My Summary: Zahra, the most powerful of the jinn, returns to the world of mortals after centuries of being trapped below ground. The boy who frees her from the lamp is Aladdin, an orphaned thief who’s bent on revenge for his parents. She is bound by magic to fulfill three wishes for him. Then, the King of the Jinn offers her a freedom–for a price. In the end, Zahra must choose between freedom and love.
Although this story is a retelling of Aladdin, it is so much more and so much better than the Disney movie (which was a mess of racist/orientalist stereotypes, ugh). It’s also a wonderful expansion upon and re-imagining of the original tale, in large part because its representation of women is far less two-dimensional and far more kickass, compared to the original.
I think calling it a “retelling” almost undersells the book because despite certain familiar elements and characters (Aladdin, the genie, the princess, the devious vizier, etc.), it also introduces a lot of the author’s own creations, plot-wise, and character-wise.
In this book, there are multiple antagonists, mortal and jinn, which makes for more conflict and subplots and adds to the suspense. The pacing of the story is perfect, skillfully balancing adventure, romance, and political intrigue. I never felt like the story was dragging or taking unnecessary detours. The twists and turns were exhilarating, and the ending neatly wrapped things up.
One of my absolute favorite things about The Forbidden Wish is that the main protagonist and narrator is a girl. She’s the most powerful jinni, to boot. Throughout the book, she remains the heroine of the story. Her decisions drive most of the action and conflict. She does the bulk of the asskicking and saving the day, not a boy/man.
Aladdin is a strong character, but he doesn’t outshine Zahra. Despite his audacity, craftiness, and noble streak, he’s still your typical teenage boy. Zahra, with her extra millennia of experience to give her wisdom, calls out his impulsiveness and ignorance when appropriate. It’s quite entertaining to watch.
As for the princess, her name is Caspida, not Jasmine, and she’s not a hypersexualized trophy wife character in the least (*looking at you, Disney*). She is skilled in combat and takes an active role in looking after her people, even when it requires her to sneak out and break the rules. Her female attendants are not there for decoration either; they are as formidable as she is and ready to spring into action when necessary.
Another thing I loved about this book was its celebration of female friendship. The narration, in essence, is addressed to Zahra’s one-time master and friend, a legendary queen named Roshana. Readers get a glimpse of their sisterly bond through Zahra’s reminiscences as well as a few interlude passages recounting what happened between the two of them through the perspective of Roshana’s watchmaiden and scribe. Unfortunately, Zahra carries the guilt of causing her friend’s demise. This guilt informs her interactions with Aladdin, who is her first master and friend since Roshana.
The central theme of this book is about the power of love, platonic as well as romantic. In particular, it speaks to the power of choice and sacrifice as they relate to love. The idealist in me finds empowerment and hope from it; it’s what makes this book such a satisfying read on a deeper level.
Recommendation: Highly recommended!