I’m going to review both of Liz Braswell’s Twisted Tales books in this post. They are Disney Press books which appears to have a couple caveats that they adhere to. The names of the recognizable characters seem to all stay the same, and it appears that the book itself needs to clearly based off of the Disney movie of the same title more than any other inspiration. I have read quite a few books released by Disney Press, four very recently, that have all been some sort of twist on the fairytale presented by Disney, but the world they take place in is very familiar and the outcome of the story is pretty close to the movie as well.
Braswell does a very good job of sticking to these two themes as loosely as possible and that works in her favor. I openly admit to being a huge fan of Disney and I love these books. I enjoy the liberties that Braswell took and I appreciate the adult themes she mixed in. That said, let’s get started!
In another part of town, the streets were silent as shadow and black as death. It was not safe for any of the gaily dressed people to be there. Even the locals tended to stay indoors or stick to the unseen alleyways and secret passages that riddles the area out of view from the streets. Here the white walls of the buildings were faded and pitted, mud peeling away from their brick underlayers in great swaths. Half-built timber structures were the only evidence of an ancient sultan’s dream to improve the district, to widen the roads, to bring in water. After he was poisoned, the whole project was dropped. Now the skeletal remains of his grand plan whistled in the desert wind like corpses hanging from Gibbets.
This was the Quarter of the Streets Rats.
A Whole New World by Liz Braswell
Tagline: What if Aladdin had never found the lamp?
I won’t start every review off with a negative, but I do want to point out that the tagline is inaccurate and very misleading. Without any major spoilers given, he does find the lamp. The tagline should more accurately read “What if Aladdin handed the lamp over to Jafar?”
So, yeah. If you’re a fan of the Aladdin movie and realize what a crazy crackpot character Jafar is in that, imagine how awful he is in a book that has a little free reign to be more adult? But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Aladdin is a street rat, Jasmine is a trapped princess about to be given to the highest bidder in a marriage she doesn’t want, and Jafar is a greatly disturbed sultan’s adviser with information on a genie’s (in the book, they call it the more historically accurate name djinn) lamp. The first part of the book proceeds very similarly, if not exactly on point, with the movie. The twist happens when Jafar manages to get the lamp from Aladdin and immediately uses it to create a world that loves and fears him. Now Aladdin and Jasmine must team together to start a revolution that will restore Jasmine’s kingdom to her. This is not your musical, light hearted story about the boy from the wrong side of the tracks falling in love with the rich girl. This is a story about rebellion, power, and love. Not just romantic love, but the love between families, friends, and a city that must work as a unit to restore peace to their lives. It’s a lot darker than the movie by far. There is death abundant and Braswell does not shy away from descriptors just to appease her audience. She creates a world that is believably in a revolution for power and suffers the losses that such worlds inevitably have.
I had absolutely no trouble getting drawn into the book. After reading many, many negative reviews on this right before reading it, I was really afraid I wouldn’t like it, but I was pleasantly surprised. While the characters didn’t have the development that larger books tend to lend, they had enough to understand motives and plot points. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about in this was the romance between Jasmine and Aladdin. There really wasn’t much to it. I’ve had more serious relationships with fictional characters than these two had together. However, the reason I feel this way is a good one. Braswell does a great job of making Jasmine someone to look up to. Someone who is strong, is standing up for her city, and who isn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers. I would picture her with someone a little more…more. Aladdin is the same quintessential good guy street rat that he is in the movies. He is still a well developed character who struggles with feelings, but it’s usually “should I do this thing or this even more noble thing?” It just made the relationship between the two feel shallow for me.
Over all, I would recommend this book to most people who enjoy a good fairytale retelling and who doesn’t get too hung on the details of the Aladdin movie. It’s why it’s called a Twisted Tale, guys. Because it’s a variant of the orginal thing. I’d like to point out that Aladdin is also a variant on another, older fairytale, but if your panties are bunched now, I’m just going to leave that one alone. I’d probably say for high schoolers and up, and I know that there are some pre-teens who can understand war and death better than other middle schoolers, but that is ultimately up to the parents.
Once upon a time I was in an endless dark forest. No-actually endless, I tell you! In another world! I wandered for ages all by myself in the woods. My wife died yeras ago, you see. I don’t know where my oldest boy was. My little girls and lads were safe at home I think.
Once upon a time, we were all together, in a castle, you know, but things change. Wives die and eldest sons grow up and chase after princesses and peasant girls, riding away from you forever….
Once Upon A Dream by Liz Braswell
Tagline: What the the sleeping beauty never woke up?
What if, indeed! This book messed with my head for a couple chapters before I realized what was happening in the story. By that I mean, what was actually happening as opposed to what I happened to be reading at the time. This book was fantastic. I enjoyed it even more than Braswell’s first Twisted Tale.
The beginning starts off with the dragon slayed, the prince at the princess’s side, he bestows a kiss…and promptly falls into the same magical sleep that everyone else has fallen into. His kiss was not enough to wake the princess.
When we meet Aurora, she is awake, well, and living in the castle with her “Aunt” Malificent, the one who rescued her from her abusive parents and the three evil fairies who came to claim her life as payment for sixteen years of well-being bestowed upon her parents’ kingdom. Sure it’s odd that she’s never seen a living animal, or stepped foot outside of her castle. She knows it’s probably not normal that people go missing on a pretty regular basis or that Malificent seems to gather her power from the monthly parties she throws for Aurora’s sake. However, she has no room to complain because she has gotten a second chance at life all because of the kindness of Malificent! Or has she? Aurora hears talk of those who’ve been Outside, but there isnt an Outside. It was all destroyed by her parents’ greed. The more Aurora investigates the rumors, the more she realizes how precariously her world exists between the shadow of lies and the small glimmer of truth her heart knows. Now she needs to battle an entirely different thorny castle-one created entirely in her head and the one that separates her from the truth of who she really, truly is.
I think a huge reason why I enjoyed this so much more than the other was because there was so little that literal in it, which leaves Aurora open for self-discovery. This was equal parts kingdom saving as it was the princess realizing her own self-worth. This realization and the saving of her kingdom comes at terrible, heart wrenching costs, but again I feel like they weren’t wasted words or unneeded efforts. The heroine of this story comes out the other side a much stronger, self realized character than she was in the beginning of the story, and much more so than she ever was in the movie.
The only con I could think of personally is even just a half con.Once she realizes that she is truly asleep and needs to wake up to save her kingdom, she also gains realization that since this is her dream, she can control it. She starts to use this to her advantage…and that’s it. It just seems like a typical, cookie cutter response to figuring out how to defeat a dream world. It’s just been done too many times in the same way. I realize that it’s been done so many times because it works, but it only really works if it’s original and unfortunately, this time it wasn’t. That said, it’s still only really a half con because she can do some pretty kick butt things once she realizes her own powers.
I recommend this book to high school age and up, possible middle schoolers who are mature enough to understand the content. This story gets a little more gory than A Whole New World. It also deals with more adult themes of the bloody costs of war and the turmoil of being conflicted in your own self worth. While I feel that I as a middle schooler could handle these themes, I really feel it’s every parent’s decision to decide if they feel their child is ready.
So why Disney Princess goes PG-13? Honestly, I feel that if these two books were made into movies, they’d have to cut a lot of the violence and underlying tension and themes that make them so great if they wanted to fit a PG rating. This is a good thing! We need to see strong female Disney characters that know how to stand up for themselves and, more importantly, save themselves. I look forward to reading more of Liz Braswell in the future, and I’m really excited for her third installment in the Twisted Tales series, As Old As Time, which comes out in September.
So what do you think? Either of these strike your fancy? Any books you’d recommend to me based on my reviews? Let me know in the comments!