The Forbidden Wish
Razor Bill (9781595147677)
I really love fairytale retellings, and it was a fresh breath of air to be reading about Aladdin rather than Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. I have been reading a bit more Middle Eastern- or Asia-inspired YA lately. Not just because all of us really should be reading more diversely, but it introduces me to different ways of storytelling and what other cultures find important. More often than not, among the differences I find similarities. I do have to take into account that Jessica Khoury is an American author about whom I could find no more background info, so I don’t know if she is just interested in jinni-lore or has actually grown up hearing those stories.
One of the books I find this very prevalent in, is Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes. In the story, women’s vulnerability (especially where it comes to rape) is much more prevalent and directly referred to on multiple occasions, even though it’s not part of the storyline. It is just part of the culture, and it made me realise how strangely absent this awareness is in Western fantasy stories. We all know how much the genre really does reflect our own world and issues. And do we not all live with the possibility when we walk down a dark road on an empty street alone, as girls? Now that I have seen it, I can’t unsee it. And I like that kind of becoming aware. That’s what books are for.
Back to the story at hand, because I’m reviewing The Forbidden Wish, not writing an essay. When I read the back cover of The Forbidden Wish, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book per se. But the idea of a jinni coming back into a world she left hundreds of years ago, did excite me. So I admit I was disappointed to find that Zahra’s new world still reads as historic. What I wouldn’t give to get an Aladdin-basid story in a contemporary world filled with technology. But still, when I got into it, it didn’t matter to me anymore because the surroundings fitted with the story being told.
Right off, I was a big fan of the banter between the immortal jinni and the flashy thief. Their chemistry is immediate, and their relationship develops in a nice, evened out manner that benefitted the story. It is of course about much more, but the central theme is love. If this had been a trilogy read, Jessica Khoury could have expanded on both Aladdin’s and Caspida’s role in the resistance and subsequent uprising / battle. As it stands as a single read, I think Jessica Khoury did a great job in balancing these necessary plot points while not spending overly much time with them.
Instead, she chooses to center her story around Zahra. We know she has betrayed a queen, but we also know that she loved her. Because you believe both statements (as both come from the jinni), this is the bigger mystery. Will Zahra really only betray those she loves, and does she do so of her own accord or because she must, or because the magic forces her too? We don’t get these answers until far later in the story, and it is one of the unfolding tales of The Forbidden Wish.
On the other hand, we get a lot of allusions to the Aladdin story we know. I have to admit to just knowing the Disney-version, but a lot was recognisable. I really liked to see how Zahra manipulates Aladdin into making a wish that conforms with the story I know, but also serves Zahra on a different level, with the inserted storyline next to it. That is one of the strengths of this book: the expert mixing of both what you know of the original tale, and Jessica Khoury’s own storyline. They never clash, but always complement each other.
It is also just a fun an beautiful read. The different ways of love and their powerful hand is well written throughout almost all the characters in The Forbidden WIsh. It does get a bid too abstract for me in the end, when Zahra leaves time itself for the grand finale. I think it wasn’t so much necessary as that it was supposed to add flair, but it fell a bit flat for me. I did like it tying in with the mystery of the ring, that showed a great eye for detail.
Style-wise, it took me a little bit of time to get into the story. It is written in present tense, and as it is not very commonly done, it takes some getting used to. But I think that because I am reading about a culture not my own, about jinni-stories I know nothing of, it is strangely fitting. I don’t know how others will experience it, but present tense-writing usually makes it a bit difficult for me to actually start reading a book. If thati s the same for you, I am here to tell you to do it anyway. It is a very pretty read, and you will flow through it easily. It is well written and although it doesn’t change your life, if you like reading fairytale retellings, this is a really good one.