By: G. Willow Wilson
Fatima is a concubine to the Sultan of Alhambrabut not by choice. She has been groomed to birth heirs for a family that will never set her free or truly love her. Forbidden from walking farther than the confines of the palace, Fatima has only one friend, the young mapmaker, Hassan.
Hassan was born with a rare gift; he can make maps of places he’s never seen and create pathways that didn’t exist. The sultan has used his gift for years to prevent losing an unwinnable war against the Spanish Inquisition. However, when the enemy comes knocking and discovers Hassan’s gift, he is accused of being a sorcerer and sentenced to death.
Wanting to free herself and her only friend, Fatima must escape the palace with Hassan and travel lands she has never seen before. Yet, by escaping, she will put a target on her own head in a land of unforgiving people. Outside the palace, Fatima will learn that the world is a harsh and cruel palace that doesn’t care about a young girl that just wants to be free.
This book genuinely surprised me. I picked it up in a B&N one-day mostly because the cover instantly captivated me. The story contained within was blessedly good as well. Love it when that happens!
I can’t recall ever reading a book quite like The Bird King. On one hand, it has a solid story that makes logical sense in how it progresses from one place to another. On the other hand, the story is more about philosophy than taking Fatima’s journey at face value. The whole story by the end felt like a fable or a moral because it explores the meanings of love, religion, and the harsh realities of freedom.
This is also the first historical fantasy novel I think I’ve read. It mingles real historical figures with a touch of magic. Kinda neat as long as you can suspend your belief of reality to enjoy the narrative.
Another aspect that struck me was how deep this story felt while also sounding childlike. This was probably attributed to how it was told like a fable. It borders closely on feeling like a YA novel, but I will give it a pass because it actually tries to explore meaningful themes of platonic friendships.
The Bird King is the first narrative I’ve seen where the main female character is in love with her gay best friend and he loves her back, but they know they can’t be together. They loved each other because they hand no one else that truly love them, which was sweet but also odd.
The one part of this book that let me down and kept me from rating the story 5-stars was the ending. I struggled with some of the choices Wilson made when she ended this story mostly because I felt like some issues were left unresolved. This is not a novel that warrants a sequel, so the story needed to be wrapped up in a nice little bow and sent on its way. For the most part, that was accomplished. However, I felt like there was some general “hand waving” that occurred in the last couple of chapters that prevented the finale from feeling meaningful. Those plot holes were sad because I know the ending could have been better, and I don’t understand why it was concluded in such an unsatisfying way.
That being said, The Bird King may warrant a re-read sometime in the future. After all, despite the ending, the story was pretty good, and I think I would recommend it.
Overall rating: 4.5 stars