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: Son of a Trickster

Son of a Trickster (Trickster #1) by Eden Robinson

With striking originality and precision, Eden Robinson, the Giller-shortlisted author of the classic Monkey Beach and winner of the Writers Trust Engel/Findley Award, blends humour with heartbreak in this compelling coming-of-age novel. Everyday teen existence meets indigenous beliefs, crazy family dynamics, and cannibalistic river otter . . . The exciting first novel in her trickster trilogy.

Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who’s often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he’s also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can’t rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)–and now she’s dead.

Jared can’t count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can’t rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family’s life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat…and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he’s the son of a trickster, that he isn’t human. Mind you, ravens speak to him–even when he’s not stoned.

You think you know Jared, but you don’t.

Review:
Son of a Trickster is an interesting book and Robinson is clearly a gifted storyteller. There were parts I loved and I was really looking forward to the supernatural aspect. Also, being from BC, I love reading books set in the familiar landscape of my province.
Most of the book is about Jared and is life and how he deals with what is going on around him. There is a lot of drinking and drugs. A lot. I found this part of the book to get repetitive, though I did like Jared and felt for him. I liked how he was friends with his elderly neighbours, how he loved his dog, and how he tried hard in his own way. He is a well developed character with depth when he could easily have been a stereotype.
There are definitely some difficult situations in this book, situations that too many kids have had to go through and that is hard to read.
I especially loved the end, when the magical aspect became more prominent, leaving me anxious to read the next book in this series and find out what is next for Jared.
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Book Review: Cleopatra’s Needle

Cleopatra's NeedleCleopatra’s Needle by Carole Lanham

THERE ARE MONSTERS IN THIS WORLD, I’VE LEARNED, AND SOMETIMES I HAVE FALLEN PREY TO THEM AND SOMETIMES I HAVE BEEN ONE…

When Lilabet last saw Iago, they were ten years old. Whisked off to America by his father in a desperate attempt to escape the dark superstitions of Wales, Iago’s letters have been the single thing to connect them. Now, fourteen years have passed and Iago has asked Lilabet to be his bride.

Eager to begin a modern life in an exciting new land with the man she has loved for all her days, Lilabet is about to discover that black magic may find a home on any shore. Three red-haired witches have been playing a deadly game of revenge with Iago and if she wants to have a life with him, Lilabet will first have to fight the dark forces that have claimed her young husband for their own.

CLEOPATRA’S NEEDLE A story of Welsh witchcraft, love, and murder.

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