Hello bookish friends!
This review is coming a little (a lot) late but I need to up my NetGalley ratio so better late than never!
Title: The Bird King
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Genre: YA historical fantasy
Synopsis on Goodreads:
“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.”
I received an ARC from NetGalley of The Bird King in exchange for an honest review.
Content warning: Sexual assault, attempted rape.
A beautifully-rich historical fantasy novel that starts strong but meanders in the middle before losing direction in the end.
If you’re not a fan of slow-paced stories, then I definitely wouldn’t recommend this book to you. Personally, I have a tendency to love slower-paced books so I found myself enjoying the beginning of this story. The pacing did drag quite a lot in the middle when the plot became a little repetitive, but there were many moments where it picked up and became exciting again. That being said, I was not a fan of the direction of the plot of the last third of The Bird King. It was very heavy on metaphors throughout but especially at the end, to the point that I had no idea if something was actually happening or whether it was just this extravagant metaphor.
For me, the main let-down of The Bird King was the execution of the plot. It sounds like a great idea on paper, but plots that focus heavily on an escape or a journey can get quite tiresome quite quickly due to its repetitive nature. Some parts of the escape plot were exciting and chilling, but it wasn’t interesting enough to sustain the bulk of the novel. This felt more like three separate novellas than one cohesive story. There are three distinctive plot arcs and I only found myself really enjoying the first third where we are introduced to the characters and the magic and the historical period. The second third was exciting in some areas and mainly carried by Vikram, my personal favourite character. And the last third I found to be mostly confusing and a little unattached to the rest of the tone of the novel.
I enjoyed the characters, particularly the headstrong Fatima – I really liked reading from her unique perspective. I also really appreciated the platonic relationship between Fatima and Hassan. It’s definitely one of the most complicated and emotionally complex friendships I’ve read and it was really interesting to see that explored to such a degree in this novel.
Exploring this time period was also fascinating – it’s definitely an area of history I didn’t know much of anything about and I found myself researching the history behind The Bird King throughout my reading of it which definitely added to the experience for me.
The prose itself was very beautiful. Wilson had a real sense of command over her words. She effortlessly crafted her sentences and created rich descriptions without overloading us with too much information. This book dealt with many important and interesting topics and Wilson approached those with meticulous care in her writing. I really loved the way Wilson constructed her words – I found myself highlighting many quotable lines. But pretty words weren’t really enough for me to enjoy this rather long book, sadly.
In the end, The Bird King was quite a slog to get through and, as someone who generally loves slower-paced novels, this one was a bit too slow even for me. I would definitely be interested in reading more of Wilson’s novels in the future as the way she constructs sentences is incredibly beautiful. But I will be more selective with the kinds of books I pick up from her.
Have you read The Bird King yet? What are your thoughts on it?