Granada is the last remaining emirate on the Iberian Peninsula and is under siege by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Envoys arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender. Fatima is a concubine in the royal court of Granada. Hassan the palace mapmaker is her friend, and she cares for a stray dog that hangs around the harem.
‘Every hunter has his camouflage.’
Hassan is an especially skilled mapmaker: he can edit the shape of reality through his maps and he can draw maps of places he’s not seen. Fatima befriends Luz, one of the women who is part of the group of envoys, one sent personally by Queen Isabella. Luz, as a representative of their most Catholic majesties, see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and as a threat to Christian rule.
Fatima and Hassan flee the court. They will be helped at various stages by a friendly jinn (or two) as they search for the island of the Bird King. It’s a story that Hassan and Fatima have been making up, after reading the first few pages of a long poem. It’s a story where the divisions between belief and reality will become blurred and then obliterated.
I loved this novel. It started as historical fiction then moved into fantasy, peopled with diverse characters. Fatima and Hassan (and others) will undertake an epic voyage in search of safety in what may be myth (but could just be reality). After all, if you believe in yourself, anything is possible. This is a novel that I will be recommending to others. I’ll be buying a copy as well, so I can reread it at my leisure.
‘What is a kingdom if no one remembers it?’
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
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