The Bird King
By G. Willow Wilson
Concubines, jinn, magical maps, the Spanish Inquisition and a host of other elements combine for a heroic journey of a young woman on a quest to find a place of safety and freedom. Fatima has been born and raised in the confines of the Sultan’s harem and valued only for her beauty. Her only true friend is Hassan, a mapmaker able to contort reality when creating his maps. Fatima’s world is upended when a group of representatives from the Spanish monarchy appear demanding the Sultan’s surrender, and Fatima accidentally gives up a secret that forces her to face her hopes and fears and leave the palace for the first time in her life. With her friend, Hassan, and the help of a moody jinn, Vikram, Fakima sets out across a desert and sea in hopes of finding a place where personal freedom exists. There are many dangers along the way in the form of religion, magical creatures, the evil natures of man, and doubting oneself.
This book is so unique to anything else I have read due to the setting and magical elements. For this reason, and the lyrical quality of the writing that G. Willow Wilson does, this story will stick in my head for a long time. I am so glad my book club picked this book because I am not sure I would have grabbed it on my own due to the historical time period which had never been an interest of mine. I am a lover of mythology and now, thanks to this read, I have a deeper understanding of Muslim mythology and what jinns are and represent to the culture. Vikram is a dangerous, loyal, slightly gross, shape-changing jinn who progresses the story just when it seems all is lost. His unique traits drew me into wanting to research more on these classical beings and see what other stories they appear.
There is a depth in this book that will take a second reading to fully understand, which is one negative I had for it because I don’t have time to re-read books. There was almost too much happening within the story: some characters that seemed unimportant, several smaller elements were not explained, and I am honestly still a bit confused about the main antagonist.
Read this book if you are looking for a fun magical experience, to learn more about Muslim history/culture, for a deeper-thinking read, and a unique fantasy. This story did contain some physical cruelty and the role of concubines, captives, being expected to sleep with the Sultan.
Overall, this book has a beautiful message on tolerance, hope, and that many cultures, faiths, languages, and personalities can live together in harmony through struggles both from the physical world and man’s own need to accept the beauty and uniqueness inside everyone.