The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson


From award-winning author G. Willow Wilson, The Bird King is an epic journey set during the reign of the last sultan in the Iberian peninsula at the height of the Spanish Inquisition.

G. Willow Wilson’s debut novel Alif the Unseen was an NPR and Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and it established her as a vital American Muslim literary voice. Now she delivers The Bird King, a stunning new novel that tells the story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of Granada, the last emirate of Muslim Spain, 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.


This book was a pleasure to read – the beauty of the writing is what sets it apart. It’s poetic, philosophical while still having enough action in it to keep me interested (poetry and philosophy can’t really hold my attention on their own, unfortunately!).

This book is a mixture of magic and historical fiction, when the last emirate of Muslim Spain is about to be taken over by Christian rule – this book isn’t a judgement of religion, it treats religious beliefs with respect (within the historical context – the Inquisition was what it was, after all) and throws in some mythology and folklore for good measure. It creates an atmospheric feeling I’ve never encountered before and really enjoyed.

The main characters are fascinating, as are their relationships with one another – it explores the non-romantic love between two people who have been held captive their entire lives under different circumstances. This was the most enjoyable part of the book for me, seeing how they clung together while the world around them fell apart and how their faith in each other and the powers that be get them where they need to go. It’s the non-romantic nature of their relationship that makes it so powerful, there aren’t any sex scenes to hide behind so the author hasn’t taken the easy way out!

I found the pacing a little bit too slow for my tastes, but that’s 100% my issue rather than the book, and the whimsical final chapters weren’t quite as strong as I was hoping for – leaving room for interpretation by the reader, which isn’t something I’m a huge fan of.

This is a beautiful mix of character study, historical fiction and atmospheric writing – a perfect read to sink into this week, so light a candle and get stuck in!

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