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.
... 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.
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.