The other day in Barnes and Noble (my home away from home) while I was looking for something to happily blow all of my Christmas money on, I happened upon a display labeled Disney Villains with a smattering of books featuring many of the ?darkest of meanies from various Disney films from my childhood. I’d seen Poor Unfortunate Soul by Serena Valentino before, having found myself curious but never curious enough to buy it. Of course, since I have a rather large weak spot for the story of Aladdin (as noted by the lovely shirt I own from seeing the Broadway play only two years ago), the second I noticed this particular book I immediately plucked it up.
I was admittedly rather weary of this novel, partially due to it’s obvious place in the younger of genres and because rebelling are often incredibly hard to do well. This is not to say that books for younger children aren’t worth reading–there have been many I’ve picked up with my brother in mind and read myself simply because I am a sucker for any good story, be it meant for 10-12 or those categorized as young adult and I’ll give just about anything a chance if it has piqued my curiosity.
Braswell’s re-imagining of the story of Aladdin as though Jafar had actually gotten hold of the lamp was, as far as I’m concerned, well worth the read. It was interesting and showed a take on that particular branch of alternate universe in a way I personally never could have predicted. In this, it had its goods and bads and very strong ones at that. I enjoyed reading it, but would by no means call this an amazing story. I admire Braswell’s boldness as well as her tenacity and while I do intend to read the two other Disney twisted reselling she has written, there are many things I would change about her Aladdin retelling.
It was surprisingly dark, at times, and brought into play plot ideas that I didn’t particularly care for, particularly with Jafar’s army which I found idiotic and somewhat demeaning to the story and Jafar’s character. Iago’s role in the retelling also deeply upset me, again in regards to Braswell’s portrayal of Jafar’s character. More often than I would have liked, I found myself feeling as though the characters were not themselves, and it is here that I think Braswell hit her largest snag. She simply did not have a great grasp of the original characters and struggled at times to write them in a way that remained true to their nature in the Disney version. I was most disappointed in Jafar, followed closely by Jamie and the Genie. Aladdin, however, was rather impressive, even if he had moments–albeit small–where he didn’t quite fit himself.
Now, as this is a retelling, it is perfectly reasonable to accept these change in characters. I don’t fault Braswell entirely for her choices and the differences that existed among the characters. But I did not enjoy what I did notice. I was horribly unimpressed with the way in which she chose to free the Genie and had admittedly hoped that at some point the deep friendship between Aladdin and Genie would be addressed, and felt the loss of that friendship greatly throughout the course of the story. I do, however, find less fault in this than in the changes made to Jafar’s character in particular.
On another note, I believe Braswell did a fantastic job in capturing the world of Agrabah. Other additives, such as Aladdin’s mother and relationships connecting characters I otherwise would never have connected in that way were enjoyable. Overall, it was a wonderful story with various things I can’t help nitpicking at.
Had this been an original story, without my previous love for the Disney movie, I may have been less critical of some things. I do believe the romance was a bit awkward, however I was willing to overlook that due to my previous experiences with the story of Aladdin. This book was not better than the movie. It did not impress me like the Broadway play did. But it was good, in its own way.
I hope Braswell improves with her other retellings, as this was her very first.