The Forbidden Wish, by Jessica Khoury

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.

 

I loved Aladdin as a child. It was one of my favourite movies, one that I’ve watched a million times over. So, naturally, when I saw a book advertised as an Aladdin re-telling I couldn’t not get my hands on it.

 

The story is told from Zahra’s perspective and is addressed to a mysterious Habiba, whose identity and story are as crucial to the novel as is the story that’s unravelling right before the readers’ eyes. By choosing this narrative I felt like the author connected Zahra’s past to her present and her future, showing (rather than telling) how our actions affect our futures and how consequences can never be escaped.

 

This book – unlike many others – found its strengths lying both in writing and in characterization. The almost lyrical prose helped elevate the story; and the rich characterization and the uniqueness of the characters created a world unlike any other. All of the main characters were so charming, so charismatic that I find it extremely difficult to pick a favourite. Zahra is strong, powerful, strong-willed and determined, caring and brilliant; Aladdin is mischievous, funny, flirty and bold, almost bigger than life itself; Caspida is passionate, brave and intelligent, a true ruler. They all carry traits I value in book characters and combined, they make an unstoppable trio.

 

Another noticeable thing about this book is the abundance of female characters. In fantasy, where there’s usually some type of war going on, girls are often missing in favor of having a main cast of males that can serve as soldiers/leaders/strategists. But, that is not the case here. A key element of the book is Zahra’s friendship to Roshana, and the book’s most welcomed surprise is the inclusion of Caspida and her Watchmaidens, warriors who have dedicated their lives protecting their princess and friend. Their friendship is powerful, palpable throughout the pages, and built on the solid foundations of mutual respect and a tremendous amount of love. I half expected Zahra and Caspida to become hostile, just so that a love triangle could surface among them and Aladdin. Not only did that not happen, but the girls developed a beautiful bond and friendship.

 

One thing you need to know about this book is that it’s heavy on the romance. Zahra’s feelings for Aladdin determine the course of the story; so the romance is not just a side dish to a bigger plot. The plot and the romance are woven together and they’ve created a fantastic story. No element of the story or character development is sacrificed so the romance can be built. In fact, as the story progresses and as the characters develop so does the romance. Its existence feels natural, it is not a case of insta-love thrown at the readers’ face. Aladdin and Zahra go through hell together and their love blooms in the midst of a fascinating story.

 

The Forbidden Wish is not just rich in characterisation and romantic elements; it is also rich in mythology, and it’s a beautiful one. Khoury has added her own twists into the world and legends of the jinn and has created a story that – while rich in many elements – never feels overwhelming or overstuffed. Everything in Zahra’s world is about balance; and her creator’s writing proves just that.

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