I'd really enjoyed this author's previous book, Alif the Unseen, so was delighted to see she was back to writing novel-length work again, though I have to say I've also been loving her work with Ms Marvel... All of which meant I was more than delighted when my Netgalley request for an ARC of The Bird King was accepted and happily settled down this week to reading it.
The basic premise of The Bird King is that it's set in the time when the Moors were losing their grip on Spain, initially taking place in the court of the emperor in Granada. Our main character, Fatima, is one of the emperor's concubines - she was born within the palace's confines and has never known the outside world, her best friend being Hassan the cartographer who she visits illicitly. Hassan has a special gift, in that he is able to use the maps he makes to connect places together and Fatima uses this to obtain a little insight into the world outside the one she knows.
When the would-be Spanish monarchy come calling, with the Inquisition in tow, Hassan's life is threatened and Fatima decides that the best thing to do is for both of them to run away. Aided by a djinn that they discover has been living in the palace, they decide to head for the island occupied by the eponymous king of the birds, the subject of a story they had both grown up with. Neither Fatima or Hassan are particularly equipped for such a journey, in more ways than one, but they head out anyway since they have very few other options that don't involve Hassan being burnt alive for sorcery.
This is such a beautifully-written book, striking just the right balance between getting the details precise and making a drama of how much research must have been required. Fatima, in particular, is a great character and stands out from the page - she doesn't always make the right decision but you believe the ones she does make. Hassan and the other characters are strong too, including the main antagonist and that's not always something writers manage to do well. Moustache-twirling evil is much easier than banal belief that you're doing the right thing and everyone else ought to fall in line.
Anyway, in short: I hope The Bird King is the first of many more novels from this author and I can't wait to get my hands on a paper copy when it goes on sale next year.
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.