Author: Jessica Khoury
Date: February 2016
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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.
“You’re a -you’re a -“
Say it boy. Demon of fire. Monster of smoke. Devil of sand and ash. Servant of Nardukha, Daughter of Ambadya, The Nameless, The Faceless, The Limitless. Slave of the Lamp. Jinni.
“… a girl!”
In this Aladdin retelling, the focus is not Aladdin himself but Zhara, a several thousands year-old jinni whom history does not remember kindly. Zhara’s past affection for humans did not play out well and the narrative moves back and forth in time to relate the story of her friendship with a long-dead queen and her current struggle as old themes resurface in new forms. She is intelligent, lonely, and loving.
As far as retellings go, I felt this had the right amount of new and old in it’s pages. There are certain landmark events within the Aladdin story you will recognize here, with newer themes revolving around female leadership and friendship added in, not only in the form of Zhara, but in that of the Princess and her cadre of Watchmaidens. It’s always good to read of females being supportive as opposed to competitive. Aladdin himself also feels both old and new. A charming (but slightly edgier) thief with a vendetta against the royal family and an enthusiasm for alcohol. I felt there was a somewhat missed opportunity in the form of the Princess’s cousin Darian, who remains a one-note villain showing little complexity. I felt as though everything the was wrong with how men treat women, and how the wealthy treat the poor was put in to this one character to serve as a contrast to everyone else. The let down in this is we see during private scenes that his father emotionally abuses and belittles him, material was there to flesh out and make him more sympathetic but is never really followed up on or looked at beyond those few scenes.
What I loved best was the beautiful writing. This is a world of moonlit deserts and flickering lanterns, smokey drug dens and lush palaces. The environmental description is sensory, surrounding the story in scent, sound, and color. This is my favorite aspect of world-building and I always enjoy a novel more when it is done well.
The love story between Zhara and Aladdin was…nice, I guess? They were both interesting and likable and there was a blend of both tension and swoon, yet somehow I didn’t get fully invested in it. This didn’t have anything to do with Zhara’s age. Supernatural beings involved with mortals is a long standing trope in fantasy and not one I have an issue with. I also felt due to the narrow scope of her existence, Zhara feels more young than old, making her connection with Aladdin feel less unlikely than some between very old and very young beings can be. The book takes place over the period of about a month, so perhaps the brevity of the time frame had some bearing on the matter. Regardless, their scenes and conversations range from amusing to deep and reading about them together was never dull.
If retelling’s are something you enjoy then I’d definitely suggest this one due to the quality writing, sumptuous setting, and positive representation of females.