A fantastical journey set at the height of the Spanish Inquisition from the award-winning author of Alif the Unseen and writer of the Ms. Marvel series, G. Willow Wilson's The Bird King is a story of love versus power, religion versus faith, and freedom versus safety.
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.