About the Book
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 make maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality with his pen and paper. His magical gift has proven useful to the sultan’s armies in wartime and entertained a bored Fatima who has never stepped foot outside the palace walls.
When a party representing the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrives to negotiate the terms of the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, little realizing that her new friend Luz represents the Inquisition, and will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery, and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With everything on the line, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan, and taste the freedom she has never known?
Fatima and Hassan traverse Iberia to the port, helped along the way by a jinn who has taken a liking to them—Vikram the Vampire, who readers may remember from Alif the Unseen. Pursued all the while by Luz, who somehow always seems to know where they will end up, they narrowly escape from her generals by commandeering a ship, and accidentally also the snoozing Breton monk belowdecks. Though they are unsure whether to trust him, because he is a member of the very same faith they are running from, they nevertheless set about learning from him how to crew a ship. And as it becomes clearer both that there is no place on the mainland that they will be safe, and that the three of them are destined to stay together, they set out to do something they never thought possible—to find the mysterious, possibly mythic island of The Bird King, whose shifting boundaries will hopefully keep them safe.
An epic adventure to find safety in a mythical realm, The Bird King challenges us to consider what true love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.
Praise for The Bird King
NPR’s 50 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of the Decade Pick
“I loved this book so much . . . The Bird King is ostensibly the story of a journey, of the limits to escape—but it is also a journey into story, and faith, and refuge, the family we choose and the friends we find. It’s deeply beautiful and wondrously sad, and I can’t tell if it ended too quickly or if I just needed it not to—if I just wanted to dwell in a home built out of story for a little longer yet.”—NPR
“I truly cannot remember the last time I read a book that made me feel the way The Bird King made me feel . . . No summary, no quotes, no analysis of this book can communicate the all-encompassing pleasure of reading it, paragraph after paragraph, page after page. Read it, and treasure it.”—Arts Fuse
“The Bird King is a compelling, beautifully paced, and beautifully written historical fantasy . . . Wilson skillfully navigates the dualities of love and hate, freedom and captivity, faith and doubt, choice and obligation, and finds all the shades of gray between them. I laughed, I cried, I bit my nails in terror, and I wanted nothing more than to continue spending time with Fatima, Hassan, and their merry band of misfits. An amazing new book from a genuine talent; and while I love her comics work, The Bird King makes me hope that we won’t have to wait another 7 years before her next novel.”—Book Riot
“[G. Willow Wilson] has cemented her place as one of the brightest lights of fantasy storytelling . . . A gorgeous, ambitious meditation on faith, platonic love, magic and even storytelling itself, with a trio of unforgettable personalities serving as its beating, endlessly vital heart. The Bird King is a triumph — immersive in historical detail and yet, in many ways, it could have happened yesterday. Wilson has once again proven that she’s one of the best fantasy writers working today, with a book that’s just waiting for readers to get happily lost in its pages.”—BookPage
“A breathtaking historical fantasy . . . To say Wilson is a talented storyteller does not adequately capture the magnificent dimensions of her work . . . The Bird King [is] a more-than-worthy follow-up to Alif the Unseen. It’s not necessary to read one before the other, but only a fool would miss them both.”—Shelf Awareness
“Steeped in magical realism . . . [and] enchanting otherworldly trappings, it is primarily a novel of ideas. [The Bird King] grapples with who we are, how we love, [and] why we worship . . . [with] prose so vivid and original that one can only read it with envy.”—Tor.com
“The Bird King is marvelous in the deepest sense—a treasure-house of a novel, thrilling, tender, funny, and achingly gorgeous. I loved it.”—Lev Grossman, author of the Magicians trilogy
“A fun, immersive adventure that moves at a brisk pace through lush settings, across dangerous terrain, and eventually out to the open sea . . . [The Bird King] will appeal to readers of S. A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass, Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, and Naomi Novik’s fairy tale-esque Uprooted.”—Booklist (starred review)
“The Bird King takes a time period that’s passed into cliché and makes it new and strange again. In this novel, the real runs alongside the fantastic, one informing the other, G. Willow Wilson’s eye for detail and her titanic imagination pumping together like pistons. She’s incredible. The Bird King has big things to say about states and souls, and it’s going to take you on a rollicking ride while it says them. I was fascinated and riveted and, by the end, deeply moved.”—Robin Sloan, author of Sourdough
“Teeming with secrets, violence, and magic, G. Willow Wilson’s characters come alive in a backdrop of 15th century Spain that is at once sinister and lush. By turns humorous and heartbreaking, the world held me captive and I’m haunted by it still.”—Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember in the Ashes
“This book is luminous. It is full of light, in searing mirror-flashes and warm candleflame flickers and dappled twists of heart-breaking insight into empire, war and religion.” —Amal El-Mohtar, author of This Is How You Lose the Time War
“A lovely fable set during the final days of the Reconquista . . . [The Bird King is] a thoughtful and beautiful balance between the real and the fantastic.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[A] swashbuckling second novel amid an epic clash between cultures.”—Publishers Weekly
“The Bird King felt to me like a story that Scheherazade could have spun; an impossible journey; a freed concubine; an island that is not an island; the Spanish Inquisition! Add to that a helpful monk, a horse named Stupid and a couple of djinn, and what more could you ask for? One of the many things I liked about this book was that the driving relationship was not a romantic one, but a platonic one; a friendship of fierce and deep love which had two people who should not have been connected willing to choose each other despite all odds. This was my introduction to the writing of G. Willow Wilson, but I’m eager to look both back and forward to more of her work.”—Amy Van Keuren, Bank Square Books
“What can I say, except it was MARVELOUS! Taking place in Moorish Spain at the end of that mighty empire, Fatima and Hassan are running away from everything and toward… something. Half a poem and a fierce will to survive are all they have, well that and a reluctant djinn. G. Willow Wilson blends the other world with harsh realities effortlessly. The whole book is enchanting and powerful, just like Fatima.”—Liesl Freudenstein, Boulder Book Store (Boulder, CO)
“Fatima is a concubine of the sultan of the last emirate in the Iberian Peninsula to submit to the Spanish Inquisition. When her dearest friend, Hassan, a mapmaker who can map places he has never seen (and that do not always exist), is singled out by the Inquisition, she flees with him and a jinn, following the trail of the elusive and mythical Bird King, who may or may not be able to grant them sanctuary. Wilson’s latest novel is rich with the historical detail, lush description, and fantastical elements that we have come to know and love from her. A story of resistance, freedom, seeking, and strength, and a true fable for our times.”—Anna Eklund, University Book Store (Seattle, WA)
Praise for G. Willow Wilson and Alif the Unseen
“G. Willow Wilson has a deft hand with myth and with magic, and the kind of smart, honest writing mind that knits together and bridges cultures and people. You should read what she writes.”—Neil Gaiman, author of Stardust and American Gods, on Alif the Unseen
“[G. Willow Wilson] works magic . . . Ms. Wilson has not set out to copy J.K. Rowling’s books or anyone else’s; she has her own fertile imagination and fanciful narrative style.”—New York Times
“Wilson has a Dickensian gift for summoning a city and peopling it with memorable characters.”—Washington Post
“Wilson seems to delight in establishing, then confounding, any expectations readers may have . . . For those who view American fiction as provincial, or dominated by competent but safe work, Wilson’s novel offers a resounding, heterodox alternative.”—New York Times Book Review
“Alif the Unseen is one of those novels that has you rushing to find what else the author has written, and eagerly anticipating what she’ll do next.”—Matt Ruff, author of Fool on the Hill and The Mirage
“Alif the Unseen richly rewards believers in the power of the written word.”—Seattle Times
“Wilson refreshingly, and without condescension, uses Islamic folklore to tell a story of state oppression, resistance and hope.”—Guardian (UK)
“Wilson’s voice is magical and effortless, blending real-world issues with the wonderment of Arabian fairy tales.”—Philadelphia Inquirer
“A ferocious new voice in fiction.”—BookPage