G. Willow Wilson writes one of the most awe-inspiring, diverse and complex historic fantasy novels of the year. Arguably, one of my favorite novels read this year. Meshing the Spanish Inquisition with the fantastical elements of jinn, demons and other unexplained creatures seamlessly with love, friendship and will to live are calculatingly executed. The story follows Fatima, a concubine to the sultan of Granada, and her friend, Hassan, an enigmatic mapmaker with magical qualities. As they live within the palace walls, the Spanish are conquering all lands surrounding them and they know their time is coming soon to disregard their Muslim faith or be killed. They will surely be conquered easily since food is scarce, weakening their army. When the Spaniards come under the guise of the white flag, they infiltrate the palace with their greatest weapon, Luz. Luz is not as she seems yet Fatima is seduced by her sweet words and kinship enough to let her meet Hassan. Once she meets Hassan, sees his magical gifts, she believes he is of demonic ability and should be put to death. This starts the voyage of Fatima and Hassan to escape the Spanish Inquisition. The journey is harrowing and readers will ride a rollercoaster of emotional twists and action-oriented turns. You'll grasp onto the profound love and friendship between Fatima and Hassan as well as understand the complexities of Vikram and Gwennec.
The author writes exceptionally well and you'll find the tone reflective of the time period, the mood and as a result, you'll see the world through the eyes of the characters quite clearly. G. Willow Wilson's efforts towards character building is also not be undersold. Fatima follows a trajectory of finding her own strength but readers will see her lose her way quite often and learn from her failures and triumphs. Hassan, while characterized as a gay, magical and infinitely caring individual was slightly too love hungry for me and feel that LGBTQ+ readers may have a problem with him falling for every man in the book or coming across as not seeking love but only affection or desire. With some minor tweaking this could be fixed. I do believe the author did not intentionally characterize Hassan as "slutty" or "needy" based on his sexuality but the perception could be damaging while other characters are seen as pious or not driven by the need to have sexual attraction. Additionally, Vikram is characterized perfectly and might actually be one of my favorite characters in the book. He was witty, dependable and brave. Gwennec was also done quite well. The author easily outlines his folly and his retribution for readers and he becomes one of the most loved characters as well.
Overall, this book has given me a great amount of entertainment and fantasy. While some scenes were difficult to imagine, I could still feel the emotional pull warranted by the writer. This book is perfect for readers of any genre as it holds the core tenets of most great novels.
Raging Book Reviews Highly Recommended!
*Special thanks to Grove Press/Grove Atlantic for the beautiful review copy.
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