- The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
Rating: * * * * *
Series: This is a standalone (much to my disappointment!)
Publication Date: Feb 2016
She is the most powerful Jinni of all. He is a boy from the streets. Their love will shake the world…
When Aladdin discovers Zahra’s jinni lamp, Zahra is thrust back into a world she hasn’t seen in hundreds of years—a world where magic is forbidden and Zahra’s very existence is illegal. She must disguise herself to stay alive, using ancient shape-shifting magic, until her new master has selected his three wishes.
But when the King of the Jinn offers Zahra a chance to be free of her lamp forever, she seizes the opportunity—only to discover she is falling in love with Aladdin. When saving herself means betraying him, Zahra must decide once and for all: is winning her freedom worth losing her heart?
As time unravels and her enemies close in, Zahra finds herself suspended between danger and desire in this dazzling retelling of Aladdin from acclaimed author Jessica Khoury.
The Forbidden Wish is the first YA book I’ve read in weeks because I’ve been so busy working recently. It was the perfect book to get me back into reading. I found it beautifully written, enchanting and impossible to put down. It was as full of delights and charms as Aladdin’s legendary magic cave.
For me, the authors of the best retellings of myths, fairytales or legends manage to get the balance right between being creative, using ingenuity and putting their own unique and wonderful spin on things, and being faithful enough to the original story to make the new story recognisable as a reimagining. Jessica Khoury does this superbly. Her retelling of Aladdin is original and authentic, but at the same time remains satisfyingly true to the original story. I loved the way that Khoury developed both the characters from the original legend – giving both Aladdin and his genie (or jinni) backstories, toughening Caspida, giving an explanation for the king’s weakness and the ease with which the vizier can take advantage of him. I also loved the way that she developed the world that the story takes place in, introducing a rising rebellion, developing different kinds of jinn and rules that they must all follow, and building tension and animosity both between humans and the jinn and between different members of the jinn. I really enjoyed the idea of the ‘Forbidden Wish’ from which the title comes.
Each part of the novel is vividly imagined and I had a clear picture in my mind of each of the different settings and scenes, whether it was Roshana’s resplendent jewelled garden, the Fahradan dances with the twists of the wrists, or the formation of Aladdin’s stunning ship and his transformation into a prince. Jessica Khoury’s prose has a beautiful, dream-like quality to it. Her words are as charming and hypnotic as Nessa’s flute. When reading you are swept away and totally enveloped and immersed in the story world.
The characters are just as brilliant as the settings. Aladdin is humorous, confident, but also sensitive. He bursts onto the scene and is immediately fun and likeable. The protagonist, Zahra, is also someone you cannot help but grow very attached to. She’s sincere, brave, loyal and for centuries has been accused of being something she is not. I really liked the fact that her full backstory unravelled only gradually and for most of the novel she remained a mystery to both Aladdin and to us – it kept me very intrigued and meant I was glued to the pages. I also loved the development of Caspida (the Princess Jasmine of the film version of Aladdin) into a fierce warrior-like princess, determined to save her people at whatever cost. The novel is full of brave and clever female characters who are shown to be perfectly able to stand up for themselves.
I thought the structure of the novel was fantastic. I loved the way that it’s written as Zahra addressing her Habiba – I haven’t read many YA novels written in this way and it made for a narrative that was both interesting and at times very moving as we felt Zahra’s pain and regret. I also really liked the three sections of narrative from Zahra’s past and her relationship with Queen Roshana (and I have included a quote from one of these parts below). The novel retains unpredictability and a fast pace, rendering it both exciting and enchanting. It’s full of wondrous adventure, swoon-worthy romance, true friendships, and tension that has you right at the edge of your seat. It builds to a heart-pounding crescendo at the end.
‘The Forbidden Wish’ was a joy to read. It’s made me very keen to read more of Jessica Khoury’s work. Innovative and inspired, this fantastic reimagining of Aladdin is certainly one of my favourite books of this year. It’s perfect for fans of other retellings, such as Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn, Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest and Zoe Marriott’s Barefoot on the Wind.
“Give me thy hand,” said the Queen, “and let her us be friends. For does not the poet say, one true-hearted friend is worth ten thousand camels laden with gold?”
This the Jinni pondered, before replying, “The poet also says, woe to the man who befriends the jinn, for he shakes hands with death.”