The Bird King

The Bird King

Book - 2019
Average Rating:
Rate this:
The story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of Granada, the last emirate of Muslim Spain, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. Hassan has a secret--he can draw maps of places he's never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan's surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan's gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?
Publisher: New York : Grove Press, [2019]
Edition: First Grove Atlantic hardcover edition
Copyright Date: ©2019
ISBN: 9780802129031
Branch Call Number: FIC WILSON 2019
Characteristics: 403 pages : map ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

Finalist for 2020 Washington State Book Award for Fiction.

A lovely fable set during the final days of the Reconquista. (Kirkus)

After several years writing comic books, the author of World Fantasy Award-winning novel Alif the Unseen (2012) returns to long-form fiction with a lovely fable sent during the final days of the Reconquista.

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Sep 16, 2020

The Bird King is the story of Fatima, a concubine at the court of the last sultan in Spain, and Hassan, her gay friend and magically gifted map maker. Things get complicated when the Spanish send emissaries to negotiate the surrender of the sultanate, and the withdrawal of Muslim rulers from Spain. Despite the harem/concubine setting, The Bird King is a book which carefully avoids being sensationalist /fetishising the harem. Fatima is admired for her beauty by most people who meet her, but the book never turns into the sleaze that other harem stories tend to be. I have never before read a book set in the Islamic period of Spain's history. Aside from vaguely knowing that «the Moors» had once conquered Spain, leaving behind Moorish architecture and palaces, I know very little about that part of European history. In the end, The Bird King was an interesting novel, but it wasn't the masterpiece I expected and hoped for. It whet my appetite for finding out more about the time and place it was set in, but it left me a little frustrated that the book didn't fizz and sparkle with atmosphere. My final review is 3.8/5.
@Barcelonafan1 of the Hamilton Public Library's Teen Review Board

Mar 14, 2020

Such a cool story. Interesting and weird plot but very grounded characters.

Jan 17, 2020

The first 80% of this novel is phenomenal. The prose is masterful. Every scene comes alive on the page. The last 20% is unfortunately confusing and anti-climactic. I loved the setting (the Iberian Peninsula in 1491), the protagonist (a Circassian concubine), and the magic of the universe (jinn, the search for a magical island, and a mapmaker who can draw their strange maps into reality). Once the novel gets into its last fifth, I struggled to understand the point of the story, which tainted the experience for me.

Oct 18, 2019

Fatima is concubine to the sultan of Granada, a kingdom that has long been in slow decline and that has now been conquered for good by the Spanish, Ferdinand and Isabella. Born and raised in the palace, Fatima’s best friend and the only person she loves is Hassan, the mapmaker, who has the ability to draw maps to anywhere and see all the unseen paths. Luz, the Inquisitor sent by the Spanish, sees Hassan as evil. The story is of FAtima’s and Hassan’s escape from the INquisition, and their decision to go find the Bird King, based on an unfinished poem that they had long created many endings for. Along the way, they are helped by Vikram, the Jinn who occupies the palace and companion to Lady Aisha, the sultan’s mom. Vikram at times takes the form of a dog and dog man. THey also meet up with the monk Gwennec, who helps them across the ocean to the island of the Bird King.

SCL_Justin Sep 16, 2019

Starting off in the last remnants of the Iberian sultanate, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, a spoiled concubine and her cartographer friend in the palace. Hassan's maps bend the rules of reality and when the Inquisition learns of his talent he becomes part of the price for making peace, which is unacceptable to Fatima. The story follows them as they try to escape the powers of empire with a little magickal help along the way.

Most of the book is a good "plucky heroes try to escape an empire" kind of tale, but in my opinion, it's the last quarter of the book that really makes it stand out. It reminds me more of something like Un Lun Dun (by China Mieville) or even the ending to Lev Grossman's The Magicians than the basic page-turner it had been until then.

Fatima is a great viewpoint character and her complicated relationship with Hassan (and the other characters they meet along the way) is knotty enough to be satisfying. I quite liked this.

Sep 14, 2019

I've never read a historical fantasy before. This one takes place in 1491, the year Ferdinand and Isabel take over the last Muslim territory in the Iberian Peninsula. Fatima, 16, is the favorite concubine (part of the fantasy) to the elderly sultan of the Alhambra. For several years, they've been under siege by the Spanish forces. The only one who's getting enough to eat is Fatima, because, well, she's the sultan's favorite concubine. Her best friend is Hassan, the royal mapmaker, who has a secret. I'm not giving much away about his secret, because it's mentioned on pg. 1. He can make maps of places he's never been, or seen, and thus change reality. He doesn't talk about it much, which is a good thing when the Spanish invade the castle, and somehow make their way to Hassan's workroom. Suddenly there's a trapdoor in the floor, through which Fatima and Hassan escape to a dusty tunnel and out toward the coast. Hassan has a map of the Bird King's island, and that's where they're headed. Unfortunately for them, the Inquisitor Luz has seen the map too, and follows them. What comes before the escape is a bit slow. What follows is high adventure, fast paced, full of fantasy and wonders. And pain and sorrows. Terrible decisions must be made, and are. This is a lovely book. Apparently it's not at all like her first novel, "Alf the Unseen," nor any of her graphic novels. But she's a powerful writer, and I highly recommend this one.

Sep 07, 2019

I discovered another literary genre - Historical Fantasy. This was a fun read, but I feel the ending was somewhat flat.

Aug 08, 2019

Bo got from library-looked good.

May 17, 2019

Colorful and full of adventure! It's a bit of a cat and mouse escapade via a fantasy medium. There seems to be more adventure and less plot yet the ride was immensely enjoyable.

RandomLibrarian Apr 27, 2019

"The Bird King" is a fantasy that incorporates aspects of Islamic culture and belief, but is quite different from her previous novel, "Alif the Unseen". The story is original, highly imaginative, and the plot flows along, at first as slowly as Fatima's endless, languid days in the harem, and then as quickly as her flight and search for the land of the Bird King. Wilson's writing style is engaging and brilliantly detailed. If you're looking to branch out from Wilson's comics (Ms. Marvel, Air, Cairo), this fantasy is a good place to start.

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at SPL

To Top