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June 3, 2019

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson ~ a Review

by MK French

Fatima was born into the sultan of Grenada's harem, and the only thing she definitely could choose for herself was her friendship with Hassan, the cartographer. His special gift is the ability to draw uncannily accurate maps, even of places that he had never been to or had seen before. The newly formed Spain is spearheading the Inquisition, and their agents are sure that Hassan is a sorcerer and should be put to the rack. Fatima won't allow this to happen, and unknowingly has a friend in a jinn as well as the fierce loyalty to Hassan and the concept of freedom. They plan to escape the Inquisition with the help of Hassan's gift.

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The Bird King
March 2019; Grove Press; 978-0802129031
audio, ebook, print (440 pages); fantasy
The Bird King starts out slow and ponderous, showing us the friendship between Fatima and Hassan as well as his gift with maps before the plot really kicks in. It almost matches the hazy, oppressive heat that had settled over the palace, the last bastion of Grenada holding out against the Catholic kingdoms. This pace continues throughout the book, even during the tense escape and some of the aspects of the escape that should be more tension-filled. Vikram the jinn is definitely an interesting character; he's called Vikram the Vampire but isn't like the blood drinking vampires we know of. He truly is a jinn, with shapeshifting abilities and magic, as well as knowledge of the vague evils that exist between the world of men and the world of magic. Even so, he isn't all knowing, and cannot save Fatima and Hassan from all the dangers in their journey.

G. Willow Wilson is very creative and may be best known in some circles for the Ms. Marvel comic book. That was certainly the draw that pulled me in to read this book, and it's beautifully written. There are certainly passages that resonate with me, particularly the stories of the Bird King in the beginning, and the discussion about how authorial intent isn't the same as how it's eventually interpreted. Characters discuss the nature of goodness, of love, of belonging, and these are very weighty topics that certainly deserve being talked about. The ending of the novel is one that bothers me a bit, to be honest. I don't want to spoil it, as it's fairly obvious in hindsight that there is only one way for no one else to find Fatima and Hassan's ultimate hiding place. Still, It's the utter isolation that the ending promises which bothers me. Others would need the refuge they found, especially with the Inquisition beginning, and I suppose that I wish there was a way to help all of the others that would need it.

Buy The Bird King at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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