Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Whole New World ... A Horribly Worthless Point of View...

I requested this book because I was confused: I thought it was E.K. Johnston's A Thousand Nights.  Unfortunately, I can't keep my authors or my fairy tales straight, so I had to suffer through this "dark reimagining" of Aladdin.  And I feel really awful just ripping on this because I'm sure the author is really a lovely person, but being told by Disney: "Righty-o, you're going to retell one of our most popular films!  Toodle-oo!" is probably the kiss of death.  I am really, really sorry.


It's been difficult for me to marshal my thoughts into a coherent review, so I'm just going to throw this all out there like a glorious arcing spout of vomit and come and clean it up later (maybe).

This book sucked.  It sucked so much.  It sucked so badly that I cannot even describe, in grown-up terms, how much it sucked.

As other reviewers have noted, you really can skip the first quarter of the book as it is literally the first part of Aladdin, word for word.  I found myself mouthing the words before they actually showed up in the sentence.  This was not marketed as a novelization.  It is supposed to be a reimagining.  How "imaginative" is it to crib the dang script and storyboards from the movie and just pop it into the book?  Did the author think people wouldn't notice?  Is this another case of, "Oh, teens are dumb, hee hee, and they're too young to have seen Aladdin, so I can just totes copy everything!"

I thought that maybe once the "twist" came (um, not really a twist because the jacket blurb spoils it all, so not sure what you were trying to accomplish with that marketing spark of genius, o Disney), things might get a bit more interesting.  Instead, I found myself longing for the cohesiveness of part I (which, recall, was straight outta Disney).  The characters became lifeless, completely unbelievable, and utterly flat versions of their animated selves.  Aladdin is just a guy in love with a girl who ran around and did ... stuff and "accidentally" kills people by knocking a stone pillar on them.  Jasmine goes full dystopian-savior-revolutionary on everyone and becomes the figurehead of a guerrilla war in Agrabah.

Say what?

Oh, and did I mention that the "rebels" leave a stylized Rajah paw-print where they meet so that Jafar can totally find them?

Let me back up here just a touch.

So, the idea of this "retelling" is that instead of Aladdin getting the lamp, Jafar does (in his guise of the liver-spotted old prisoner).  He summons the genie, who is, you know, blue, and Definitely NOT Trying to Be Robin Williams.  Jafar seals Aladdin, Abu, and the magic carpet up inside the giant cat-head thing, waltzes back to Agrabah, and uses his first wish to become Sultan, who doesn't do any actual governing and lets people starve in the streets while he plays games.  That was a take on the story that I actually liked--in the film, the Sultan was a Weeble Wobble with a feathery turban who ran around in agitation a lot.  He didn't seem particularly ... regal.  Sultanesque.  Whatever.  And obviously, if you don't actually govern your people, things are going to get nasty.  The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and the Sultan doesn't care.  I liked that take on things, but it was quickly parlayed into Jasmine becoming the Leader of the Poor who really understands what it's like to live like them blah-blah-blah.

Sorry, tangent.  Anyway, once Jafar becomes Sultan, he uses his second wish to be the most powerful sorcerer in the land.  Boom.  Thirdly, he wishes for Jasmine to fall in love with him.  Here we again get lines that are painfully trying to be Robin Williams' rapid-fire delivery: "As I was saying before Mr. High and Mighty Sorcerer of the entire world interrupted me--you know, limitless powers don't excuse you from manners, Your Worshipfulness--there are a few provisos, a couple of quid pro quos."

Ahem:

But you already know what they are!





He then gets all weepy because he once had a beautiful wife that he loved very much but then he got sealed up in that dumb lamp and all the djinn died.

Break time for a second: did anyone else get the sense that this was supposed to be set in the future (like our future)?  The Genie has knowledge of things that we (humanity) have done already, like having cafeteria ladies and the mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke colony.    He's been stuck in a lamp for ten thousand years, and it's not made explicit that he can see the future.  He just grants wishes.  So is Agrabah our future?  Why?

Okay, back to the "story."  Enraged that he can't force Jasmine to fall in love with him, he pushes pops the ex-Sultan off a balcony and Jasmine runs away.  She ends up finding Aladdin and telling him, in so many words, that she wants to depose Jafar and become Sultana.  That's all very well and good, but how?  Aladdin has an idea!  Let's go see his old friends, Duban and Morgiana, who are totally not together or doing any of the sexytimes because business partners just running a good ol' school for pickpockets, street rats, and other villains of the streets.  They fancy themselves a Robin Hood operation, when they still keep most of the good stuff for themselves.

But while at first, Jafar's reign seemed to be decent, his showering of the city with gold meant that the market crashed and now the thieves don't really have any reason to steal.  "Jafar, the creepy vizier, was now a creepy and insane dictator."  People can't buy food because food is worth both everything and nothing.  It's like Soviet Agrabah.

Plus, he's got new guards patrolling the streets.  Aladdin offers the observation, "'They seem a little ... weird.'"  Give the man a cigar!  Duh.  If you've got an evil sorcerer dabbling in black magic, do you think he's going to summon happy-go-lucky guards?

So when Aladdin comes in with Jasmine and they're all, "Rah, let's get Jafar!" the Street Rats are totally on board.  Then we endure many chapters of them pulling off strange and pointless heists of Jafar's caravans.  Evidently, he's searching for a Lost Text called Al Azif that teaches you how to raise the dead and do Forbidden Magic.  Ooooo.  Jasmine secretly (HA HA HA) communicates with the genie and coordinates an attack on Jafar.  Only OH NOES!  Since the Genie is Jafar's slave, J-Dawg made Old Blue tell him everything.  You know, slavery.  So he knew all about Aladdin and Jasmine's plans and there's this big showdown at the end with lots of weird foreshadowing and histrionics.  Our Heroes realize that "the sorcerer had gone from being an almost humorous villain to a madman of truly demonic proportions."  When it finally arrives, the end is swift but not exactly merciful.  Everyone has to start all over again and a lot of people are dead.  The end.

Wait.  What?

Yes.  That's it.  We don't even get to see the wedding, for Abu's sake!  Argh.

I've tried to weave in some of the more bizarre quotes in the review proper, but I had so many things bookmarked that just sounded plain awkward or ew or #facepalm that I had to share them here.  Lo!

Jasmine: "He could stuff me full of babies, one every year.  Not that there's anything wrong with babies.  Like, one or two.  Eventually."  First of all, men don't "stuff you with babies."  They might have some sperm do a tango with your egg, but they are not cramming fetuses into your uterus.  I am just imagining a sack being stuffed with potatoes ... no.  That's not how reproduction works.

Later, after a difficult night, Jasmine "collapsed as gracefully as she could into lotus position.  Aladdin sank down as well, in his own graceful, yet jerky way."  Who magically slumps into lotus position?  I didn't think yoga was an Arabic thing.  "Graceful, yet jerky"???


"Jafar looked like a terrifyingly evil tailor."  No comment.

"We never thought to set up an infirmary..."  Wow, much planning, such wisdom, you rebels.  Lead an all-out attack on a sorcerer and his ghoul army and you don't think anyone will get hurt?  Ay.

"He used them like a skilled butcher to trap and grab the blade of the other man's scimitar."  So, the last time I went to the meat shop or grocery store, I did not peek in the back and see the butcher using his knives to defend himself.  He used them to cut meat.

And for a taste of the, er, dramatic ending: " 'INSOLENT WHELPS!' he roared, eyes turning red.  'You dare defy the most powerful sorcerer in the WORLD?"  Yes, all the italics and caps are original.

If I had three wishes, one of them would be that someone would have seen the light and decided that a "dark retelling" of Aladdin was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.


4 comments:

  1. Wow. I picked this one up at BEA and ultimately decided to pass it on without reading. That, apparently, was the right choice. I was a little wary of this one from the initial announcement as it was clearly a packaged title. It's disappointing that the story didn't go in a new direction as promised but I suppose that's what happens when you try to update a story that has become canon over the years.

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    1. I mean, some of the Disney/Hyperion books go over well, like Kingdom Keepers. I thought this could be decent, but I'm wondering if Disney didn't want the author to change it too much, hence the word-for-word beginning. That's not ... just not good.

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  2. Ahh I'm so glad someone else read/hated this! I requested this on purpose because I thought a retelling of Aladdin might be interesting! And... it was? But only because I was fascinated at what a trainwreck it was on every level. Just sort of pointlessly grim, like, I do not want to think about Princess Jasmine getting raped, thanks. And then the revelation that Jasmine ~understands poverty~ now and will ~totally fix it~ like... it's a very tidy resolve to a complicated issue, especially compared to how grim everything up to that point is.

    IT'S SO WEIRD AND BAD!

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    1. "Weird and bad!" is a really good summary.
      I kept reading just to see how bad it got--which was pretty dang bad! And I rarely do that ;)

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