Book Review: The Bird King

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

New from the award-winning author of Alif the Unseen and writer of the Ms. Marvel series, G. Willow Wilson

Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, 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?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

Review:
I absolutely loved this book. The synopsis and the wonderful cover drew me in and once I started reading, I could hardly put this book down.
The writing itself is beautiful and, at times, poetic. Wilson knows how to use words and phrases to paint a vivid picture without getting too flowery or long winded. I found myself stopping at times just to re-read her writing. The world is gorgeous and is seamless between the real world and the fantasy world. The terror of the Spanish Inquisition was captured in a horrific way.
The story was fantastic, filled with adventure, friendship, history, magic, life-and-death situations, and characters that I cared about. Fatima and Hassan were both interesting and grew as the book went on. Even if I didn’t agree with them, I felt for them because I could understand where they were coming from and how difficult things were for them.
And the Bird King. I loved how it played in the story and how it was resolved at the end.
Thank you to Netgalley and Grove Press for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: The Witches of New York

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

The beloved, bestselling author of The Birth House and The Virgin Cure is back with her most beguiling novel yet, luring us deep inside the lives of a trio of remarkable young women navigating the glitz and grotesqueries of Gilded-Age New York by any means possible, including witchcraft…

The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (‘Moth’ from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it’s finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and “gardien de sorts” (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan’s high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions–and in guarding the secrets of their clients.

All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment. Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor’s apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind?

Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. Working with Dr. Quinn Brody, a talented alienist, she submits Beatrice to a series of tests to see if she truly can talk to spirits. Amidst the witches’ tug-of-war over what’s best for her, Beatrice disappears, leaving them to wonder whether it was by choice or by force.

As Adelaide and Eleanor begin the desperate search for Beatrice, they’re confronted by accusations and spectres from their own pasts. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?

Review:
I enjoyed reading this book and getting to know the three great main characters, Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice. They each brought interesting aspects to the book and shone a light on how women, especially women outside of the norm, were treated in the 1880s, something which appeals to me.
McKay has created a wonderful and rich world in this book and has brought historical New York to life with interesting detail, but not so much as to get in the way of the compelling story. There were a times where the story dragged briefly, but not enough that I wanted to put the book down — I was invested in finding out what would happen with our heroines, and Eleanor’s pet raven whose mystique I loved.
I love books that portray friendships between women and this one did not disappoint. I am anxious to pick up the novella that comes after this book so I can immerse myself in this world and its characters again.
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Book Review: A Light of Her Own

A Light of Her Own

by Carrie Callaghan

In Holland 1633, a woman’s ambition has no place.

Judith is a painter, dodging the law and whispers of murder to become the first woman admitted to the prestigious Haarlem artist’s guild. Maria is a Catholic in a country where the faith is banned, hoping to absolve her sins by recovering a lost saint’s relic.

Both women’s destinies will be shaped by their ambitions, running counter to the city’s most powerful men, whose own plans spell disaster. A vivid portrait of a remarkable artist, A Light of Her Own is a richly-woven story of grit against the backdrop of Rembrandts and repressive religious rule.

Review:
A Light of Her Own is a rich and lush re-imagining of the life of Judith Leyster, a talented painter in Holland in the 1600s, as well as her friend Maria. It’s so interesting to learn about overlooked historical figures and their times.
Judith is an interesting character, full of passion and determination, a woman trying to make it in her profession in a man’s world. At times, this determination to succeed takes her too far, but we get to watch her evolve as a character.
Maria also is living in contradiction to the norms of her society — a devout Catholic in a country that has made her faith illegal.
Overall, I enjoyed this book well enough, but I did not find it compelling. I loved reading about the history of the time but did not get drawn into the story.
Thank you to NetGalley for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: Song of a Captive Bird

Song of a Captive Bird

A spellbinding debut novel about the trailblazing poet Forugh Farrokhzhad, who defied Iranian society to find her voice and her destiny

“Remember the flight, for the bird is mortal.”—Forugh Farrokhzad

All through her childhood in Tehran, Forugh is told that Iranian daughters should be quiet and modest. She is taught only to obey, but she always finds ways to rebel—gossiping with her sister among the fragrant roses of her mother’s walled garden, venturing to the forbidden rooftop to roughhouse with her three brothers, writing poems to impress her strict, disapproving father, and sneaking out to flirt with a teenage paramour over café glacé. It’s during the summer of 1950 that Forugh’s passion for poetry really takes flight—and that tradition seeks to clip her wings.

Forced into a suffocating marriage, Forugh runs away and falls into an affair that fuels her desire to write and to achieve freedom and independence. Forugh’s poems are considered both scandalous and brilliant; she is heralded by some as a national treasure, vilified by others as a demon influenced by the West. She perseveres, finding love with a notorious filmmaker and living by her own rules—at enormous cost. But the power of her writing grows only stronger amid the upheaval of the Iranian revolution.

Inspired by Forugh Farrokhzad’s verse, letters, films, and interviews—and including original translations of her poems—Jasmin Darznik has written a haunting novel, using the lens of fiction to capture the tenacity, spirit, and conflicting desires of a brave woman who represents the birth of feminism in Iran—and who continues to inspire generations of women around the world.

Review:

This is a fascinating and well researched book about the Iranian poet Forugh Forrokzad. She wrote primarily in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and was a pivotal part of the feminist movement in Iran at that time.

I loved learning about this amazing historical figure who I had not even heard of before and getting a sense of what life was like for a woman in Iran at the time. Forrokzad was a formidable woman who refused to conform to the norms of society, and who followed her own path, doing what she thought was right for herself.

As you can imagine, Forrokzad had huge hurtles to overcome and backlash to contend with. However, these things did not deter her from forging ahead with her poetry and politics, even at great personal cost.

Darzink has done an impressive job researching Forrokzad, going so far as to translate her poetry herself into English. The story is fictionalized, but is still compelling. I did feel that the storytelling could have been more personal and a little less “telling” what went on. Still, I was caught up in the story and in Forrokzad, anxious to turn the pages to see how her life would unfold. Darzink has done an impressive job of bringing an interesting and turbulent time in history to life and of introducing a formidable poet to many of us who may never heard of her before.

 

Note: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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