlantic | Amazon.com

Thank you to Grove Atlantic and Edelweiss for an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.