For those craving more diverse voices in their historical fiction, check out The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson: Fatima is a concubine of the last sultan of the Iberian peninsula. A slave in everything but name, she has never even set foot outside the royal palace. Her only friend is Hassan, the royal mapmaker. But Hassan has a secret – he can draw maps of things that don’t exist, which then become real. When a diplomatic envoy from the Spanish government comes to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima discovers that among them is a member of the Spanish Inquisition, which will see Hassan’s gift as heresy. Before Hassan can be taken away, the pair take flight across the continent on an epic journey to freedom.
Far and away the best parts of this beautiful novel are Wilson’s lush descriptions. Everything lives and breathes and feels, down to the tiles in the sultan’s palace. The historical time period is also fascinating, as it is one that does not garner much attention in mainstream literature. And the Islamic setting also allows for some exploration of myth and legend surrounding the culture, including legends of jinn and other creatures. Lastly, the characters are realistic, with their own foibles and shortcomings. Fatima, Hassan, and the rest (even the villain) are allowed to make mistakes and hurt one another, but still be characters that we sympathize with. For sumptuous historical fantasy fiction, check out The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson. You won’t be disappointed.
Review by Shannon Wood
Adult Services Librarian
Nordonia Hills Branch Library