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?