The Fire Wish by Amber Lough
You ever find a hidden gem on the bargain bookshelf? This is one of them.
The Fire Wish follows two girls from very different worlds in the (I think Ancient? Or medieval?) Middle East. Zayele is a human girl forced into an unwanted marriage with the young prince of the caliphate in Baghdad while Najwa is a jinni hiding from humans in underground caverns with a peculiar ability to breach the palace’s magical wards. By chance encounter the two meet and Zayele, desperate to escape her betrothal, makes a desperate wish on Najwa to switch places. And because making magical wishes on errant genies is such a fantastic and not at all dangerous ordeal, Zayele gets what she wants…in a totally wrong, completely dangerous, 100% so-not-worth-it-way-but-also-kind-of-necessary way.
Let’s talk about the The Fire Wish world. The story centre on humans and jinni as enemies and, to an extent, equals. This was for me kind of refreshing–most genie stories I know focus on using the jinni as an object, their primary purpose being something humans want to covet and use to their own bidding (take Exquisite Captive, for instance). Here, though, the two very different beings are at war, magic pitted against early Muslim understandings of technology (which, BTW, historically is A LOT of understanding) incorporated with the magical elements for elaborate weaponry. The setting in this case really does add to the story by emphasizing the separation of the humans and the jinni but also the utter lack of understanding between the two. In general the time period is also well and thoroughly represented. Plus the plotline itself is fresh and unpredictable, the villain easy to spot but the motives behind it altogether surprising (it’s impossible to say much more without spoiling). The way Lough puts all of it together in the novel is compelling and unique, making the story as a whole much the same.
Character-wise, I originally took issue with the two girls coming off as particularly young, younger for sure than their sixteen or so years. This was especially the case for Najwa who began the book hesitant and naïve. Not that this is a bad thing!–I’ve just been reading a lot of strong female characters and it took some getting used to again. Even so, I really do like Najwa. She has this sort of quiet determination that you get to watch her slowly grow into, and you can’t help but root for her all along the way even when she makes you want to rip her diamond-encrusted hair out in frustration. I liked that she’s different from most of those headstrong heroines in a lot of fantasy novels because she stands out. And hesitant does not mean docile–she is by no means weak.
Zayele I recognized from the start: the stubbornness, the outright determination, the complete security in herself; she is everything Najwa is not. She has a tendency to be ridiculously impulsive: most of the shenanigans are the product of Zayele neglecting to fully think something through. She is also very caring and has a sort of fierceness directed at anything and everyone that means something to her. Plus she knows when to own up to having made a mistake, making her just as dedicated to righting her wrongs as she is to, well, accidentally making them in the first place.
Though the girls spend majority of the novel separated, the chapters alternate perspective so you get to connect with both of them. They compliment each other perfectly, feeding off each other when they’re near and understanding the other when they’re in opposite lives. It’s not so much a friend dynamic as it is an inexplicable link of understanding between the two. Other characters like Faisal, Shirin, Rahela, Kamal, and Atish are great too and add the friend-family-love dynamic. In terms of relationships, The Fire Wish covers just about all of them!
Holy insta-love though! I’m used to insta-love but geez, this one took even less time than I’d anticipated for them to fall for each other. Didn’t think that was even possible but here we are! Zayele spends less than 24 hours with Atish and is already head over heels. Does it matter that when he professes his love THAT. DAY. he thinks she’s Najwa? Nope! Because, as he says, he didn’t think he loved her until just. that. moment. As for Najwa, you know, you just KNOW the moment she sees Kamal in the garden in Chapter-freaking-ONE that they’ll fall in love. To their credit they wait until nearly the end to do anything about it but considering their only interaction basically ever is through a fence in the garden at night it’s not that much of an accomplishment. The two couples are super cute so they’re forgiven…but DAMN. If you really hate insta-love, stay away. Stay far far far away.
Overall, The Fire Wish seriously surprised me. I expected to enjoy it but definitely not as much as I did! The compelling story, the beautiful setting/world, the perfect balance of character personalities–there is so much good in this book! Plus, for reasons not even I understand I genuinely loved the ending. So would I have gone out of my way to read this if I hadn’t stumbled upon it? I don’t really know. But fate! destiny! and a bargain bookshelf! were definitely on my side.
Now everyone make a wish that I can actually find the next one…
Click here for the book synopsis on goodreads!