“The Bird King” by G. Willow Wilson

Thanks to Atlantic Books and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Bird King follows the story of Fatima, a Circassian concubine living in the harem of the Alhambra during the time period of the Spanish Inquisition. This novel melds historical fact with fantastical elements like djinns and sorcery.

I requested this as Moorish Spain is not something I’ve read much about in fiction despite it being such a fascinating period of history. Also…I just really love birds. I haven’t seen much buzz about this book which is a real shame because it’s really rather special.

The best thing about this novel is its central heroine Fatima. She is a complete BADASS but not in a trope-y, predictable way. She is resourceful, cunning, unapologetically abrasive yet you’d definitely want her on your squad. On the surface a stunningly beautiful concubine might seem a bit blah and one dimensional but she is a multi-layered and complex character. The relationship between Fatima and Hassan was really interesting to me as I felt it really captured the ups and downs of a long-standing, platonic friendship.

The mix of historical events with fantasy elements was done really well without being hokey. It’s one of those techniques which can be quite hard to describe, I think people need to experience writing like this themselves. I’m not trying to cop out, I always find it tricky to describe writing that is heavy on metaphor and imagery. There were also lots of things that surprised me when reading this book. Assumptions I made didn’t come to pass so I’m conscious of not wanting to spoil anything.

I can’t really think of anything I didn’t like about this book. I guess Luz could have been better developed as a character and some of the elements of the Inquisition could have been explored in more detail. We knew they were a threat but someone without any historical knowledge might not really understand why. The pacing flagged a little towards the middle of the story, but not enough to make me lose interest.

Overall this is one of these books that’s tricky to review but I struggle to believe that anyone wouldn’t enjoy it. A historical fantasy adventure with interesting characters and themes of enduring friendship and the triumph of love over hate? What’s not to like?

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