ARC REVIEW: The Bird King – by G. Willow Wilson @groveatlantic

Title: The Bird King
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: March 12th 2019
Publisher: Grove Press
Finished reading: February 28th 2019
Pages: 440

“Once a story leaves the hands of its author, it belongs to the reader. And the reader may see any number of things, conflicting things, contradictory things.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Grove Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I confess: the cover put me under its spell immediately and I knew I wanted to read this story even before I read the blurb. The premise of the story only enhanced my feelings though, as I’ve always had a special connection with Spain and its history. The mention of Granada alone, a city I’ve been lucky enough to visit myself and admire with my own eyes, would have been enough to make me jump up and down out of joy. Add the promise of a historical fiction setting with a focus on the last sultan of Muslim Spain, a setting right in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition and a fantasy twist, and I knew The Bird King was going to be something special. My instincts turned out to be right: this was such a stunning and absolutely fantastic read! It becomes clear from the beginning that the power of The Bird King is in the prose, attention to historical details and the hint of magical realism in part of the elements. The lines between fiction and fantasy are blurred and balanced in such a way that will surely mesmerize you before you reach the final page. The attention to detail and many descriptions really make the story and its characters come alive. We get a glimpse inside the Alhambra and its daily life under the last sultan and all things culture related. We also get an idea what the Spanish Inquisition was prepared to do in that time, although that is not the main focus of this story. Like I said before, the fantasy elements almost have a magical realism feel about them, something that really worked for me in this story. Each character is unique, well developed and easy to like… You will find yourself rooting for Fatima and Hassan and crossing your fingers they will be able to escape and find the mythical island where the bird king lives. People have complained about the slow pace, and while I agree the pace is indeed rather slow, it also makes it easier to fully savour the prose and all those wonderful descriptions and details. It helped me absorb every single detail all the better and I personally enjoyed every single minute of my time with The Bird King.

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Fatima has been part of the royal court of the last sultan of Muslim Spain ever since she was born, now a concubine to the sultan himself. She has been provided with everything she could wish for except for one thing: her freedom. Her closest friend Hassan is the palace mapmaker with a fascinating secret… He can draw maps of places he has never seen before in his life and even bend the shape of reality. This extraordinary gift is what will endanger his life when the representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender. His gift is seen as sorcery and they demand Hassan to be handed over to the Spanish Inquisition… But Fatima cannot bear to part with her only true friend and will try anything for the two to escape their fate.

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Yes, the story of The Bird King is without doubt just as beautiful as that stunning cover. It’s a perfect mix of historical fiction elements, a magical realism feel and fantasy elements… With different cultures coming together through the journey of Fatima, Hassan and the people they meet along the way. The historical setting, details and descriptions are perfectly elaborated with a gorgeous and magical prose you will cannot help but fall in love with. The pace of this story is slow, but it will make it that much easier to fully savour every single chapter and detail of their journey. Fans of slower-paced historical fiction stories who don’t mind a little fantasy mixed in will most likely enjoy this fantastic story as much as I did.


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WWW Wednesdays #212 – March 6th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’m currently reading another installment of one of my favorite detective series: The Bones She Buried by Lisa Regan. It’s great to meet up with Josie Quinn again! With the pace I’m flying through the pages, I’ll finish it in no time at all… I’m also starting The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld as my next physical copy read. I do love this cover version! Fingers crossed I will be able to connect to the magical realism elements this time around.

WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

1. The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson (4,5/5 stars) REVIEW 10/03
Yes, the story of The Bird King is without doubt just as beautiful as that stunning cover. It’s a perfect mix of historical fiction elements, a magical realism feel and fantasy elements… With different cultures coming together through the journey of Fatima, Hassan and the people they meet along the way. The historical setting, details and descriptions are perfectly elaborated with a gorgeous and magical prose you will cannot help but fall in love with. The pace of this story is slow, but it will make it that much easier to fully savour every single chapter and detail of their journey. Fans of slower-paced historical fiction stories who don’t mind a little fantasy mixed in will most likely enjoy this fantastic story as much as I did.

2. Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo (DNF 32%; 0 stars) REVIEW 
I feel sad I had to take the decision to DNF as I rarely do that, but I’ll try to explain in my review why I didn’t see other way out. First of all I like to state that this is probably another case of this story simply not being a right fit for me. Sadly, I wasn’t all that impressed by Angie. It felt like an overload of different elements being dumped on you instead of creating a realistic situation and this made the story less credible. I also really struggled with the writing style. Between the writing style, almost cartoonish extreme reactions and violence, overload of different elements stuffed in the same character and that same character being unlikeable I saw no other choice than to DNF Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution.

3. The Secret Child by Caroline Mitchell (4/5 stars) REVIEW 18/03
If you, like me, enjoy fast-paced detective thrillers that aren’t afraid to go dark and twisty, you should definitely meet DI Amy Winter. Not only has she a serial killer connection, but she also isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in order to get things done. The Secret Child reads like a train and the flashbacks don’t slow down the pace at all… In fact, they only add extra dept and an original touch to the story. I’m really enjoying my time with DI Amy Winter so far and I’ll definitely be looking forward to meeting her again in the future.

4. A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews (5/5 stars) REVIEW 09/03
This is an absolutely fantastic and heartbreaking read! Well worth the 5 stars and without doubt one of my 2019 favorites. There is just something about the writing style that will draw you right in and I wasn’t able to let go until I reached the final page. I loved how big of a role music played throughout the story, the many musical references both relevant to the plot and enchanting at the same time. The power of A Thousand Perfect Notes is in its characters though. A Thousand Perfect Notes will make you laugh and cry and the characters will stay with you for a long time. It’s a fantastic contemporary read which balances happy moments and a romantic interest with a thousand musical notes and a dark twist.

5. And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer And Longer by Fredrik Backman (4,5/5 stars) REVIEW 14/03
I normally prefer a more developed story, but there are exceptions where I’m able to connect to a short story in the same way. And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer And Longer is one of those exceptions. Not only is it good to see Alzheimer in the spotlight, we also see its effects on both the person itself and those close in a refreshing way. This novella has an almost surreal touch where memories and the real world overlap and exist at the same time.

6. The Fever King by Victoria Lee (3,5/5 stars) REVIEW 12/03
Gorgeous cover aside, this was without doubt an entertaining start of a new dystopian alternative future series. In The Fever King magic is in fact a virus that will kill most and leave the survivors with superpowers. A very interesting take on magic and without doubt one of the stronger features of this story. While the worldbuilding is a bit simple and not that developed, the three most important characters (Noam, Dara and Lehrer) mostly make up for it as they all have something special to add to the story. I would have liked to see the other important characters being more developed though, and the pace did start out a bit slow. But the story ends in a whirlwind and will definitely leave you craving for more.

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

I was going to read Smoke And Key by Kelsey Sutton last week, but I had some other ARCs popping up I needed to read first… This one is up next now. I don’t want to neglect my backlist titles though… And next up I have Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga because I seem to be in the mood for contemporary and I loved her other story. I’m also keeping my next thriller ready: Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell. My TBR jar pick is still Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.


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WWW Wednesdays #211 – February 27th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’m currently reading a recent NG approval soon to be published by what is now my third auto-approve publisher… ❤ Fat Angie: Rebel Girl Revolution by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo. I was attracted by the cover and blurb and while I didn’t realize it was actually the second book of a series, I’m hoping I will be able to enjoy it as a stand-alone as well. I’m also reading The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson, a book I’ve been super excited about and hopefully is as good as the stunning cover.

WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

1. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (3,5/5 stars) REVIEW 
Wintergirls is a story that will bring those cold and chilling winter feels and is an emotionally draining read that shows us the struggle of the main character with her eating disorder and the way she sees herself and her surrounding world. It’s not an easy or happy read, but I thought the topic was well handled and represented in Lia. The prose is both beautiful, almost bordering the magical realism realm and at the same time somehow irked me at points.

2. Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch (4/5 stars) REVIEW 28/02
Moon Over Soho can be read as a stand-alone, although you do miss background information about the characters and magic… I suggest reading them in order anyway, since the stories are without doubt entertaining. Book two has a musical twist and includes the London jazz scene as one of the elements of the story. The focus of this story is on Grant and Nightingale again, and we have new supernatural beings to hunt. The writing style makes it easy to read the story and the sarcastic and dry humor was right up my alley.

3. The Pumilio Child by Judy McInerney (3/5 stars) BLOG TOUR REVIEW 01/03
Look out for my thoughts on The Pumilio Child in my blog tour review going live this Friday March 1st!

4. The Woman In The Window by A.J. Finn (3/5 stars) REVIEW 28/02
I ended up having mixed feelings about this story. In a way this is quite an entertaining psychological thriller with the typical unreliable narrator you understand right away can’t be trusted to tell you the truth. I appreciate the focus on agoraphobia, as this story might help people understand better what it is like to have to live with it. The writing flows and makes it easy to keep turning those pages, although I do admit the pace was slower than I would have expected and especially in the first half of the book. The Woman In The Window is mostly focused on the main character Anna and nothing much happens until you reach the final part. Another thing that was a huge turn off for me: I was able to guess almost every plot twist from a mile away. Especially the first big one was so easy to see through that I was really disappointed.

5. Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson (2,5/5 stars) REVIEW 08/03
I love my quirky characters and Frank sounded like someone I just HAD to meet. My TBR jar thought it was about time I finally read it, and although my experience wasn’t all that positive there is one thing for sure: I’m glad I finally did get to know him. The premise behind this story on its own is quite interesting, with the reclusive writer being forced to write a few book after falling for a ponzi scheme. There was just something about the writing style in Be Frank With Me that made it hard for me to stay focused and the slow pace didn’t help either. The plot is pretty basic and I really felt the story dragged in parts. Frank’s character is both quirky and unique and is definitely what makes me give this story the benefit of the doubt though.

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

I need to work on my upcoming NG ARCs, so I’m probably going to read Smoke And Key by Kelsey Sutton and A Place For Wolves by Kosoko Jackson next. I don’t want to neglect my backlist titles though… And next up I have A Thousand Perfect Notes by C.G. Drews. I won a preorder of her new book in a giveaway (still can’t believe that happened!!!), and I really want to read her debut before it comes out in April. I also have a new TBR jar pick: Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. I’ve been meaning to read this story for ages, so I’m glad my TBR jar thought it was time to finally do so.


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WWW Wednesdays #210 – February 20th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

My first blog tour of the year was getting very close, so I’m currently reading The Pumilio Child by Judy McInerney so I can get my post in place before the tour starts on the 25th. I also started reading the Peter Grant sequel Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch. I’m really enjoying it so far and I would have finished it already if we wouldn’t have been out of town… I only brought my kindle as I don’t like possible damage to my physical versions. 😉

WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

1. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (DNF at 51%; 0/5 stars) REVIEW 24/02
WARNING: Unpopular opinion ahead! Sadly this turned out to be my very first DNF of the year. Why? There were various reasons, but the main one is this: I absolutely could not stand the writing style. The endless metaphors, the short sentences, the wacky grammar, the 1 2 3 4 numbers… It seemed like every single word and page was destined to annoy me to the limit and I simply reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I feel sad for reacting this way to a story I know so many seem to love, but that doesn’t take away that Shatter Me and me definitely didn’t get a long.

2. Colombiano by Rusty Young (4,5/5 stars) REVIEW 28/02
I have a special interest in the war on drugs and Latin America related stories, so when I saw Colombiano I immediatedly knew I had to read it. Colombia has a special place in my heart as it gave me three wonderful months of memories during my time in Cartagena as well as being the place where I met my hubby. Colombia has a complicated history though and Rusty Young does a fantastic job portraying the struggles between the Guerrilla, army and Autodefensas. It’s a huge book with over 800 pages, but it’s worth ever single minute of your time as facts and fiction are mixed in Pedro’s quest for justice for the death of his father.

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

Since I wasn’t able to read that much during the last week, the books that are up next are the same as the previous WWW… The NG ARC The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson is probably up next, a story with a gorgeous cover and one I’ve been looking forward to for months. I also want to read Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and The Woman In The Window by A.J. Finn as my next backlist titles. My new TBR jar pick is still Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson.


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WWW Wednesdays #209 – February 13th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’m currently reading Colombiano by Rusty Young, an ARC that is also be my first 800+ pages read. This means I can cross of this goal very early in the year… It’s a fascinating read so far, so I don’t mind it being that many pages! I also started Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, and I guess I should have listened to my instincts and stayed away from it… I REALLY can’t stand the writing style and I’ll most likely DNF.

WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

1. The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson (4/5 stars) REVIEW 19/02
The Bitter Kingdom definitely made this series end on a high note! I’m not sure if it is my new favorite, but I’m happy to say that all three Fire And Thorns books stay consistently strong and the final book doesn’t disappoint at all. The high fantasy worldbuilding is one of the best features of this series and it’s always great to see it expand. The end did feel a bit too easy, but overall it does provide closure for this series and its character. I really enjoyed my time with this trilogy and can highly recommend it to fans of the genre.

2. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (4/5 stars) REVIEW 15/02
I already had some ideas about An American Marriage when I first started reading it, but I didn’t realize the full extent of this powerful and emotionally draining story until I was already in way too deep. While it is true that I failed to connect to the characters completely, I wasn’t happy with the love triangle and the pace was a bit slow at points, it was the story itself that made me forget about those minor complaints. An innocent man behind bars just because someone pointed their finger (basically), the struggle to prove the truth, the strain the situation has on a relationship and those close to Roy in general, the racial discrimination, the failed justice system, the family history… Powerful elements that have been excellently developed and executed and which turn this story into one well worth your time.

3. Mona Lisas And Little White Lies by John Herrick (3/5 stars) REVIEW 21/02
If you enjoy cute ‘love at first sight’ stories with quirky and flawed characters that are easy to like, you will probably love Mona Lisas And Little White Lies. The general idea behind this story is interesting and I loved the many art, car and Thailand references. The plot did get a bit predictable and cliche at points, and the dose of drama was a bit high towards the ending, but overall this was still a satisfying contemporary romance read.

4. Friend Request by Laura Marshall (3,5/5 stars) REVIEW 19/02
Friend Request was a very entertaining psychological thriller with a few twists and turns I definitely didn’t see coming. The story starts slow and it takes a while for the pace to pick up. Basically, the first half has more of a character driven slower psychological thriller, while the second half is more of a suspenseful crime thriller with a fast pace and quite a lot of action. This made the story feel a bit unbalanced, but the second half made the story that much more thrilling. The story had a few flaws, but overall it was still a very entertaining read.

5. Half Lies by Sally Green (2,5/5 stars) REVIEW 22/02
Novellas are always short and not having a well developed plot and characters is not that much of a surprise. Still, I found myself craving to know more about their past in France and I would have liked to see more focus on magic as well. Instead, Half Lies was basically a sappy forbidden love story where two quite cliche characters fall in love a la Romeo and Juliet. My biggest struggle was with the writing style. There is just something about the way this story is written that is a huge turn off for me…

6. To Make Monsters Out Of Girls by Amanda Lovelace (4/5 stars) REVIEW 22/02
Her poems are easy to recognize and this was another excellent collection. It is true that the structure of the poems is simplistic and basically seems like hitting the space bar ever few words, but I personally think this simple style gives the words and message behind the poems even more power. Amanda Lovelace writes without fear and is fully open about her experience with abusive and toxic relationships in the past. It’s not the style, but the words and the emotions behind those words that make To Make Monsters Out Of Girls into such a success for me. Her poetry isn’t for everyone, but those who can connect to her words will be able to treasure it.

7. Until The Day I Die by Emily Carpenter (3,5/5 stars) REVIEW 18/02
This is without doubt a very unconventional read and I’m still trying to wrap my head around what I actually feel about this story. It’s a very original story for sure and really hard to place in just one genre… The second half was a lot faster than the first half, which tended to drag a bit in points. I liked Erin’s POV better than Shorie’s one mostly because I wasn’t expecting a YA feel POV in this story… There is no doubt it’s a fascinating story, but I wasn’t as blown away with it as I thought I would. Mixed feelings and a very difficult review to write.

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

I’m trying to get my pile of NG ARCs below 10, so I have another one coming up soon… The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson, a story with a gorgeous cover and one I’ve been looking forward to for months.  I also want to read Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and The Woman In The Window by A.J. Finn as my next backlist titles. My new TBR jar pick is still Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson.


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