A Whole New World: A Twisted Tale, by Liz Braswell
By Jen P
You all know I love a good book. You also know I love me some Disney. So, when I noticed a sudden influx of Disney retellings in the YA section of my local bookstore, my interest was piqued, to say the least.
Would my favorite characters face new, exciting challenges? Would I get a closer look at the romantic relationships? Would stories cross, and distant characters meet each other somehow, like in Once Upon a Time?! Would all my childhood fantasies come to fruition in my favorite medium?!?! I hyperventilated with the anticipation!
But on the other hand, I was hesitant to try the new Disney offerings. With good reason, too: they had a lot to live up to. Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Lion King set the tone of my childhood. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without watching Belle fall in love with the Beast, or Pocahontas and Mulan stick it to the man. That’s why it’s so freaking important to me that, at the very least, writers and moviemakers (ahem, Beauty and the Beast) get the feel of these remakes right.
So let me start off by saying, I’d made up my mind to skip the A Twisted Tale series because I knew Liz Braswell would pretty much be retelling a story I loved, but where something new goes terribly wrong. Hence the subtitle: A Twisted Tale. But, my husband, knowing how much I love Disney, bought me the entire set for Christmas. Although my mind had been made up, it was a thoughtful gift. How could he have known that I didn’t want to dip my Mickey Mouse-painted toenails in these waters? So, loving wife that I am, I accepted the gift with a smile and picked the first one in the lineup. (It should tell you something that I received these at Christmas, and yet I’m just now finishing the first book to write about it.)
“What if Aladdin had never found the lamp?”
-From the cover
First of all, the cover blip is inaccurate. Aladdin does indeed find the lamp, but the evil vizier, Jafar snatches it from his hand as he, Abu, and Carpet fall back inside the Cave of Wonders.
“With the help of an ancient lamp, Jafar attempts to break the laws of magic and gain control over love and death. Soon Aladdin and the deposed princess jasmine must unite the people of Agrabah in rebellion to stop the power-mad ruler threatening to tear the kingdom apart.
This isn’t the story you already know. This is a story about power. About revolutionaries. About love. And about one moment changing everything.”
-From the back
If you’ve seen the 90’s Disney film, you know how the story begins, though a few new details were added. We get a glimpse into Aladdin’s childhood and learn how his mother interacted with him, we learn his father vanished some time before, and we learn how those things made him the Tom Cruise look-alike who stole only what he needed to survive– AKA, how he became “a diamond in the rough”.
And that’s where the author began to lose my attention. I’ve seen the movie, so I felt like I was reading the screenplay, but with the original deleted scenes. And, as much as I dreaded it, I was bored and ready for the tale to split. Spoiler Alert: it doesn’t happen until about 80 pages in. And when it does, boy was I… epically disappointed.
Real Spoilers Ahead:
Jafar’s first order of business is to try to make Jasmine fall in love with him. Why? Because he’s old and gross, and she’s hot, young, and the future Sultana. We all know how that turns out though, and in a rage, he tosses the Sultan over the railing of the palace for all the city to see. Insecure loser that he is, Jafar proceeds to try and win the favor of the people by showering them with gold, food, and flamboyant parades for the next few days. Meanwhile, Aladdin and co. have to dig their way out of the cave of wonders, then make their way back into the fearful city to rescue Jasmine, and find his old street rat frenemies and ask for help.
Morgiana and Duban (the street rat frenemies) run an underground group of child thieves, though of course they also have secret/not-so-secret hearts of gold. (Sidenote: I actually liked these characters). Morgiana is the tough but fair leader, and Duban is the dutiful sidekick who loves her and their hand-picked family with all his heart.
What follows is a constant struggle for the street rat army to overcome the ever-growing powers of the evil Jafar and the Genie he controls. Lots of magical books are stolen, caravans are raided, and occasionally, swords clash. There’s some magical exchange towards the very end, but that’s about as much action as you’ll get.
Girl Power: Lot’s of ladies in command. Morgiana leads her thieves well, and Jasmine cares deeply for her people and grows because of her losses. Jasmine turns into a strong Sultana that she probably wouldn’t have become in the original movie.
New Characters: Morgiana and Duban added interest, and their characters were well-developed.
Easter Eggs: The author included a few nods to the original, and you’ll notice details or quotes from the film that’ll get you geeking out.
Romance: Yes, the romance is better developed over these 376 pages than in the hour and half of moving art we saw years ago on screen.
Old News: The first 80 pages of the book were mostly a regurgitation of film material.
“Meh” Factor: The struggles and mini-fights were a bit “meh”, and the ending felt anticlimactic because of it. Even with the addition of flying zombies, (you heard me right) the fight felt distant. We were rarely in the trenches with the thieves. Mostly, the author focused on the conversations while they regrouped.
Old Characters: By focusing on the thief army, we spend very little time with most people’s favorite character, the genie; Carpet is also absent for most of the novel; and Iago is nowhere in sight, though we do find out why.
Most Annoyingly: Braswell took a story about a boy thief who won the heart of a future queen, defeated an all-powerful villain with nothing but his own cleverness, and became a better, more selfless man in the process; and she turned it into a story about a helpless princess becoming a powerful, meaningful leader of the people. (Don’t get me wrong, that story would have sold me on its own if it had been what I’d come for.)
My issues with this book are mostly with bad marketing. Don’t market an Aladdin story when it’s secretly a Jasmine story. Come out with it in the beginning. If this is a girl power tale, plaster that information all over the cover. Don’t be subtle about it. We’re in the age of female empowerment, so toot that horn from the goddamn rooftops!!
Will I read the others in the series (Once Upon a Dream, As Old as Time, Reflection, and Part of Your World)? Probably, in time. But now that I know what to expect, maybe they won’t be so bad.
Though I didn’t love it, I give it 3 Shields, because if this book had been marketed properly, I might have enjoyed it more.
Have you read any of the books in this series? Have you tried the other Disney retelling series, Villains? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.