The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury is my first fairy tale retelling; I was interested to see how Khoury could bring something new and fresh to such a familiar story. And I’m not going to lie: I also really liked the cover. Although I read it on my Kindle, so this makes no sense.
The novel’s first chapter is beautiful, perfectly depicting the thoughts of Zahra, the jinni trapped in the lamp, as she is found by Aladdin. I really enjoyed Khoury’s writing style; it’s artistic without being overwhelming, and entirely suited to the story. After a strong start, I was a little bit bored with the lengthy political machinations of the royal court and on the verge of putting the book down to return to later, but once the world-building was out of the way, the story of Zahra and Aladdin’s relationship, as well as their role in the gathering political unrest, was compelling. I have also become something of a sucker for anything magical in YA fantasy, and, because Zahra was already a jinni, there was no need for any of the repetitive and annoying “what the hell do I do with my new magical powers?” angst which has come to irritate me so much in this genre.
Khoury creates some fascinating characters and I was so happy that so many of them were female; from the princess Caspida to her brilliant Watchmaidens (I want some Watchmaidens. They are the ultimate squad), along with Zahra herself, there are so many characters here to enjoy. Khoury’s real achievement here is to avoid the Strong Female Character cliche which, again, abounds in YA fantasy. What we see here are women who, in theory are strong – a jinni, a princess – but have their power limited; Zahra is literally trapped in her lamp, while Caspida is equally restricted by her position in society and its attendant responsibilities and expectations. I enjoyed these characters so much that I didn’t even notice how little the focus was on Aladdin, and how little this affected my enjoyment of the book.
I really liked The Forbidden Wish; it’s very entertaining and, despite taking its lead from such a familiar story, is different to anything else I’ve read recently. Although it’s in large part a romance, I didn’t find the romantic element cloying or sickening. I will issue a warning to potential readers: don’t assume you’ll manage to read this without singing A Whole New World to yourself, or that you will resist the urge to randomly shout out “oh, he’s like Jafar!” I don’t see either of these as negatives. Although this book and its premise has made me wonder if there’s a dark corner of the internet where the Disney genie singing “you ain’t never had a friend like me” as a more intimate subtext…