“Oh, my naive thief… Love is rarely a choice.”
It’s been five hundred years since Zahra’s betrayal destroyed the one she loved. Five hundred years of silence. Five hundred years of regret.
Known as the jinni that singlehandedly exterminated a civilization, Zahra’s infamy has stretched through the centuries, even amidst her absence. But when a beautiful boy with an enchanted ring trips over her tomb, Zahra seizes the opportunity to escape her imprisonment, earning the chance to finally take back her life on her own terms.
No longer a prisoner beneath the desert’s sand, Zahra’s remains a prisoner to Aladdin’s lamp. But while she wears the face of a princess, she holds the power of the world at her fingertips. The yearning for freedom has suffocated her for so long. Now out in the world again, she’s finally allowing herself to hope. But will she ever allow herself to wish?
‘The Forbidden Wish’ book review
The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury takes the classic tale of Aladdin we all know and twists it on its head by putting the focus on the folk story’s most mysterious character and asking the question: what does a being who can grant any wish actually wish for herself?
An orphan driven to thievery, Aladdin’s parents were rebels — heroes murdered by a power-hungry Vizier. The world expects him to follow in their noble footsteps, but he’d just settle for revenge. The Aladdin Khoury crafts is a delightful little scoundrel that most readers will fall for just as easily as any of his many lady loves do.
But even though Aladdin’s the star of his own Arabian Nights tale, this isn’t his story. The focus in Khoury’s retelling is on the jinni inside his lamp — reimagined as Zahra, a jinni who takes the form of a beautiful, feisty young woman. She’s clever and quippy, savvy and shrewd; she’s a survivor, and despite her devastation, centuries of punishment, and own self-interest, she can’t help but form a fondness for the simple, scrappy humans who surround her.
Huge props to Khoury for developing a romance in this story that somehow manages to be both adorable and sexy. It’s a slow-burn with a huge payoff, and even though there’s a love triangle involved, I found myself enjoying the ride rather than feeling frustrated by artificial complications. I appreciated that no party in the triangle was vilified in order to support the development of another couple. Insta-love was never an issue — the romance felt organic, and surprisingly real despite the extraordinary circumstances.
But this book is as much, if not more so, about the bonds of female friendship as it is about romantic love. In a sweet and ultimately heartbreaking nod to her former friend, the book is told as a narration by Zahra to her beloved, long since dead “Habiba,” whose face she now chooses to wear. The story of what actually happened between Zahra and Roshana’s doomed friendship five hundred years ago is told in tragic snippets in between chapters, forcing us to remember that as much as Zahra might be an all powerful being, she’s also a girl terrified of once again loving, and being loved.
Zahra is a wickedly crafty little thing, and Aladdin is of course a charming street-rat, but I feel the need to give a special shoutout to the true unsung gems of this book: Princess Caspina and her warrior Watchmaidens. My only real disappointment regarding this book is that it is a stand-alone, because so many fresh and colorful background characters simply do not have the space to be allowed the deep-dive focus they deserve. Caspina’s Watchmaidens play out like a delightful Pink Ladies meets Dornish Sand Snakes #girlsquad, and I can’t help but feel that they deserve their own companion novel to give readers the chance to delve into their own stories.
Never mind that it was the deep love and friendship between two women that originally destroyed a kingdom; perhaps it will be the trust and self-sacrifice between several more that will be able to put it back together.