Hello everyone, and welcome back!
My quest to read all of the fairy tale retellings…kind of continues into 2018, I suppose. I admit that I lost a lot of my motivation for this last year, because I read a lot of these and found a lot of repetition. (Or…sometimes there would be something interesting in a book that just didn’t quite work.) Buuut I still have some of the books I’d collected from that attempt around and, well, at least this one is an Aladdin retelling, so that’s something else?
The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
This cover is decent. The model is lovely and the colour scheme is nice and mysterious, but I feel like the font and its various alignments & the figure drawing our attention to the bottom just don’t exactly work in the composition. I don’t know. It throws me off.
The Forbidden Wish is an Aladdin retelling from the perspective of the jinni, Zahra, who happens in this retelling to be female. If you can’t tell where it’s going based on that one sentence, then…okay, not all of us have read one million YA novels. But yeah. That’s where it’s going.
In any case, this book is somewhat original on the merits of the premise: what is the mind of a thousands-year-old mythical creature like? What are its dreams and motivations? How does it go about fulfilling them within the constraints of being enslaved by a lamp?
Unfortunately, the answers this book gives are not all that interesting. Zahra spends relatively little time scheming to be free and having her own agenda, and much of the book feeling embittered than jinn are forbidden to love. This book is very heavily a romance, and not that interesting of one? It tells us how charming Aladdin is, but won’t linger in scenes of dialogue between him and the jinni; it prefers to tell us how they’re heating up together rather than show us their tension.
It also tells us that Zahra is drawn to him but conflicted because she must work towards her freedom, but we don’t really…spend much time with her trying to work towards her freedom. And it tells us that jinn are this feared group of different types of monsters, but doesn’t do much worldbuilding on that account, making it difficult to understand how fearsome they are to humans (other than in the case of the king of them, who destroys whole cities on a whim and disdains humans but…can’t always do this? doesn’t always do this because he’s lazy?) and what our lamp-friend’s place is among them.
It does tell a relatively compelling backstory about a friend Zahra once had and how that situation came to ruin, which was honestly more interesting to me than the main narrative and I could’ve stood to learn more about? But other than that and how Zahra came to be a jinni (she has an origin story), it’s as if her entire past is a blank, and we really don’t get to know what makes her tick or particularly special, or why she’s so compelled to be kind to humans or why others never show that kind of kindness.
More or less: this is the kind of book that has a really neat premise on many levels (the setting, the hierarchy of monsters, the different perspective character, the twist on the story we know), but it falls flat because it doesn’t really fill in many of its own blanks, and it gives us a fairly big cast of characters who we don’t get to know much about. I could also call it short, but honestly, it’s not very short. It’s just short in terms of covering the territory it would need to do get me invested in its emotional moments, or short because it prefers to tell me what happened rather than show it.
This is the kind of book I really wanted to like, and saw a lot of potential in, but ultimately read for a few hours and ended up going “Huh, well that’s that” because it turned out kind of just bland? Which is too bad. If you’re really attached to Aladdin as a story and the idea of this spin on the romance of it excites you, you might have fun with it anyway (and it’s not a very long book to invest time in). But if you are a fanfic reader who has read many characters and story patterns rewritten in a billion different ways, my guess is you’d take one skim of this and think, “There’s probably a better version of this somewhere on the Internet.”
Welp, I’ve asked before, but I’ll ask again: what are your favourite fairy tale retellings? Or: what are your favourite fairy tales? (I’m partial to the tinderbox one with all the enormous dogs, although really it’s kind of horrible. I just really like enormous dogs.) Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!