Date Read: March 2, 2019 – April 11, 2019
Date Released: March 12, 2019
First Thoughts: I LOVED the characters through the ending left me wholly confused.
Publisher: Grove Press
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.
Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Press for providing me a copy to review. This in no way affected my opinions in any way.
TW: torture, attempted rape
In retrospect, I loved this book. It was witty, sensitive, historical, and full of faith. Wilson wrote a poetic story that allowed me to learn about the Spanish Inquisition and Alhambra while breaking stereotypes about what a woman should be.
“You’re always so angry,” he said. “I don’t understand. You have pretty clothes, entertainments, food when others go hungry. You have the love of a sultan. What else could you possibly want?”
“To be sultan.”
Fatima is one of the best female characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading about. She is gentle to though who have less than her but she also isn’t afraid to take what she needs or piss people off because they deserve it. Like the time that she pushed a serving plater with her feet to one of the members of the Inquisition, it was hilarious and he totally deserved it. Hassan was the perfect counterpart to her. He made up in the places that she was weak. Not to mention he has a really cool ability that allows him to make passages and places that don’t exist. Because of this power, he is hunted by the Inquisition which is why he and Fatima go and on a quest to find the Bird King, a fantasy of their’s since they were children. Side note: The story of the Bird King is an actual story called The Conference of the Birds. Oh, and did I mention that their relationship was completely platonic.
Though in all seriousness, I wish that more books had this kind of deep platonic love.
There were three other supporting characters and they helped to round out the story.
First, Luz is the antagonist of the story. She is a major figure of the Inquisition and all around religious fanatic. Though she is a terrible person, I loved the way Wilson wrote her. Luz and Margaery Tyrell would get along so well, as they both are devious women who know how to be sweet but at the same time can kill you while smiling.
Vikram is Fatima’s jinn friend and is the definition of eccentric. He can shapeshift. Also, he is the type of character that would say that he hates his fellow compatriots but on the inside really does love them. I wish that Wilson gave a bit more detail on how the jinn exist and the full extent of their powers.
Then there is Gwennec, the monk that Fatima and Hassan, errr, kidnapped??? took as a stowaway?? when they were running from Luz. He doesn’t have any super powers though he did bounce around in the story in a way that I was not expecting.
Now the ending. *spoilers*
My biggest question is: How can everyone be the Bird King? To give you some context, Fatima and Hassan do find the island of the Bird King, thanks to Hassan and his abilities. Then when Fatima washes up on the island with Vikram, their jinn friend, where he tells her that she is the Bird King. At this point, I was pretty pissed because I was hoping for them to find like an actual bird (like Ivan and the Firebird). Then towards the end of the book, it is revealed that everyone is the Bird King and then I was super confused because what makes someone the Bird King? Can literally anyone be the Bird King?
Then there is Luz. So this was when I kind of hit the wall in terms of being confused because all of a sudden Luz is on the island of the Bird King(s) and she has a LEVIATHAN. I believe that she was washed up on shore after her ship capsized but it wasn’t super clear. The Leviathan was apparently possessing her and making her think that she was speaking to God. Wilson doesn’t really go into the whole bit with the leviathan which makes the story feel rushed.
Oh and speaking of feeling rushed, there is a big battle at the end of the book with the Inquisition that I would really care for some context about. Also, again with the Leviathan, did it choose to help Fatima with the battle or did it go and escape and in turn leave a path of destruction that just happened to help Fatima.
All in all, I loved this book until the ending. It felt rushed and took away from an overall beautiful book.
Some of my favorite quotes!
“A raw olive is a different animal from a cured one, apparently. God bless the man who taught the world how to cure olives. He and the man who invented cheese are the two unsung pillars of civilization.
They were probably women. If they were men, we would have remembered their names.” – 150
“Girls who are angry about something are dangerous” – 188
“What is a story but the map of an idea?” – 194
The time Hassan called Gwennec a “celibate Ulysses”. I love this because Ulysses is the Roman name for Odysseus and he was known to get around. – 225
“If I were a man, you’d call me a hero. Instead, you want to argue with me because I’ve reversed the order in which honor demands we must die.” – 308