The Bird King came across my library holds list after I perused some of the best of 2019 lists. It was billed as a great fantasy read, and you all know I’m always down for those. I finished this book, the first finish in a little bit, and I am really sad to say that I was a little underwhelmed by the story. It moved quickly, it was easy to follow, and the ending was moving, but as a complete package it wasn’t anything to write home about.
It’s difficult for me to write about how the story even works without giving a ton of stuff away. It’s set in 1491 on the Iberian peninsula, and Fatima is the last Circassian concubine to the sultan there. Her best friend Hassan is gay as well as a magical map maker – he can make doors appear to places just by drawing a map. When the Holy Order (read: Spanish Inquisition) comes a-knocking Hassan and Fatima must run for their lives or be tortured, killed, or in Hassan’s case, used for the Order’s purposes.
The best part of the story is the first third leading up to their escape. G. Willow Wilson paints a beautiful picture of Fatima and Hassan’s friendship as well as her relationships within the harem and with the sultan. She is just beginning to see that she could hold real power and is waiting to see if she becomes pregnant with the sultan’s child when everything falls apart.
Their escape and subsequent journey to Qaf where the King of the Birds resides is a bit of a mess storytelling-wise. The villain isn’t scary, Hassan’s powers are not clearly defined and how he uses them is not made clear, and without giving too much away, how they find the island and defend it seemed rushed and strange.
The ending was moving enough for me to ask you to read it, but don’t be shocked when you feel like giving up around page 300 (if you’re reading the hardcover). I pulled a rare “I made it this far, I might as well finish” and made it to the end, and I’m glad I did. It’s a nice story. If you have a gap in your reading schedule, pick it up and enjoy.