March 22, 2019

March 22, 2019

Fresh Reads Friday #8: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

Rating: 3 stars

Set in 1491 Granada, during the last days of the Iberian sultanate this follows the sultan’s concubine, Fatima, trapped despite her lavish surroundings. The one bright spot in her days are her visits to her friend Hassan, a mapmaker with the singular ability to draw things he has never seen. When a delegation from Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain comes to talk surrender, the outsiders discover Hassan’s “unnatural” magical ability. With the Inquisition looming over them, Fatima and Hassan escape the palace and flee across the Spanish countryside, searching for a place where they can be safe and free.
In The Bird King, Wilson weaves magic into the real world. Fatima, and the readers, begin the story grounded in the familiar with only the hint of Hassan’s magic and are slowly drawn into an increasingly fantastical world. The atmosphere was exquisite. The prose was beautiful and descriptive without being overwrought, perfectly matched with the setting of the story.
Fatima as a main character was so compelling. You understood her struggle, understood why she wasn’t content to stay in the palace. I felt that her central storyline was a little rushed at the ending, but it was poignant and communicated clearly. However, as this was an ARC, these issues may have been corrected for the finished version. Please note that at the beginning of the novel, Fatima is in a non-consensual relationship. It is not a violent relationship and there are no graphic scenes, but it is discussed in detail on multiple occasions in the first quarter or so of the book.If that is something that would bother you, I would approach with caution.
Her friendship with Hassan was heartwarming and wonderful, though I could have done without the multiple laments that his sexuality meant they could not be together. Perhaps if this had been raised by an outside character it wouldn’t have rankled me, but as it was I found the complaints undermined the platonic nature of their friendship. It was entertaining to see how each new character introduced affected our little twosome, for the better and for the worst. I loved how even Wilson’s side characters felt real, like people you might share a few words with standing in line or pass on the street.
The plot is a touch on the slower side, but I found myself pulled in almost immediately by the strength of the characters and the initial questions surrounding Fatima’s position and Hassan’s magic. The beginning and middle of this book were solid. No sagging middles here, the tension through acts one and two held perfectly for me. I did feel things got a little muddled toward the end and that, along with the lack of any solid romance, did keep this from being an instant favorite. However, I think that anyone who enjoys historical fantasy, magical realism, and stories focused on platonic friendships would really enjoy this book.

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