My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Bird King is the kind of book that spoils you from reading others for a few days. It's going to be one of my favorite novels of the year, perhaps all time. (Though Wilson's previous book moves to the top of the TBR pleasure pile.) This book stands on its own as a darkly luminous fantasy novel, but it's also a work of art, created to please on more than one level of perception, as are all the best stories; I mean, of course, it lifts us into the territory of myth. Such fast-paced adventure: a slave girl and a magic map maker flee the Holy Inquisition at the fall of Granada, the last Muslim emirate on the Iberian peninsula. And there are djinn, (not the usual depiction, thanks!) and magic. Worth the read just for the adventure and coming-of-age story. Then there's the exploration of relationships and love. This is a novelistic homage to the great poem written by the Sufi poet that inspired Hafiz and Rumi, Attar. It's not poetic at all, except in its themes. It's true to the spirit of mysticism but it's not a poem or a retelling of The Conference of the Birds. The writing has the flavor of both Salman Rushdie and Guy Gavriel Kay, in reverence and irreverence, in facility with Islamic and history concepts and nostalgia for a past that might have been. There is not a wrong note emotionally, spiritually, psychologically as questions of loyalty, good and evil, free will, service and dominance, sin and goodness are dealt with along the journey. And of course, your own beliefs about those issues are highlighted as you go along. Is there a land of freedom, where justice and mercy are married in balance, where kindness is the law, where people can live in harmony no matter their beliefs? If there's not, does the fact that we can imagine it mean that we can create it, even after ten thousand years of failure? Are Camelot and Granada, Themiscyra and America only meant to last a few lifetimes, perfect in idealism, imperfect in practice--or is goodwill among humans sustainable? Do you have to follow tradition, accept injustice, be the spoils of war? Or do you flee death and look for a future? Must you lay in the bed you made, or is there forgiveness, repentance, more chances at friendship, honor, and life? Once you've been possessed by a demon, are you ever free? You don't have to think about that stuff as you read, but I love the books and authors that make it possible. Highly recommended!
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