I loved this book so much. Fatima and Hassan's relationship is such a visceral portrait of the friendships developed under duress ... Every character is full and rich, whether ally or enemy or something in-between; I especially appreciated how Luz, a female Inquisitor, seems genuinely to love the cultures she seeks to destroy, and how successfully compelling is her horrible fanaticism. The Bird King is also, to put it mildly, gorgeously written. My copy has doubled in thickness from dog-earing pages I wanted to transcribe portions from or write essays around. I hate that "luminous prose" is such a cliché, because Wilson's sentences are, in fact, full of light ... [The book is] deeply beautiful and wondrously sad, and I can't tell if it ended too quickly or if I just needed it not to — if I just wanted to dwell in a home built out of story for a little longer yet.
An adept writer of historical fiction, Wilson relies less on period detail than on vivid, multisensory description ... brilliantly reimagines the fall of Muslim Granada to the same superpower that prosecuted the Inquisition and colonized the Western Hemisphere. Although told from the point of view of a young woman considered chattel, it’s not merely a critique of imperialism or patriarchy. For one thing, it’s too funny ... A warm, generous spirit underlies the entire novel ... maintains a delicate balance between holding Fatima’s world in high regard, looking at it critically and finding its moments of humor, all the while revealing its many resemblances to the world as it exists today.
... sumptuous ... Wilson conjures the legendary beauty of the Alhambra... but she doesn’t sentimentalize Al Andalus ... The pacing of Fatima and Hassan’s escape—essentially one long chase scene—is brisk and flawless, but there’s a lot of message delivery going on whenever the novel hits a quiet spot ... [Its] leaden moments don’t sink The Bird King, and Wilson is far from alone in feeling the need for them. We live in an anxious and therefore lecturesome age, surrounded by daily reminders how easily and perhaps willfully others will misinterpret our words if we don’t make them dully obvious. But too many life lessons can sap some of the life from a novel, which is why The Bird King doesn’t quite attain the vitality of Alif the Unseen ... The Bird King offers a rare portrayal of a platonic love fiercer than any of its erotic counterparts.
... an enchanting historical fantasy adventure that combines an unconventional love story with a thoughtful exploration of faith and religious tolerance ... Although there is plenty of earthy banter along the way, Wilson relates [Vikram's] narrative with a spare lyricism that leaves much to the reader’s imagination, in a style that more closely resembles an exotic fairy tale than the elaborate world-building and magical lore of much fantasy fiction ... Moving beyond simplistic conceptions of good versus evil, The Bird King is ultimately a story of acceptance of self and others. It’s precisely the kind of fable we need right now.
This is a novel that thoughtfully contemplates the meaning of love, power, religion, and freedom. But even while exploring all of these heavy issues, this is a fun, immersive adventure that moves at a brisk pace through lush settings, across dangerous terrain, and eventually out to the open sea. This ultimately life-affirming tale of a young woman who rejects her dismal fate and creates her own family will appeal to readers of S. A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass, Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, and Naomi Novik’s fairy tale-esque Uprooted.
... G. Willow Wilson whips up a head-spinning blend of realism, fantasy and history ... And indeed, life in the palace is evocatively sketched. But the chase grows tiresome, stretching on for so long that the reader may begin to wonder why Fatima and Hassan are so important to bag. The novel comes perilously close to reading like an action film, complete with the perfect villain, Luz, with a strange, terrifying splotch on her eye ... Fatima and Hassan’s arduous, sometimes cartoonishly violent journey makes this an uneven book, though a deeply imaginative ending – set on an island that may have sprung from Hassan’s mind – redeems the travel-worn story.
Despite its enchanting otherworldly trappings, it is primarily a novel of ideas. It grapples with who we are, how we love, why we worship, and why a world of co-existence—perhaps even of Convivencia—seems so far beyond our reach ... prose so vivid and original that one can only read it with envy.
With her debut novel, Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson announced herself as a powerful new voice in the realm of speculative fiction. With her new novel, The Bird King, she has cemented her place as one of the brightest lights of fantasy storytelling ... Wilson’s tale unfolds with all the grace and swiftness of a classic magical adventure, with strange encounters and new lands waiting with each turn of the page. There’s a familiarity, a lived-in quality, to the prose and sense of character that evokes an almost fairy-tale sensibility, but then Wilson digs deeper, into something as timeless as a myth but much more intimate. As it spreads out before the reader like a lavish tapestry, Wilson’s story becomes a gorgeous, ambitious meditation on faith, platonic love, magic and even storytelling itself, with a trio of unforgettable personalities serving as its beating, endlessly vital heart ... a triumph—immersive in historical detail and yet, in many ways, it could have happened yesterday. Wilson has once again proven that she’s one of the best fantasy writers working today, with a book that’s just waiting for readers to get happily lost in its pages.
Wilson again rises to impressive new heights ... To say Wilson is a talented storyteller does not adequately capture the magnificent dimensions of her work. The adventure at hand is a riveting escape through worlds seen and unseen, with high stakes and near-misses, toward a freedom neither Fatima nor Hassan are sure they entirely believe in. Faith is all they have--besides one another. To that end, Wilson's characters are both rich and fallible, disrupting the spectrum of heroes and villains. The Bird King considers how power can corrupt virtue, and how easily corruption can be mistaken for piety ... But there is a hefty dose of humor, too, amid these ornate corridors of history and philosophy ... Whether it's the grand arena of clashing empires or a humble prayer mat in a quiet room, Wilson pays close attention to the gentle nuances of her subjects.
A lovely fable ... The worldbuilding is well-constructed but is primarily a support for Wilson’s chief focus on character, specifically on Fatima’s growing understanding of the nature of freedom and responsibility. Wilson also delicately explores the nature of a love outside the physical through the complex and very genuine relationship shared by Fatima and Hassan. And she has some interesting things to imply about the nature of evil ... A thoughtful and beautiful balance between the real and the fantastic.