Review: A Spark of Storms

A Spark of Storms by Susannah Welch is a gender-bent retelling of "Aladdin." This is far from a new concept for me, so the obvious Disney influence on the cover was what first attracted me to this book. The Disney version of Aladdin is very different from the original fairy tale. The author uses that story as inspiration and makes it her own in a clever way while building a female-empowered fantasy world that gives a strong start to her Heart of the Queendom series. Though the feminist messaging of this book is a little overstated, it aligns perfectly with the archetype of Princess Jasmine feeling trapped by her culture and its treatment of women. In this case, it's a prince named Jaemin who feels trapped in a world where only female heirs can ascend the throne.

Alanna is a street rat who uses her charms to manipulate those around her for her own survival. Her life takes a surprising turn when she is rescued by a mysterious pink-haired woman. Geeni, her rescuer, offers her a magic lamp that will turn her into a princess in exchange for the diary of an old queen in the castle library. One of the few conditions for the exchange is that she is not allowed to fall in love with any of the princes, as a single touch will break her disguise. Alanna accepts the deal and is given a handmaiden named Hidalsa, who is also an actress and quickly becomes a trusted friend. The only problem is that after encountering Prince Jaemin in her "street rat" form, she feels an immediate bond with him that only makes her long for him more after disguising herself as Princess Aliyabeth.

The nods to Disney's Aladdin are mostly given through naming conventions. Alanna and Jaemin sound like gender-bent variations of Aladdin and Jasmine, and Alanna even has a pet monkey named Bibi as a counterpart to Abu. The kingdom's hierarchy is a direct reversal of Agrabah, with princesses being given the birthright of queenhood while princes are seen only as bargaining chips for political alliances, which creates a problem for the queen after she only gives birth to sons. That is where the similarities end. This story takes a completely different direction with the villain and magical elements. Though there is a lamp and a character named Geeni, there are no actual genies, and the magic system is specific and detailed as opposed to being able to wish for almost anything.

After spending some time as the princess, Alanna begins to realize that Geeni selected her for this task for a reason. As the purported "diamond in the rough," it turns out that Alanna has special powers that she was never aware of. Jaemin is the one who opens her eyes to these abilities, and she decides to use them to help her mother who developed a form of dementia after being used as a medical guinea pig in a monastery of healers. That's when the book diverts the most from its source material. While Aladdin is usually portrayed as either an orphan or the son of a single mother, Alanna has a mother who she cares about but is helpless and doesn't remember her. This can be a heavy topic for a fairy tale book, but it is handled tastefully.

Susannah Welch's A Spark of Storms cleverly subverts the expectations of a familiar Disney tale. Gone are the simple wishes and clear-cut lines between good and evil. Here, Alanna wrestles with her identity, hidden magic, and a mother in desperate need. The magic system is intricate, and the power dynamics are flipped, placing the women at the forefront. While the nods to Aladdin and Jasmine are present, the story ultimately carves its own path. Does Alanna unlock her true potential and rewrite her destiny? Does she defy Geeni's bargain and find love with Jaemin? Dive into this captivating novel to discover if she can become the queen she was always meant to be.


Sugar said…
I find this idea of ​​"we have a world where women rule but now they treat men badly" interesting, because it defends women while showing that simply reversing things is not the solutionđź’–.

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