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The Bird King

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  6,536 ratings  ·  1,335 reviews
New from the award-winning author of Alif the Unseen and writer of the Ms. Marvel series, G. Willow Wilson

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
Hardcover, 403 pages
Published March 12th 2019 by Grove Press
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Jalilah I'll answer my own question! I just re-read and it's on pages 95 and 96 when they are escaping the Alhambra. I did not make the connection the first t…moreI'll answer my own question! I just re-read and it's on pages 95 and 96 when they are escaping the Alhambra. I did not make the connection the first time around! (less)

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Average rating 3.75  · 
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 ·  6,536 ratings  ·  1,335 reviews

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Emily May
Feb 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: historical, arc, fantasy, 2019
“The real struggle on this earth is not between those who want peace and those who want war. It’s between those who want peace and those who want justice. If justice is what you want, then you may often be right, but you will rarely be happy.”

3½ stars. I have lots of positive things to say about The Bird King, but I am going to get what will surely be the main problem for many people out of the way first: this book is SO SLOW. I honestly considered not finishing it, which I hate to do for ar
Nov 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Set in 1491 Grenada, most of this novel reads like a devoted historical novel where the Muslim world is mixed with the Christian at a time when the Spanish Inquisition is running strong and the last Emirate is about to fall.

Fatima, the last concubine, and her friend Hassan, a mapmaker with the ability to open up doors to the Other, transforms this novel from a strict historical to an outright fantasy. But it happens slowly. The historicity of the world is rich and lush and it introduces the worl
Umairah | Sereadipity
Plot: 3/5 Characters: 4/5. Writing: 5/5

The Bird King was a historical fantasy book set in 1491 in Granada, the last emirate of Muslim Spain. There were many things I liked about it, however, there were also many things I disliked- that's why I gave it three stars.

It was about Fatima, a Circassian concubine who fled from the palace of Granada with her childhood friend, Hassan, who could make magical maps that altered the layout of places in real life. They were escaping from the Spanish Inquisiti
I was a huge fan of Wilson’s 2012 debut novel “Alif the Unseen.” I loved her heady concoction of Middle Eastern fantasy and modern hacker culture woven into a truly unique and spell-binding tale. I have been waiting for seven years for her second novel, and here it is at last!

It started out in a promising fashion. Set in Granada in 1491, Fatima is a concubine in the court of the sultan. She is a “possession,” and has little freedom, but manages to befriend the royal mapmaker. Hassan has an unusu
I really enjoyed the early chapters of this fantasy historical novel which is set in the Alhambra during the dying days of the Sultan of Granada's rule. In 1491, Granada was under siege with no supplies getting in and it's people slowly starving as Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain close in in their quest to force Granada to capitulate. Representatives have arrived at the palace to negotiate terms when Fatima, the Sultan's favourite concubine discovers that amongst their number is an Inquisitor wh ...more
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I received a free e-copy of The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson from NetGalley for my honest review.

Thank you G. Willow Wilson for this beautiful and enchanting novel, written with rich history. The writing is absolutely magical and rich with emotion. The kind of writing that makes you go back and re-read parts of it just for the sheer joy.

Fatima is the last sultan’s concubine in a kingdom falling down to the Spanish Inquisition. Her friend, Hassan, is in danger for his crafting ability of drawin
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, this novel tells the story of Fatima, the concubine to the sultan, and her friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. With the enemy at the gate, Fa and Hassan attempt an escape with the help of a jinn.

Wilson blends fantasy and magic with history, morphing into an epic adventure, and I love that the story is told through two characters who have never been free until now.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy through Ede
ʙᴇʟᴀ.: ☾**:.☆*.:。.
“Lies are for those who are afraid or ashamed of what they are, and I am neither.”

The Bird King tells us the story of Fatima, a royal concubine and Hassan a cartographer in the Muslim palace in Granada, Spain.
It is a setting filled with vivid detail where we learn about a time when Catholics take back the territory that Muslims conquered in the Iberian Peninsula, more specifically, the regions of Spain and Portugal. It tells us about the Spanish Inquisition, the radical persecution that they ma
Mel (Epic Reading)
A few lulls but for the most part an excellent read. It felt like I was reading a Guy Gavriel Kay book; which is a huge compliment! There is a lot of Muslim culture here that most Westerners are not likely to be familiar with. I loved learning about the culture and seeing the world from the Muslim viewpoint. And while this is Earth during the 13th century; it has all the magical aspects of the stories we know from that time. Use of 'magic', secret islands, famous swords, etc. You can decide for ...more
Michael Austin
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2019
There are few recent books that I have looked forward to reading as much as I looked forward to reading The Bird King. And there are even fewer books that I have anticipated that have been as disappointing to me as this one was. It was not a complete disaster. There are redeeming qualities. But there are also a lot of wasted opportunities.

But first, let me explain why I looked forward to this book so much. Two reasons, really. The first is that I really liked G. Willow Wilson's first two (non gr
All the stories poems are true!

I gave this book my full attention until the 80% mark after which I mostly skimmed because having called out who the Bird King was in the first couple of chapters I felt very meh about the entire thing being revealed. The fact that it got really preachy really quickly didn’t help either:

“Fear only God,” murmured Vikram, pulling her onward. “Not man, nor beast, nor jinn, nor death: fear only God and you will be safe.”

The things I liked about The Bird King :

Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book gripped me. A rich blend of historical fiction, magical realism, and religious philosophy, it is both gorgeous and profound. The characters are all flawed and endearing in a way that is relatable and beautifully true to life. I think my favorites among these are Vikram the jinn and Gwennec the monk.

"The Bird King", set in the last days of the last emirate of Muslim Spain, follows two unconventional best friends-- Fatima, who is concubine to the sultan of said emirate, and Hassan, a map
***Note: I received a copy curtesy of Netgalley and Grove Atlantic/Grove Press in exchange for an honest review.

A Circassian concubine in Alhambra, at the time of the last sultan, learnes of a threat to her gay friend and decides that they must run away in order to save him.
The writing is beautiful and lyrical, and the story is a mix between historical fiction, fantasy and magical realism. The first part, taking place in Alhambra and the desert, I found very good and greatly enjoyed it, but the
A lovely novel about a friendship, flight from the Spanish Inquisition, and the search for a mythical land of safety.
I’m a huge fan of G. Willow Wilson’s Kamala Khan, so I was pretty excited to read this book. The writing is wonderful. There are numerous beautiful passages throughout the book, and I particularly liked the interactions between Fatima, the sultan’s concubine and unwilling slave, and Hassan, the sultan’s mapmaker. Hassan is more than a conventional mapmaker: he's able to create doo
Para (wanderer)
Thanks to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for providing the ARC in exchange for an honest review

What a book. Wonderful prose, great characters, interesting setting...what else could a reader want?

Full review to come.
Fafa's Book Corner
Mini review:


Trigger warning: Mention of war. Up till the point I read.

I received this E-ARC via Grove Atlantic and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I was really looking forward to reading this! I've read and enjoyed Ms. Marvel. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy it.

I really enjoyed the friendship between the two main characters! However as I read on I started to lose interest. I didn't much care for the historical aspect or the war. I didn't care about the plot.

Overall this was a persona
Lady H
Apr 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Al-Andalus is a gilded vision imprinted into the minds of many Muslim children, myself included. It is a dream of glory days long past, the Golden Age of the Islamic Empire, a time of prosperity and tolerance. The Bird King begins not in the midst of this glory age, but at the door of its downfall: the year is 1491. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand have laid siege to Granada, the last remaining stronghold of the great empire of Muslim Spain, tenuously held by the sultan and his retinue.

Chavelli Sulikowska
I do enjoy a good magic realist novel, many are among my favourite books of all time – One Hundred Years of Solitude, Senor Vivo and the Cocoa Lords, the Alchemist and the Enchantress of Florence (and does the Last Unicorn count?). The Bird King does by definition tick all the MR boxes. It bends time and reality, has elements of the supernatural or mystic and hybridised animal-human characters. Nevertheless, there are a number of aspects that simply don’t work.

Set in the late 1400s in Moorish S
The Captain
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
Ahoy there me mateys! I received this fantasy eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. So here be me honest musings . . .

This was a heart-achingly beautiful book. I was drawn to this title because of the lovely cover and because there is a character who can draw magic maps. Ye all know how this Captain loves maps of any kind (Arrr!). And while I loved how the maps worked, turns out that they were the least awesome part of the book for me. Because the two main characters, Fatima and
I am kind of bored reading fantasy books set in pseudo-European medieval setting. I've tried to diversify my reads (and authors) this year. So far, I've read 12 of non-pseudo Euro medieval setting out of the total 19 fantasy novels/novella/graphic novels. Yet, I feel I still need to challenge myself to read more and then this book came along.

G. Willow Wilson has dazzled me since I read Alif the Unseen. She scored high in everything I want: characters, plots, worldbuilding (!) and dialogues. The
Nov 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
A compelling story from a harem slave’s point of view. This is the historical moment when Isabel and Fredrick unite Spain and finish extraditing both the Moors (Muslims) and Jews. Due to a poor background in history I was unaware that these acts occurred during the same time period, and with the aid of, the Inquisition.

Fatima dreams of freedom despite being the favorite of the sultan’s court. Her friend Hassan, a mapmaker, has the uncanny ability to add to known maps and make new rooms and isla
Dec 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult, arcs, dnf
Big thanks to Bookish First for providing me with an advanced copy.

I do not like DNFing books that I get sent for review. It feels disrespectful to me for someone to go out of their way to send me a copy and then for me not to take the time to finish it. However, I am in no mood to force myself to finish something that I am not feeling. I feel another serious bout of depression coming on, and so I don't think it would be good for my health to do anything that brings me down these days. I'm truly
Barb in Maryland
Mar 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Oh wow! 4.5 stars for this marvelous blend of historical fiction and magic realism.

More once I get my thoughts organized.

ETA 4/2/2019---
Sometimes it helps to sit back and actually think about what you've just read. When I first finished this I was basking in a warm glow of having read an intelligent, intriguing book. Now, several days later, I realize that the book didn't stir me emotionally. I liked Fatima and Hassan well enough, but there was something that kept me from relating to them as rea
Mel Anie
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed it a lot!
Sheila G
I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!


All included quotes have been taken from an ARC and may not match the finished publication.

Content Warning: Death, Slavery, Harem, Torture, Violence, Attempted Rape, Alcoholism, Religious Persecution/War, Adult Content

This review may contain spoilers!
”Long ago, all the birds of the world began to forget their history and their language because they had been leaderless for so long. So a brave few sought o
Alexia Cambaling
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Grove Press!

The Bird King is a historical magical realism fantasy set during the last days of the Reconquista. In the beginning of the book, there is an element of despair and melancholy as the combined forces of Castile and Aragon start to close in on Granada.

The book stars Fatima, a slave in the sultan’s harem and her dearest friend, Hassan, a mapmaker who can create maps of places he’s never s
Aug 23, 2021 rated it liked it
I have some qualms with this book, but let me start with something that I didn't ever have a qualm with: G. Willow Wilson's writing. Her writing is just beautiful, and flows quite nicely from moment to moment. Many of the more pivotal character scenes in The Bird King work because Wilson's writing does. The standout moments stand out precisely because Wilson writes them with such a deft hand.

That being said, my main issue with this book is that structurally, it didn't really hold up--especially
Apr 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Set in the late 15th century, in the besieged palace of Abu Abdallah, the last Emirate of Granada in Iberia. A emissary from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella is sent to negotiate the surrender of the Muslims, led by a religious zealot and member of the Spanish Inquisition. Fatima is the Sultan’s concubine, the companion of his aging but caring mother, and has been a slave since birth. Her best friend is Hassan, the palace mapmaker, whom she is not supposed to see because she belongs to the Sult ...more
Lili  Marcus
I initially rated this 3.5 stars but as I write the review, I realized I don't have that much of a complaint.

The book is set in 1491 Granada and tells the story of Fatima who is a Circassian concubine. She fled from the palace along with her friend, Hassan, who could make magical maps. They were fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition that wanted Hassan dead because they see him as a sorcerer. Because of Hassan, this book just turned from a Historical fiction to Fantasy.

And I liked it.

Fatima is a
Jan 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Migratory serendipitists, and perhaps some other flockers
Recommended to Alan by: John Scalzi; previous work; a passing phoenix
"This isn't the end of the world, little Fatima," he said in a voice that was almost kind. "It's only the end of the world you know."
—Vikram, p.147

The last time I read one of G. Willow Wilson's novels was in 2013. Alif the Unseen had a Vikram in it too, although they're very different characters.

G. Willow Wilson's The Bird King is a fantasy, but it begins with history. The year is 1491 A.D.—or 896 A.H., by Fatima's Islamic calendar. Fatima is the Sultan of Granada's favorite concubine, young and
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Play Book Tag: The Bird King barely 2 1/2 stars rounding down 5 17 Nov 20, 2020 01:30PM  
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Play Book Tag: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson - 3 stars 1 8 Nov 08, 2020 06:12PM  
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Hugo, World Fantasy and American Book Award-winning author of novels and comics, including THE BIRD KING, INVISIBLE KINGDOM, and ALIF THE UNSEEN. Co-creator of Ms Marvel. Honorary doctor of letters, Rutgers University. I accidentally started a dutch baby baking cult during quarantine. Not very active on here right now, but often found on Twitter.

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“...God bless the man who first taught the world how to cure olives. He and the man who invented cheese are two unsung pillars of civilization."

"They were probably women," muttered Fatima, fanning her face with the sleeve of her robe. "If they were men, we would remember their names.”
“Yes, you were taught to waste your anger. It’s convenient for girls to be angry about nothing. Girls who are angry about something are dangerous. If you want to live, you must learn to use your anger for your own benefit, not the benefit of those who would turn it against you.--Vikram” 11 likes
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