Book Review: “Diamond in the Rough” Puts Lost Legends Series One Jump Ahead

The Lost Legends series is suited to middle grade readers and features the adventures of Disney’s most lovable roguish heroes as kids. Following the dynamite first book Lost Legends: The Rise of Flynn Rider comes the second equally enthralling read, Lost Legends: Diamond in the Rough. In this story, author Jen Calonita introduces us to the early days of Aladdin from Disney’s Aladdin. Filled with heart-pounding perils and rambunctious mischief, Diamond in the Rough is the long-awaited and highly satisfying Aladdin origin story.

Twelve-year-old Aladdin has spent his entire life roaming the desert as a part of a tribe of nomads. He has nothing to his name except the stars in the sky, the clothes on his back, and a peculiar necklace left to him by his late mother. But that doesn’t bother Aladdin―he doesn’t want much. If he had three wishes, he would only ask for one thing: a home. A place to belong.

When Aladdin is separated from his tribe in Agrabah, he feels drawn to the city’s bustling streets. This is a place of possibilities, one that Aladdin might even be able to call his own. Facing a whole new world with magic lurking around every corner, Aladdin soon joins a group of “collectors” who teach him what it means to be a street rat. Aladdin will need to put those skills and his good heart to the test when whispers of a mysterious “diamond” catch up with him and threaten to destroy his new home.

Diamond in the Rough is one jump (pun intended) ahead of most other middle grade novels. Calonita masterfully ties in Disney characters and famous quotes from the film with her own story, themes and quirks. Each chapter begins with a “Mukhtarism” which is a lesson from one of Aladdin’s newfound friends, Mukhtar, who teaches him how to live, learn and thrive on the streets of Agrabah. Calonita used a similar chapter introduction in The Rise of Flynn Rider and it is a great strategy for further immersing readers into the story’s sense of fun, mystery and adventure.

There are lots of cleverly incorporated references to the Aladdin storyline without detracting from young Aladdin’s own exciting tale. These references are more like bonus features, so despite Aladdin’s story being a prequel to the popular Disney film, Calonita’s book charts its own course. For example, at one point in the story, plans for a future suitor for Princess Jasmine are mentioned – however, this is but a passing comment because, at this point in the story, Jasmine is only ten years old. Up until this point in the book, I had more or less forgotten all about the princess because I was engrossed in shenanigans had by Aladdin and his fellow street rat friends. Given the fast-paced fun therein, readers are immersed in this story – not awaiting that which unfolds in the Aladdin film.

Above and beyond Aladdin, Lost Legends: Diamond in the Rough works wonders in developing Aladdin’s character. While he is still the loveable, charming rogue we know from the film, Calonita molds him into a relatable, and sometimes insecure, young man. She does this by fleshing out tidbits from the film – like Aladdin’s desire for a place to call home and a sense of belonging. There is much more to this guy than just a riff raff street rat.

From living as an orphaned nomad to being ushered into the bustling streets of Agrabah, there is never a dull moment in this book. The story, continuity and characters are thrilling throughout which makes Lost Legends: Diamond in the Rough just so much fun. Calonita nails the voice, tone and whimsy of a young boy who dares to dream. She did it in book one, Flynn’s story, and does so again in Aladdin’s, communicating the same warm-fuzzy, exciting storytelling with every turn of the page. Each book stands alone as its own great whimsical tale and continues to set the Lost Legends series one jump ahead.

Lost Legends: Diamond in the Rough was released on September 20, 2022.