BOOK REVIEW: A Whole New World: A Twisted Tale by Liz Braswell Shows Us A Whole New Agrabah
A Whole New World is the first book in the Twisted Tales series. At the time of writing, the series consists of five titles published over the past four years, with the sixth due in April 2019. Each of the novels is stand-alone, meaning you can read whichever stories intrigue you the most in whichever order you feel like. For reviewing purposes, I will be reading the full series in chronological order of publication, and I will be completely honest and spoiler-free in letting you know what I thought!
A Whole New World by Liz Braswell follows an alternate plotline of what would have happened if, at the mouth of the Cave of Wonders, Aladdin had passed the magic lamp to Jafar, granting him the power of the Genie… and the reign of Agrabah. This triggers the rise of a terrifying dictatorship, prompting a revolution on the streets of Agrabah lead by slick army of Street Rats.
Did it show me the world? Most definitely. Was it shining, shimmering, splendid? Read on.
The first six chapters are a mirror re-telling of the classic Disney movie. In fact, the tagline on the cover of the book “What if Aladdin had never found the lamp?” is wildly misleading. Aladdin does find the lamp, and it is only once this happens do things start to go awry. Up until that point, we get all the same scenes, all the same dialogue, except built upon with more detail.
To start with, the descriptions in the narrative are gorgeous. Braswell uses perfect words to paint a brilliantly vibrant picture of Agrabah, building on the base from the film and adding lots more, thus producing a well-researched backdrop to her tale. This is particularly including the Quarter of the Street Rats: an area of Agrabah we never get to explore in the films. The escape from the Cave of Wonders scene was particularly well-written, building as much of the panic and tension on paper as made my four-year-old self hide behind the sofa whenever I watched the scene on video.
The characters were well-built upon and given backstories which answer questions raised by the movie. Jasmine is powerful, and yet somehow manages to be both self-centered and altruistic at the same time. Aladdin is allowed to portray emotions other than that lovey-dovey gooeyness one might expect from a Disney prince storyline. Other characters are brought in, which works, but Jafar is definitely the standout. Braswell chooses to write him as “a madman of truly demonic purposes.” If you like hating on your villains, this book will appeal. Even the Genie refers to him as “an insane, power hungry, evil… dictator with delusions of godhood”. Cue evil laughter.
One character which I really felt was a let-down was the Genie. If you are a big fan of the Genie (or djinn), this book might not be for you. Throughout the story, he is controlled by Jafar, and haunted by his backstory, leaving him in a permanent state of despondency. Also, the original Genie is acclaimed for being a very visual character, and as it transpires, it is very hard to present this in a novel. It was difficult reading the dialogue in his voice, not least because he kept calling Jasmine “sweetcheeks”, and the decision to not hold him as a key character in the novel is very strange considering his immense personality (and popularity) in the movie.
However, something about this novel which really let me down was the apparent clumsiness in editing, at least in the edition I own. Some sentences just didn’t make sense, and other times words were used in places where they didn’t fit. For instance, ‘[they were] buried under the same stone steps they helped lay’. I read that line about five times and still don’t understand it. Another example is that the author refers to Jafar as a sorcerer, literally two pages before he becomes one. These inaccuracies were not something I expected, and did ruin the read.
This book is much, much darker than the Aladdin we know. It does fall in to the Young Adult reading bracket and isn’t particularly explicit, but there are some gruesome moments throughout which can be particularly heart-wrenching if you hold the story, setting, and characters close to your heart. Without giving anything away, prepare for a few “I can’t believe you just did that to my childhood” moments!
In conclusion, the title really sums this book up. Braswell shows us a whole new Agrabah, a whole new storyline. For me, the narrative was wonderful and went deep into the heart of the story, but the overall plot felt somewhat… basic. I do want to add that out of all the Disney classics, Aladdin is definitely my personal most-watched, so before I began, I was nervous about possibly altering my views on the story, which I adore. If you want dark and different, go for the book. If you want magic and warmth, stick with the movie.
Going forward, the next book in the series is a spin-off of a tale I’m not as protective over, so stay tuned for my review of that one! In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you have to say about this book! Is it one you’ve read? Or perhaps one you’re not sure about? Let us know!