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.
Advance praise for The Bird King
“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
“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
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