Rummanah Aasi
Description: Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret--he can draw maps of places he's never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan's surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan's gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

  As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

Review: The Bird King is a historical fantasy set during the final days of the Reconquista in Spain.  According to outsiders Fatima has had a relatively pampered life in the Alhabra palace, but Fatima has never experienced freedom, serving the sultan of Granada as his favorite concubine in the palace harem and his mother as her close companion. Her "security" is jeopardized as the sultan prepares to surrender his lands to Ferdinand and Isabella, rulers of the recently united Spain and she inadvertently betrays her beloved friend Hassan to the Inquisition, which believes him to be a sorcerer.
  Hassan is a gay cartographer who regularly prays and meditates and has a narrow but powerful magic: He can create new shortcuts between places with his maps as well as draw locations he has never seen, including some which don’t become real until he draws them. Fatima and Hassan make a desperate escape, aided by capricious jinn, but the Inquisition seems always to be just behind them. Their only possible refuge might lie in the fragment of an old poem called the Conference of Birds (a real and very popular Sufi poem in Persian) which the two companions have pored over since childhood, about the mysterious island of Qaf, hidden refuge of the king of birds.
  The Bird King started a bit slow for me, but once Fatima and Hassan were on the run I was easily pulled into Wilson's story. The world building is well-constructed, but I would have loved to have explored more of the jinns that Wilson created. I found the jinns to be fascinating. The real focus of the story however is the character development, particularly that of Fatima's growing understanding of the nature of freedom and responsibility. Wilson also delicately explores the concept of a love outside the physical through the complex and very genuine relationship shared by Fatima and Hassan. Luz, the Dominican lay sister who serves as an Inquistor for the Holy Office is terrifying and one questions her evil nature. As Fatima and Hassan reach the island of Qaf, the story also becomes an allegory of the contentious debate of immigration and freedom. Bringing all of today's relevant topics makes The Bird King a thoughtful and beautiful historical fantasy.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, strong violence including a scene of attempted rape, disturbing images, and mentions of torture. Recommended for older teens and adults only.

If you like this book try: City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, and Uprooted by Naomi Novik
1 Response
  1. Ha! I accidentally read the time of this book as 1941 and was so confused. 1491 makes way more sense. This one sounds interesting.

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