Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
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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.
“Wishes have a way of twisting themselves, and there is nothing more dangerous than getting your heart’s desire. The question is, are you willing to gamble? How much are you willing to lose? What are you willing to risk everything for?”
I had a lot of doubts going into The Forbidden Wish. Yet another YA retelling? Yet another YA romance? But I should never have doubted my trusted Goodreads friends because there is nothing typical about this book.
Firstly, it is very romancey. Let’s get that out of the way. Normally I don’t like my books so heavily romantic, but maybe that’s just because they are so seldom done well and generally sacrifice character development and plot for sweet nothings. Maybe it’s because, in my opinion, the best romances are the ones in books that are not really about romance at all.
You see, I never felt like the ultimate purpose of this story was to get Zahra and Aladdin together but, maybe as a result of that, I ended up wanting it anyway.
Now let’s break down all the great things about this book.
The writing is so gorgeous it literally gave me goosebumps. Khoury describes this world of deserts, palaces and magic in lavish, beautiful detail. Rarely do authors paint pictures of their setting so well. I could picture it exactly and even feel the sense of magic in the air. A truly evocative use of words.
Girl power. You know this story, right? At the very least, we’ve probably all seen the Disney version. It’s the one about a street thief-turned-prince, a clueless sultan, an evil vizier, a male genie, and a humorous parrot (also male). There is a woman in the movie, and she’s… won by the street thief-turned-prince who “shows her the world”. Even this watered down 1992 version isn’t exactly what you’d call feminist.
The Forbidden Wish, however, is. For one, the jinni is female – a powerful, smart and badass jinni who takes shit from nobody, but is still flawed, lonely and sad. The princess is feisty and strong-minded, as is her band of tough girlfriends who are also great warriors.
And, best of all, these girls are not enemies. They grow in strength when they come together and support one another. No petty slut-shaming or woman-hating. From the jinni to the mortal women, there is a mutual respect and admiration. So many authors could learn from this book.
Then there’s the romance. I honestly enjoyed it, even though I didn’t start shipping until about halfway through. Aladdin is likable, probably made even more so by his weaknesses for alcohol and petty crime. He’s imperfect, boyish, and an impossible flirt, but these qualities are really quite adorable. Also: absolutely no instalove.
And we also have the story outside the romance. It’s an old tale of powerful jinn, wishes that should never be spoken, and the worst mistake a jinni can ever make. It takes place in both the past and the present, unveiling Zahra’s story at the same time as she fights for her freedom in the present. Can she ever win her freedom? And what price will she have to pay for it?
I especially loved the way Zahra narrates the story, constantly addressing “Habiba”, whose story is gradually revealed over the course of the novel. It adds another layer, and leaves us with some final touching moments.
Such a strong, incredible novel. I have to warn you unromantics about the heavy romantic element, and yet it feels a shame to label this complex and powerful story a “romance”. It’s so many other things too.