G. Willow Wilson’s The Bird King starts out in the last days of Al-Andalus, as Catholic Spain (and the Spanish Inquisition) close their grips around Granada. But this is only partly a historical novel about the fall of civilizations, because it’s just as much a fairy tale.

The book starts off in historical fantasy territory, with political intrigue, hitherto-unsuspected magics, and a journey across the map. But then… it goes off the map, and moves into this much more metaphorical and fantastic kind of mode, where obstacles need to be overcome not with some physical bravery or superior magic, but through understanding the world and oneself.

It’s successful, I think, at what it’s trying to do. But the left turn into the fairy tale mode wasn’t what I was hoping for, and I ended up disappointed. Still, even with that, it was an enjoyable enough read. Lightly recommended, if not particularly enthusiastically.


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