Read Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson Online


In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients—dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups—from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif—the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her pIn an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients—dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups—from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif—the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the state’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover’s new fiancé is the "Hand of God," as they call the head of state security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen....

Title : Alif the Unseen
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780802194626
Format Type : ebook
Number of Pages : 320 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Alif the Unseen Reviews

  • Rick Riordan
    2018-10-18 21:00

    Adult urban fantasy/cyberpunk. I picked this up because I loved the Ms. Marvel comics written by G. Willow Wilson, and while this is very, very different stuff, it was a fabulous read. Somehow I went into this thinking it was a middle grade or young adult novel. It's not. The content is quite dark and adult. It's the story of a twenty-something hacker living in an Arabic city state simply called The City. Alif is secretly in love with the daughter of a high-ranking family, and (SPOILER) when she becomes engaged to a government official -- an official who is in charge of finding hackers like Alif, things become very complicated. (END SPOILER.) That in itself would be an intriguing story, but Wilson also blends in the world of the fire spirit jinn, mixing computer magic with ancient magic. Alif finds himself in possession of an ancient book that may be the secret to reprogramming the entire world. His enemies, both human and jinn, will do anything to obtain it. It's rare to find a novel set in the Middle East that is both accessible to a Western audience and sympathetically well-informed. The City is beautifully evoked. The descriptions of life in a dictatorial society are grimly and unflinchingly portrayed. You see both the beauty of Islamic society and folklore, and the desperate, fearful, and claustrophobic conditions in which the citizens of The City live. If you're looking for an adventure unlike anything you've probably read, give this a try!

  • Maggie Stiefvater
    2018-10-26 20:48

    How I loved this problematic novel. I picked up Alif the Unseen in Oblong Books. It was the last event of my U.S. book tour and I was driving home instead of flying and so I had the unusual liberty of not caring about whether a book purchase would force me to check my luggage.Mostly I picked it up because it seemed impossible to summarize. My favorite sorts of books to read and write. The back of the book begins with “In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients — dissidents, Islamists, and other outlaws — from surveillance. He goes by Alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him, and Alif’s computer has just been breached by the head of the state’s electronic security fo—“ Okay, whoa, whoa, whoa, just stop. Maybe that stuff technically happens in the novel, but that is not the tone of the book, at all. Alif is an impetuous, immature, passionate pig of a computer geek, coding and pimpled in a room in his mother’s house. He throws a massive, electronic tantrum after he’s jilted by Rich Mystery Babe, and the repercussions of the program he writes propel us through the rest of the novel. A couple of reviews call this a thriller, but it’s not, not unless American Gods is a thriller. A couple of reviews call this erudite social commentary, but it’s not unless A Wrinkle in Time is erudite social commentary.Of course, American Gods is thrilling, and A Wrinkle in Time does indeed comment on society, but that is because they are good fantasy fiction, and good fantasy fiction is full of true things. But they both read like fantasies, and so does Alif the Unseen. If you open the book expecting that, you will not be dissatisfied. Now, because it’s been at least four paragraphs since I did a list, here is a list of four things about Alif the Unseen I think you ought to know.1. There are so many characters to huggle. Alif is a brat, and I hated him for the first 80 pages, but that’s sort of the point. There are others to love, though: Vikram the yellow-eyed jinn, NewQuarter the endearingly spoiled and heroic prince, and Sheikh Bilal, a holy man with a good mind for a computer metaphor. The character interactions are what ensured my love of this novel. The plot became irrelevant. I just wanted to watch them frolic.2. There is a car chase in the desert. I don’t know what else to say about this, but if you know anything about me at all, you know it takes very little to please me, and one of the things that will please me is car chases in deserts. 3. It was pretty fantastic to read some contemporary fantasy set in the Middle East, and Wilson did a great job soaking every page with imagery.4. I really, really liked the way spirituality was worked through the book, touching everything, including the magic, in a very organic way. As someone who believes spirituality and religiosity are not synonyms, I appreciated how Wilson danced between the two. One of the most moving scenes is where a character prays over a meal with little fanfare. Now it’s time for the problematic part. I have a huge problem with the way women are treated in most of the Middle East. It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with equality and choice. I have a huge problem with the way women are portrayed in fiction, period. I knew it could be a very unsatisfying combination, however, I went into Alif with an expectation that Wilson would tread this ground with confidence and insight: after all, Wilson is an American woman who converted to Islam and chose to take up the headscarf. She must have heard everything I was thinking before. But Alif the Unseen is problematic because it fails to deliver on a single female front. Dina, Alif’s childhood friend, chose to take the veil as well. And she is portrayed as plucky and often less fearful than Alif. Yet she is dragged into adventure and ultimately has to be saved. Another female character appears and does in fact save them . . . by getting mystically pregnant. And a third female character exists as a well of mystical spiritual knowledge. This is their power: they are hidden, they can make more of themselves with magical uterus power, and they, as hidden things, know about other hidden things.This is an adventure about Alif. The women are accessories. It’s true that Vikram and NewQuarter are accessories, too, but they are unique, proactive, and lovable in a way the women are not (see #1, list of characters that made Maggie love this book). So what I think is problematic about this book is actually a global phenomenon: even women write female characters differently than male characters. Hundreds of years of boy adventurers have left us uncertain how to see a woman in a similar situation. Alif the Unseen is problematic to me not because it actively puts women down, but because it’s yet another novel that subtly and unconsciously reminds us that the boys are the ones who adventure, women are only guardians of home and hearth and mystical knowledge. It’s a novel I would have read as a teen and then closed with a sigh, wishing once more than I had been born lucky — had been born a boy. But if you put that aside — and women readers have been putting this aside for generations — Alif the Unseen is a fantastic contemporary fantasy. My favorite of the year.

  • Catie
    2018-11-08 21:50

    Just when I think that young adult fantasy has nothing new to show me, this one comes along to change my mind. Granted, this is being marketed as an adult novel, but I would disagree with that classification. If anything, this is more of a hybrid. The main character is an early twenties hacker/activist (“hacktivist”) who’s living at home and dealing with his over-attentive mom, the annoyingly devout girl next door, first heartbreak, and an all-powerful instrument of the state who wants nothing more than to track him down, throw him in a dank cell, and starve him to death. You know – normal stuff. Things get even more complicated when a dangerously powerful book of fairy tales finds its way into his hands and he has to seek refuge in the realm of the unseen.I’ve honestly never read anything like this before. It is a Middle East inspired fantasy novel about hackers, djinns, metaphor, faith, and political uprising. And for a fantasy novel, it is more firmly rooted in reality than most. Published in the wake of The Arab Spring, this novel feels incredibly relevant. And what’s more – it feels necessary. This is the kind of book that I think the world needs right now. Here is a recent quote from author G. Willow Wilson (from an interview with Shelf Awareness):“I spent a long time being frustrated that there wasn't much awareness or interest in Arab youth culture here in the U.S. People wanted to hear about fundamentalism and veiling and terrorism, but not about what the next generation was thinking or doing.”Honestly, I’m guilty of this. While I saw occasional news coverage of the riots and revolutions, I was largely ignorant of what was going on. And I have to admit that I have little to no knowledge of Islam or the Quran. However, one of the many reasons that I love to read is to experience new places and new cultures. On that score, this book is utterly fascinating. And much to her credit, G. Willow Wilson never oversimplifies or whitewashes the culture and religious practices and never slows down to explain anything to a hypothetical Western audience. It’s occasionally confusing, but she really earned my respect by doing it that way. I don’t need to have every little thing explained to me – it’s so much more immersive if I’m left to figure it out on my own. G. Willow Wilson also really succeeds in rendering this world – an unnamed state somewhere in the Middle East – with the perfect balance of honesty and lack of pity. She doesn’t shy away from the hard truths here: censorship, sexism, racism, government brutality; but neither does she color them with any kind of Western superiority. These things exist, but they are simple facts of life. They are horrifying, and yet these characters deal with them every day. They are acknowledged in the way we might acknowledge our healthcare system or the frequently challenged (and disappearing) reproductive rights of our women (both of which I am sure frequently cause us to be pitied). They are never traded upon for melodrama. And on top of all of that, this is a beautifully written fantasy story. It is a fun, fast-paced adventure that moves in-between worlds, including the virtual world of technology, the world of fairy tales, and an unseen realm populated by djinn, effrits, and madrins. The characters are in turns hilarious, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking.However, there are a few places where the fast-paced feeling of this book starts to lag. Several scenes where the characters take time out from the story to have philosophical discussions about religion or the state of the world are very interesting from an educational standpoint, but do nothing to move the story forward. Additionally, the characters take such defined roles during these discussions (the convert, the devout follower, the religious leader, the devil’s advocate) that they stop feeling like characters and start feeling like mouthpieces for various issues. However, the ending of this book is just complete perfection and I must say that it really tied together a lot of these discussion points from the lagging places. Even though the story lagged, I was still riveted by the “new to me” feeling of the topics discussed. And her writing is just so beautiful; it's hard to lose too much patience. Here is one of my favorite passages:"I have had much experience with the unclean and uncivilized in the recent past. Shall I tell you what I discovered? I am not the state of my feet. I am not the dirt on my hands or the hygiene of my private parts. If I were these things, I would not have been at liberty to pray at any time since my arrest. But I did pray, because I am not these things. In the end, I am not even myself. I am a string of bones speaking the word of God."Overall I highly recommend this to young adult and adult readers alike, especially to those who are tired of reading the “same old, same old” in fantasy.Perfect Musical PairingOmar Offendum: #Jan25 Egypt (feat. The Narcicyst, Freeway, Ayah, and Amir Sulaiman)Did you know that there was a wave of revolutionary rap music that came out of the Middle East after the Arab Spring? Well, neither did I...until I went looking for a musical pairing for this book. I love that these musical pairings sometimes take me off into musical corners of the world that I might otherwise never visit. This song (and its video) is very powerful and starts with a nod to Gil Scott-Heron - "I heard them say the revolution won't be televised. Al Jazeera proved them wrong" which I think perfectly captures the spirit of this book. Most of the artists here are actually Arab American or Canadian but I think that really fits with this book too - it's the fire of this revolution, as echoed by a very sympathetic Western voice.Also seen on The Readventurer.

  • Nafiza
    2018-10-18 20:38

    Dear People who Read Books,Please read this book.No, really, I mean it. Okay fine, I will tell you why you need to read this. The characters in this novel, while not being teenagers, are young adults and therefore this novel meets the criteria set (by me) to be called Young Adult. Okay, let me begin again. Properly this time.Alif the Unseen is set in a city in Saudi Arabia and it is, perhaps, one of the few books I have read that manage to write in a setting like Saudi Arabia without preaching about or demonizing Islam. The setting is one of the reasons that I really wanted to read this novel – that and the synopsis. The synopsis sounds bloody bleeding amazing. And I can tell you on good authority that the synopsis does not lead you astray. I want to write a panegyric for this novel but I will satisfy myself with a garbled review. (Sorry about that.)It will perhaps take a few pages to get used to the setting, especially if you read books that are almost exclusively set in North America. There is a definite shift in dynamics, there is a sense of the exotic, a “foreign-ness” about the whole setting that is immediately fascinating. Alif is a very compelling character who draws you into his life, into his thoughts, politics, love and family. You can relate to him and empathize with him and that’s a big deal to me because usually male protagonists are not a favourite of mine as…well, I just can’t seem to get into their heads the same way I can with a female MC. What is also very interesting to me is how the love interest in this novel spends the majority of the novel veiled. Yet she does not become a lesser character or anything like that. In fact, she serves as a brilliant foil to Alif – as though the veil gives her the distance that is not visible to Alif – his passion is tempered by her cool logic and vice versa. She is one of the stronger and more intelligent characters in the novel. All the characters in Alif the Unseen are given personalities that are larger than the book they live in. The writing is beautiful and the narrative smooth.One of my favourite characters is Vikram the Vampire who is actually a Djinn/Jinn/Ifrit. His manner of speaking is amusing and his otherworldliness is excellently portrayed. At the same time, his sincerity in wanting to help Alif gives him a touch of human that makes him utterly irresistible.The novel presents a compelling mixture of digital gadgetry and supernatural themes. It does not at all shy away from narrating the imbalance between the rich and the poor, the cultural discrimination, the hierarchies. The computer jargon, programmer code-speak reveals the depth of research Wilson must have done for the novel. At the same time, her level of familiarity with Islamic myths, cultures is apparent with the ease with which she weaves it into her grand narrative. Wilson’s juxtaposition of the mundane with the supernatural is excellently written. The novel nests the narrative in current events, showing an alternative reason or more accurately, a hidden perspective that explains the events that took place in the Arab Spring.Alif the Unseen is a novel that needs to be read widely. It shows people a different side to Islam and Muslims. It shows people a culture rich with stories and traditions that are not entirely and wholly about bloodshed and killing. It shows real people with real problems and not made up terrorists who look for excuses to bomb countries and buildings. Alif the Unseen is a brilliant accomplishment both on the part of the writing and on the part of the storytelling. I recommend it strongly.

  • Carol.
    2018-11-12 23:50

    The end of the year, and I decided to finish with a bang, picking the most promising books lingering on my ToBeRead list. It’s been one interesting read after another, and if they weren’t all equally amazing, most have been thought-provoking and interesting. Alif came to my attention as a genre-bender, an urban fantasy set in the Middle East and about a computer hacker on the run. Great characterization, trim plotting, an unusual urban setting with clever fantastical elements means it was one of the successes. The tale starts with a short prologue of a man transcribing the stories of a captive jinn, but it truly begins with Alif, sitting on his roof and moping over the lack of contact from his secret girlfriend. Alif is the screen name of an equal-opportunity computer hacker, serving clients large and small in an unnamed Middle Eastern city. Ever since the Egyptian revolution, the computer environment has become more perilous, with censors and state agents seeking to track dissidents. Alif does his part against the machine, running internet access and digital concealment for “bloggers, pornographers, Islamists, and activists from Palestine to Pakistan.” He and his hacker friends bemoan the lack of understanding from Western hackers of what hardship is really like:*********************************For that quote and a few others, please find the rest of the review at regret having to post links, but while I want to support Wilson's work, I no longer feel GR can be trusted to not delete reviews at their whim. Note, please, that the Terms of Service were officially last updated in 2010, despite making changes in guidelines and posting only in the Goodreads Feedback Group.

  • Simon
    2018-11-08 19:43

    VAGUELY SPOILERISH (though nothing major).In the introduction to his magnificent book The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, Arthur Lovejoy turns a memorable phrase when he describes those who thrill to "the metaphysical pathos of obscurity." This book, I fear, is subject to that particular weakness. There's lots of stuff about stories/computer code/metaphor/multiple interpretations/multiple realities that just doesn't make any sense (at least, not to this heathen). When Alif realizes that the Djinn-authored book, Alf Yeom can provide a blue-print for an entirely new way of coding, and simply sits down with his little netbook and spontaneously writes code based not on 1s and 0s, but on metaphor, creating something transcendent and nearly divine, it's not just implausible. It's nonsensical.One could forgive this in a book with a great story or with great characters, but the book was, I thought, just so-so in these respects. The transformation of Alif himself seemed unconvincing; his realization that he loved Dina too quick; and the character of the convert (never given a name for some reason) seemed entirely superfluous. And the writing was, while serviceable, nothing special. (Multiple uses of the word "obscene" to describe things that are evil is something that should be avoided absolutely. And "gave him a look that went straight to his groin" is kind of embarrassing.)I realize I'm in a minority in my response to this book. Most people seem to love it.

  • Cassi aka Snow White Haggard
    2018-11-16 20:38

    Alif the Unseen is such a unique book. It's a computer-science heavy fantasy novel set in the modern Middle East. There is coding, firewalls, cloud servers and genies, all in the same book. Doesn't that sound amazing? This book is fantasy blended with real science, something that I've never seen before. It's a big risk that pays off.Very rarely to I go quite as highlighter happy as this book made me. It was smart, clever, funny and thought-provoking."How dense and literal it is. I thought it had a much more sophisticated brain." "Your mother's dense," Alif said wearily."My mother was an errant crest of sea foam. But that's neither here nor there."This book just goes. It doesn't stop to explain everything. I appreciated the respect it showed it's reader. Admittedly I don't know a lot about Middle Eastern folklore or legends. Anything I need to know I can research. The book doesn't info-dump, yet I had no problem following the story.This book talks about how sometimes religious people pick and choose what to believe. In this instance, it's talking about the Quaran and how people tend to ignore the references to jinn (genies) even though it's throughout the text. However I think it's something interesting that applies beyond just one faith group. Superstation is thriving. Pedantry is thriving. Sectarianism is thriving. Belief is dying out. To most of your people the jinn are paranoid fantasies who run around causing epilepsy and mental illness. Find me someone to whom the hidden folk are simply real, as described in the Books. You'll be searching a long time. Wonder and awe have gone out of your religions. For me the highlight of the book was Dina. Alif's neighbor, she's tremendously stubborn, intelligent and very pious. She decided to veil her face, against the wishes of her family and everyone who knew her. Normally it would be easy to write off such a character as an oppressed woman. But Dina is too awesome for that. She's one of the bravest and most intelligent characters, always having foresight when everyone else just runs around panicking. She's a complex character, a mixture of faith, practicality and intelligence."Maybe you should stay here until this has blown over," he said. It's going to be dangerous.""I know. That's why I wore sneakers." (Dina)I want more books that dare to be different. I'm not saying this book is perfect. At times it's a little slow, the prologue is especially weak and it talks about urinating a lot. But sometimes that doesn't matter! What matters is that it tells a story that completely surprises you and that you can stop reading.

  • Simona Bartolotta
    2018-11-15 00:47

    I don't know if it was because of the poorly appealing characters or something else, but my interest in this story went from zero to -100 in a matter of a few dozens of pages. I forced myself to go on but came across nothing intriguing enough to make up for that. I simply did not care in the slightest. Too bad.

  • Wendy
    2018-11-07 18:01

    My friend and I were discussing the problem of finding books featuring non-White protagonists written by non-North American descended authors. We noted that, more often than not in our limited scope, we’d find non-White protagonists written by White authors, or, White protagonists who find themselves in non-White environments, written by White authors. Generally speaking, the result are hit-or-miss when it comes to a respectful representation of a culture that one is not raised in.Shortly after, I started reading Alif the Unseen and, after confirming the heritage of G. Willow Wilson, was impressed by her handling of the Middle Eastern culture - from dialogue, to religions, to terminology, to class and more. She also did an effective job of portraying the hacker culture within that cultural environment. The writing and dialogue presented aspects of the culture in ways that I could easily understand, without things being spelled out completely. Meaning could be inferred without much effort. Of course, I am not familiar with the Middle Eastern or hacker cultures, so I am assuming the portrayal did them justice. The book moved smoothly through the main character’s introduction – his risqué profession his forbidden love and the girl next door – and then moved just as smoothly from the seen into the unseen, namely the world of the jinn that exists amidst our own, if only we are willing to believe. This transition is where my only real disappointment in both the book and the author arrives, taking shape as the character called “the convert,” an American woman who has converted to Muslim and, for some reason, is the only person Vikram, the jinn Alif’s future now depends on, decides can identify the source of the mysterious book Alif has been given. In an interview, Wilson claims that the convert is “not really” herself, but “the place she ends up in the book is where I have ended up.” Unfortunately, the convert and her sentiments come across, for me, like a raging opinion piece where Wilson denounces Western culture for being so blind. I found it particularly disturbing that, despite it being made clear that Alif enjoys reading fantasy novels from Western culture, it is stated in the book that Americans specifically can’t grasp the unseen world of the jinn. The convert also denounces non-Western culture for denying the Westerners who truly try to understand. The convert proclaims that non-Westerners are able to move freely between cultures, citing Kazuo Ishiguro, author of Remains of the Day, as an example of a person from non-Western culture writing about life in Britain. A very poor example, considering Ishigoro was raised British. The convert laments that no Westerner has successfully written an epic tale that works in the other direction, and I consequently got the distinct feeling that Wilson hoped to become that person who succeeded. I had hoped the convert was just an interlude that allowed Wilson to express her feelings, but annoyingly, the character continued on with the main group, providing little purpose. Not even in the end when her beatific pregnancy was supposed to have commanded attention. I read the acknowledgements which referred to Wilson’s own pregnancy during the writing of the book and have concluded that Wilson’s claim that the convert isn’t really herself is slightly delusional.Aside from this, I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the use of and discussions about language and how mutable it is. I appreciated that the step into the fantastical was gradual and that the characters each displayed interesting and varying reactions to the discovery of the unseen world. I liked the religious comparisons and the questioning of beliefs, but respected that the characters that did have their own religious beliefs, remained true to those beliefs, while still being able to accept the unseen. I enjoyed that the main character was an annoying, whiny creature who did not suddenly find a backbone and become a respectable hero. And in a culture that Westerners believe poorly treats its women, the character of Dina serves as an interesting insight.

  • Rob
    2018-11-02 19:04

    Executive Summary: A blend of fantasy, technology, politics, and religion that just worked for me. I really enjoyed this book.Full ReviewI seem to be a hot streak lately. I try not to give out 5 stars lightly. Based on good reads, I've given 5 stars to roughly 13% of the 221 books I've rated as of this writing. 18% of those have been given out this year. It's not exactly relevant to this review, but I'm an engineer and that sort of thing interests me.I forget where exactly I first heard about this book, but Sword and Laser did an interview with Ms. Wilson last year, and that moved this book up in my list. The paperback was released last month, so I've finally gotten around to reading it.I was expecting this book to be more cyberpunk than fantasy considering the main character is a hacker. After reading it, I wouldn't classify it as cyberpunk or even sci-fi. It is however a great book.People who know me well would probably tell you I'm not very political or religious. That doesn't mean I'm not interested in those things, but both can be very sensitive issues, and I tend not to discuss them. This book contains some of both, but I didn't feel like I was being preached to in any way.This book was being written prior the Arab Spring that occurred in Egypt. Ms. Wilson apparently saw this coming, and when no one seemed to want to listen to her talk about it, she was inspired to write a fictional story about it instead (based on an interview included in my book). She admits to having doubts that it might ever occur, but she hoped it could based on changes she was observing first hand.Alif is a young Muslim half Arab, half Indian(and therefore considered an outcast by the full Arabs apparently) hacker who lives in an nonspecific Middle East country. He is not particularly religious or political. He sells his computer skills to anyone who wants them: Communists, Fundamentalists, Dissidents, Smut Peddlers, etc. Anyone who needs to avoid being caught and arrested by a strict government censorship.Alif's world is suddenly turned upside down (thanks to a girl, go figure), discovers that the Jinn he's read about in books are real, and gets caught up in wild adventure where not only his life is at stake, but the lives of his friends, family and the country as a whole. Fans of Patrick Rothfuss may enjoy the stories within the story. I'm not sure if they are original stories by Ms. Wilson herself, Middle Eastern folk tales, or some combination of both.I hadn't really planned to read this in one weekend, and I very nearly read it all in one day. I think if I were a faster reader, I easily would have. I just couldn't put it down. I highly recommend it.

  • Felicia
    2018-11-08 22:38

    Well, this is a wonderful book! I love loved it! It's about Alif, a hacker in the Middle East, who has an ill-fated romance with a woman, is stalked by a mysterious government hacker called The Hand, and interacts with real Djinn who actually exist, invisible among us. It's totally fascinating! A really enjoyable read that combines politics and tech and magic in a wonderful way. Recommended for people who like Neal Stephenson or Da Vinci Code, just a fantastic thriller with magical overtones and interesting politics.

  • Yahya
    2018-11-13 22:48

    This is a truly genre-bending Islamic hacktivist jinn fantasy cyberthriller, which has to be the most original novel in English in 2012. It is a surprisingly seamless melange of American comic-book sensibility (a fast-moving plot; a coming-of-age storyline) within an Islamic setting, contemporary (a corrupt unnamed Gulf city rife with repression, and ripe for revolution) and imagined (an alternate genie (or jinn) universe). At the same time, amidst all the furious plotting, it asks deeper questions about the nature of faith in a digital world where the boundaries between the real and the virtual are breaking down. I can't remember the last time that I read a novel in which one of the main protagonists, the indomitable Dina, wears a veil (niqab), and there is an imam, who is a real flesh-and-blood person rather than a cardboard cut-out. And in the age of "Homeland", where Muslims are seen as potential moles, white or brown, clean-shaven or bearded, it's a relief to read that a Muslim hero, Alif the hacktivist, could "earn his beard". Highly recommended.

  • Alex Ristea
    2018-10-24 19:41

    Er, I finished this 400-page book in two sittings. That's either an exemplary review on its own, or a gloriously egotistical comment on my reading prowess.Let's go with the former, because to be honest, I've been in a bit of reading slump since Outlander. I've still read a lot, sure, but I wanted the sort of book that would grab me, throw me in, and not let me go until I was finished with it (or perhaps, until it was finished with me.) Alif the Unseen was for me all of that—it cured my slump, and reminded me how powerful books can be when the right one comes along.It has that dreamy atmospheric tone that I've only seen Neil Gaiman and Helene Wecker evoke so far. To say it is gorgeously written is a severe understatement.Myth and story and language all play a large part in a meta sort of way, which tickles all my buttons. There's a bit of romance too, especially at the beginning, and though some in the Sword & Laser group didn't care for this, it actually strengthened the character and my bond to him.I also like the personification of coding and how it was treated in a mystical hand-waving sort of way. It was exactly what this story needed, so don't look here for detailed, hard programming like Ramez Naam's Nexus.Overall, this was a beautiful story that I'm glad I read. G. Willow Wilson has a gift for language and for telling tales, and I think you should give her a shot.

  • Zanna
    2018-10-16 18:44

    I really enjoyed this. Realistic and fantasy aspects mesh into a richly believeable world, the characters are satisfyingly flawed and sympathetic, book-within-book goodies abound and every plot hinge, whether the fulcrum is a romantic moment, a sharp insight, the revelation of a possible enchantment, an unexpected appearance (especially the occasional deus ex machina) or the use of honed hacker skills, had me grinning. Furthermore, power dynamics are complicated when (twice) privileged characters use their freedoms to help others, only to be taken down a peg just at the moment when they add a little bragging flourish to their performance.The djinn and their world are sketched after the Thousand and One Nights; in terms of ethical behaviour they are a real contrast to the more two-dimensional supernatural beings of European fairy stories and much fantasy. I tend to think of Islam & Muslim culture as rooted in binaries like good/evil in a similar way to the Christian paradigm but Wilson gives a different impression. Interestingly, she suggests an irony in contemporary Islam - the tendency to discourage belief in djinn even though they are explicitly mentioned in the Quran often sits alongside fairly rigid and doctrinaire approaches to sharia, even though it is scripturally intended to be 'open to interpretation'.The Muslim-world city setting is obviously novel, but the perspective more or less sucessfully avoids imagined-golden-age classical orientalism and so-sad-we've-lost-them contemporary orientalism, offering a world of different but comparable complexity. Racism and its related class hierarchy in a context where the elite is an Arab royal family and most workers are South Asian or North African migrants, and the local flavour of misogyny are unsensationally addressed with nuance throughout the text. On censorship and inequality though, Wilson goes in for the kill: Alif and his fellow denizens peripherally considercoddled American and British counterparts - activists, all talk, irritated by some new piece of digital monitoring legislation or another... Ignorant monoglots... They had no idea what it was like to live in a place that boasted one of the most sophisticated digital policing systems in the world, but no proper mail service. Emirates with princes in silver-plated cars and districts with no running water. An Internet where every blog, every chat room, every forum is monitored for illegal expressions of distress and discontent.The real-world context for this novel is the Arab Spring, and Wilson responds to that critically here: "Perhaps this was all freedom was - a moment in which all things were possible, overtaken too soon by man's fearsome instinct to punish and divide". The ending certainly floats my political boat.Personally, I thought the female characters were awesome and I was thrilled that the person I identify with most as a hero is a kickass dark-skinned working class migrant niqabi. I see reviewers responding negatively (like her own family!) to her social-class-defying decision to veil, but in my opinion Wilson has done a great job of hinting at the complexity of that choice without whitesplaining. The Western love of binaries makes balancing individualistic and collectivist constructions of identity tricky, and I am really impressed with Wilson's delicacy. Other women also navigate power structures, femininities and sexualities in a nuanced way. I strongly feel writing them straight out of imaginary Euro-American feminist utopia wouldn't have worked in this story. My own feminist consciousness was awoken and challenged by the father-to-husband talk around marriage proposals, but I saw how the property-transfer implications were differently related to material circumstances, individual and wider family relationships. In Muslim as well as Euro-American societies, patriarchal values are in flux and rituals are changing their meanings.I was initially perplexed by something - why does 'the maid' have no name? (that's a great title for a book of literary criticism isn't it? Bagsy - I'll write it some day!) But after about five chapters of the nameless American convert not bothering me at all I suddenly realised that her namelessness was the same as the maid's: both deliberate and conscious, maybe reflections on Alif's empathic consciousness and/or the author's limitations. The importance of names is hinted at by the beautiful opening quotation: 'The devotee recognizes in every divine Name the totality of Names' The fact that the letter alef itself sometimes denotes an unwritten sound echoes silently below the text.Some lines that woke me up:"he realised that the ritualized world he had dismissed as feminine was in fact civilization""I was afraid you'd turn into one of those literary types who say books can change the world when they're feeling good about themselves and it's only a book when anybody challenges them""A bunch of European intellectuals in tights decided to draw a line between what's rational and what's not. I don't think our ancestors considered the distinction necessary"(PS I noticed a plot hole - but I feel it's like the little flaw you leave in the pattern to humbly honour the perfection of Allah)

  • Kirstine
    2018-10-19 18:35

    “He had spent so much time cloaked behind his screen name, a mere letter of the alphabet, that he no longer thought of himself as anything but an alif – a straight line, a wall. His given name fell flat to his ears now. The act of concealment had become more powerful than what it concealed.”I love that this book is set in the Middle East. Most of us, no matter where we live, are probably a little guilty of ignorance when it comes to what goes on in any part of the world that isn’t ‘close’ to us, either geographically or politically. I know I’m very guilty of this, at least, I learned this as recently as last week, when, on my way to school, I met a young woman who asked me for directions. She spoke in rough, but understandable English, and explained she was going to the dentist, so I offered to follow her there. On our way I made small talk (as you do), I asked her what she was doing in Denmark. Oh, she was a Syrian refugee. I wasn't expecting that, but I was very curious. I asked her if she was ever going back. No, she said, it was awful back there. In her village, if you were Kurdish they’d come and kill you, if you didn’t pray at the ordained time, if you wore your headscarf wrong etc., you could be beaten up or killed. I thought ‘Shit. This has definitely not been on the news’. Which just shows how much we CAN know, no matter how hard we pay attention.And that is what makes fiction so absolutely stunning and mind blowing at times, because it gives authors an opportunity to show others how their part of the world works. To let us in on what we cannot understand unless we get to experience it. Even living in a democratic, critical, free-speech country correct information - or information at all - isn't a given. In countries where information is sparse, and what you're given is propaganda or censored scraps, imagine how much twitter can matter? Facebook? Youtube. Put one picture out there and you can never take it back. There's only so much damage control you can do. Of course some governments are shitting their pants, of course they're working overtime banning websites. They should be scared. ‘Alif the Unseen’ is honestly a refreshing book in every way. I have a hard time telling you exactly what I loved the most about it, all of it was simply one brilliant surprise after another. There’s love, there’s action, there’s sorrow, there’s religion, hacking, programming, Djinns, worlds-within-worlds and basically everything you’d want from a contemporary, urban sci-fi/fantasy story. I particularly dig that programming is such a huge part of the plot, because it’s often overlooked, which is ridiculous, because today’s youth are incredibly tech-savvy. We spend more time on a computer than we do anything else, so why not make it a strength? And not a sign that we’re lazy and need fresh air. I’m also very fond of Dina as a character. And bless G. Willow Wilson for letting her be strong while not compromising her own femininity or personal beliefs and principles. In a way her and Alif represent two very different aspects of, I suspect, much of the youth of the middle-east, they’re modernism vs. traditionalism. Except we’re shown the immense strength that can come from both of those things, and they can easily co-exist, even thrive in the light of one another. Alif is strong because he has a set of skills; Dina is strong because she has a set of beliefs. It really is a delightfully fresh, original, intelligent and thrilling book. It treats its subject with huge respect, while still being fearless in the face of it. On top of that there are definitely not enough books out there that deal with the growing threat of online surveillance and censoring (especially not in the middle-east) and that the enemy (and hero) in the future might very well be unseen. "They will wake up one morning and realize their civilization has been pulled out from under them, inch by inch, dollar by dollar, just as ours was. They will know what it is to have been asleep for the most important century of their history.”Our future is not in the hand of the one who holds the sword, but the one who taps the keyboard.

  • Paul
    2018-11-06 23:00

    Being a big fan of G. Willow Wilson's comicbook work, it was only a matter of time before I gave her novel a shot. I'm glad I did. This is a great fantasy adventure that whisks you along at a fair old clip and takes you to some surprising places.While I don't want Wilson to stop writing comicbooks, I'd love to see her write another novel. If this one's anything to go by, I'd definitely read it.

  • Hiba Sajid
    2018-11-01 17:39

    “I am a mighty fortress, sheathed in stone.”King Vikram thought for a moment.“I am a catapult,” he said. “Stone-breaking, fortress-sundering.”“I am a saboteur,” countered the vetala. “Oath-breaker, weapon-disabler.”“I am ill luck,” said King Vikram. “Upending plots, dismaying plans.”The vetala was favorably impressed.“I am fortune,” it said. “I crown luck with destiny.”“I am free will,” said King Vikram. “I challenge destiny with choice.”“I am divine will,” said the vetala, “to which choice and destiny are one and the same.”“I am myself,” said King Vikram. “The only thing that is mine to give, by choice or by destinyHmmmMmmm..Alif the Unseen was one of those books that had been on my tbr for a long time and I've been delaying reading it fot the perfect time. The premise of this book is great, the author tried to combine middle eastern realities, geek culture and supernatural elements altogether and for a typical pakistani girl like me who love to listen and narrate jinn stories at sleepovers with my cousins and friends, this seeems like a dream come true. However, while I liked the suupernatural aspect of the book, it came to me somewhat lacking at other places.Alif the Unseen is about a Arabic-Indian hacker whose secret girlfriend, Intistar, daughter of the City's emir, had left him for a man her father had chosen for her. Heart broken, Alif designed a program that completely vieled his presence from Intistar. Somehow, the Hand, a powerful organization and a man, whose job is to bring the hackers and virtual troubble makers behind the bar, gets hold of Alif's program. Meanwhile, Intistar sends a strange book named Alf Yeom, and before he knows it, Alif is on the run with his childhood friend, Dina, trying to protect himself and all those computer activists he had helped to hide from the Hand.Alif the Unseen is fast paced and action packed book. The story is evenly paced, with Alif and his crew constantly on the run from their resourceful enemies. The dialouge was interesting enough for me, there were sprinkles of musings on Quran, our modern society, the state of the City and its tyrranical rulers and then ofcourse, their are djinn and strange stories which made the book even more interesting. These are some ofmy favourite dialouges:“Superstition is thriving. Pedantry is thriving. Sectarianism is thriving. Belief is dying out. To most of your people the jinn are paranoid fantasies who run around causing epilepsy and mental illness. Find me someone to whom the hidden folk are simply real, as described in the Books. You’ll be searching a long time. Wonder and awe have gone out of your religions. You are prepared to accept the irrational, but not the transcendent. And that, cousin, is why I can’t help you.” There was always something yet unseen. The ground itself was daily renewed, kicked up and muddled by passing travelers, such that it was impossible to repeat the same journey twice. Alif thought of all the times he had left the duplex in Baqara District bent on some mundane errand: the courtyard gate closing behind him with a rattle, rattling again when he returned the same way; to him, ordinary and frustrating, to the world, a process full of tiny variations, all existing, as Sheikh Bilal had said, simultaneously and without contradiction. He had been given eternity in modest increments, and had thought nothing of it."I liked all of these characters. In the start, Alif was a selfish little brat with his fragile masculanity but as they went through one danger to another, he developed as a character and begin to see and redeem his flaws. Dina was my favourite part of the book. She's strong headed and brave and provide much needed wisdom for Alif in the times of need. I had never read a book about niqabi so reading about Dina's struggles regarding her veil and her religion was really refreshing.Now, the negatives. The biggest setback of this book was that it's just to hard to believe that someone can write an entire powerful software program on their netbook based not on 0s and 1s but on metaphor from a djinn book all under the danger of impending doom. No matter how hard the writer tries to convince thr reader of Alif's sharp mind, even my puny mind who hardly knows abc of computer had difficult time grasping this idea. The main concept of this book was connection between supernatural and modern computing but unfortunately, this was explained vaguely. Furthermore, the descriptions of Alif writing code were more nonsensical. He's writing a program, and I don't think that's equal to entering a virtual reality and thst's what author did here. It dampen all my enjoyment for this book reading about vague descriptions of program coding. I wanted some reality in it. I wanted thr writer to make me more intrigued about programmers but sadly she wasn't able to do it.

  • Amel
    2018-10-24 21:44

    ******************************Potential spoilers are hidden******************************Let me break down my thoughts about this book from the moment I noticed it on GR till I turned its last page, because somewhere along the way something went really wrong. Here comes -often- those moments when I find myself putting a book down, pausing, looking around at all the glowing reviews and five star ratings, and asking myself the question... Did I read the same book? That was a disappointment!!This book is a bothersome, because I wanted to like it for all the potentials it had ... Politics, metaphysical stuff, technology, religion, middle east, revolution ... etc. But nothing blended that well!1- After further reading into the novel my whole interest in the story turned around the Alf youm book, specially the final story; since it had been mentioned in the first chapter & the Jinn has warned the man that there will be a before & after & his life will change! 2- The novel wasn't constantly that interesting, it was oscillating like a wave. At times, when I thought the story was developing & getting better, the author slipped with the story into boring stuff which put me off. Even the parts about the Jinn, the alley, the empty quarter... Actually some were very tedious. Well, it was reviewed in The New York Times as "The Harry Potter of the Arab Spring". That was misleading!! (view spoiler)[I was sad when I knew that Vikram was dead, he was too funny to be a Jinn or do they actually -in reality- have a sense of humor of their own? maybe! (hide spoiler)]3- Lots of superfluous detailing and yet I couldn't feel the characters, they were shallow, everything was taken from the surface; the setting, the atmosphere of the novel, nothing clicked. The whole story felt like the author had started a good idea & didn't know how to finish it or put more layers to it.(view spoiler)[I felt every-time the author described Dina she tried to make her something ugly -on the outside- [ and that ugly thing has to be tolerable &acceptable], just to bridge the paradox of Alif falling in love with her after an aristocratic girl...And -on the inside- coupling it with "the convert" showed the diversity between the two characters, for a girl who has been raised in a tough society which sees women from a certain point of view. Dina was able to endure it all without a flinch, while "the convert" quite the opposite under many situations. (hide spoiler)]I couldn't buy any of Alif relationships, regardless of Intisar (trivial) or Dina (in a rush) ... Nothing was convincing, something about his insight of females & something about the way his character transformed & developed.(view spoiler)[Intisar was just a catalyst, there was nothing much about her, I wanted to have more of her, but there was just too little enough to make me despise her. (hide spoiler)]4- The author's whole interest was the coding & tech stuff which for me was the worst part in the book, like this one ..."The Hand roused. It lumbered to its feet, reeking of ionized air and dry metallic bones, revealing a level of functionality Alif had not detected. He reeled backward, recalibrating. Breaching the confines of the State intranet"A computer program could "reek of ionized air"?? so silly even from a fantasy point of view.(view spoiler)[And for Alif to sit with his simi-computer for couple of hours, rationalizing the logic with which the book offered a new way to write programs & transforming it into code on the fly while a battalion is standing on the door waiting to smash him!! This is nonsensical.So many things seemed dumb… Like when he remembered to change his SIM after two days of being on the run, let alone two days & he wasn't tracked down. Even the phone can be tracked without SIM card, come on! (hide spoiler)]5- The Jinn stuff was at some point funny & hilarious ... I remember laughing out loud when I read this part(view spoiler)[I’m an effrit. And I’ve got a two-year-old Dell desktop in the back that’s had some kind of virus for ages. The screen goes black five minutes after I turn the damn thing on. I have to do a hard reboot every time.Alif felt a new vista of serendipitous opportunity open before him.“You’ve got internet in the Empty Quarter?” he asked in an awed voice.Cousin, said the shadow,We’ve got WiFi. (hide spoiler)]And(view spoiler)[Alif was surprised to see a large flatscreen television affixed to the opposite wall, tuned to Al Jazeera, and was struck by sudden recognition.Lol, fair enough to be watched by a bunch of jinn.(hide spoiler)]6- It had a nice symbolism, regarding the revolution & our society ...At some occasions, conversations were interesting, things, like the layers of meaning & Alif insight on the letter Alif itself ... etc"Languages are different for a reason. You can't move ideas between them without losing something"7- There is something good in the center of this book, but it comes to an extremely trite conclusion. The quality of writing was good but it didn't have a literary value.This is my review as far as I remembered snippets of the story since my reading wasn't continuous & I didn't write it right after I finished.At a good rate I would give it 2.5/ 5

  • Megan Baxter
    2018-11-09 00:49

    There is an uncertainty I feel about some books, a desire to go out and see how they were otherwise received, because I don't trust my own judgement. On one hand, sometimes I think that I should shoot from the hip, as I mostly do, and record my own reactions. But on the other hand, sometimes I think that's a healthy recognition that while my own reaction is valid, it may be a topic, or a culture, or an issue I don't know enough about, and me saying "Yup, sounds like the Middle East to me!" may be more indicative of cultural arrogance than self-confidence.Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

  • Keertana
    2018-10-20 17:00

    Rating: 3.5 StarsAlif the Unseen is one of those obscure novels that not many people have actually heard of, but, thanks to my numerous GoodReads friends who read such varied genres, it somehow came to my attention. Needless to say, all my friends have LOVED this book. For me, though, Alif the Unseen was slightly boring, hard to get through, and dragged ever-so-slightly. I thoroughly enjoyed the second half the book, but I wasn't as impressed as everyone else. While Alif the Unseen remains to be a difficult book for me to categorize, for it is full of so much within its pages, I can most definitely guarantee one thing - you haven't seen anything like it before. Wilson's debut is the tale of a young hacker, Alif, whose lover, Intisar, refuses to see him again for she is having an arranged marriage to a man of a much higher status than Alif. Upset over his broken love story, Alif creates a software program that recognizes Intisar online and blocks all mention of him from her. Unknowingly, however, the Hand, a powerful organization, finds Alif. At the same time, Intisar sends Alif an old book - a powerful one - and before he knows it, he's on the run with his childhood friend, Dina. Alif the Unseen is a strange tale, one that just keeps going, without stop. It starts off interestingly enough, drawing you into the rich setting of the Middle East, but before long, it began to drag for me. You see, Alif the Unseen never stops in its pace, which isn't a bad thing, but at times, it felt disjointed. Amongst the action, there are awkward moments of long conversation and the pace suddenly slackens, only to pick up again, all rather suddenly. It was a bit off-putting, I must say, but by the second-half of the tale, I was either used to it or too invested in the story to care. For some reason, the second-half of this story appealed to me much more than the first and I slowly began to fall in love with the characters and the fantasy elements of this piece, all with a backdrop of modern-day Middle Eastern culture and computers. One of the best elements of Alif the Unseen is, hands-down, the characters. While Alif himself comes across as rather lame at first, especially since we can see from the beginning that Intisar isn't all that great and he's simply infatuated with her, Dina, his childhood friend, is a kick-ass protagonist to contend with. I loved her strong will, vulnerable qualities, and clear head that came in use during times of need. Vikram, a djinn-like creature that Alif winds up meeting, was another one of my favorite characters. Wilson's debut is full of humans, djinns, hackers, and even Americans, believe it or not. With such a wide variety of personalities, it's tough not to be sucked into this tale. Even better, the dialogue is witty, amusing, and will keep you on your toes, eagerly flipping the pages for more. Nevertheless, for me, Alif the Unseen didn't stand out as an extraordinary novel. Yes, it was good, had an intriguing host of characters, and a unique plot, but it was also a tough story to get through and rather boring at times. But, I am quite sure this is an issue only I will have. Unlike my friends, I have grown up learning of the culture of the Middle East. As an Indian who has many Muslim friends, who has grown up surrounded equally by mosques and temples, who has had Arabian tales told to me by my grandmother, Alif the Unseen wasn't nearly as exotic as I think my other friends found it to be. It didn't enrich my knowledge of the country or culture any more than I already had, thus, while I enjoyed it, I wasn't quite blown away by it either. Still, an excellent idea, very engaging dialogue, and some unforgettable characters lie within the pages of this book. I am confident that readers who are new to Middle Eastern settings or tales richly seated amongst those of A Thousand and One Nights will thoroughly enjoy and undoubtedly be swept off their feet by this debut. Despite my qualms with it, and slightly indifferent stance towards it, I still cannot help but look forward to Wilson's next novel. If nothing else, here is an author who isn't afraid to help spread the word about a little-known country or culture in literature today and for that, this certainly merits a read. You can read this review and more on my blog, Ivy Book Bindings.

  • Penny
    2018-11-06 00:36

    My rating should be taken in light of the fact that the line "Alif felt a swell of admiration. She really was as smart as a man." meant I was now rating this book out of 3 rather than 5. Yes, perhaps one could make the argument that the protagonist was on a journey on self discovery which included learning that his culture is wrong to think that women are inferior. I don't care. I think it's offensive and small minded and to have read this in a book penned by a woman makes me shake with anger.Aside from the sexism, I found the story slow at times and generally I was impatient for the book to end so I could be done with it. It had some good moments, which is why I give it 2 rather than 1 stars. I learnt some things about the day to day culture I knew about only in general terms which was interesting. I know many people have very much enjoyed this book, but I was not one of them. I can appreciate why some might have loved it, but there were too many aspects that bothered me greatly.

  • Nnedi
    2018-10-29 21:41

    This review will be scattered because I don't have much time. So be it. I really enjoyed reading a fantasy novel that truly wove in culture (politics, practices, cultural conflicts, words used, and all). This novel read like it was written by someone closely connected to its setting. I like that. There's an ambitiousness in it. It's not afraid to comment on things (and not afraid to show the negative sides. It's sure that it will not fall into cliche) and it's thoughtful and loving in how it goes about doing so. As for the plot, I dunno, I was cool with it. I love the ending most. [SPOILER ALERT!!] It reminded my of the protests in Iran 2009 and I dug that real world connection. But the rest of the plot...well, there were moments where I felt REALLY frustrated with the female characters. Dina gets hurt and has to be taken care of, the American convert gets pregnant and suddenly becomes all soft and "womanly", Intisar, she just was annoying. The cat woman was all sexified. No thank you to all of them. I wish I could see and hear and interact more with the creatures. The ones that the story got close to were humanoid (except the marid, whom I loved. I might have loved that creature most). The sections that showed stories from the book really slowed me down. I wasn't interested in them at all. All in all, this was a great read. Not perfect (for me, at least) but great. Oh and I canNOT understand how this book is any way comparable to The Golden Compass or Harry Potter. The blurbs state this and this totally threw me off for a while. No similarity at all. Just the usual false advertising shorthand to get people to buy the book. If the book were properly described, I'd have still bought it.

  • Liviu Szoke
    2018-10-22 17:47

    Am avut așteptări mult mai mari de la un roman totuși premiat cu World Fantasy, mai ales că poveștile cu parfum oriental mă atrag foarte tare. Însă n-a fost să fie, căci povestea mi s-a părut atât de încâlcită și de fragmentată, iar Alif un prostovan atât de mare, încât pur și simplu nu am reușit să rezonez cu nimic. Singurul personaj atrăgător al poveștii mi s-a părut Vikram Vampirul, care, pe alocuri, este pur și simplu genial. Nu mult în urma lui vine și NewQuarter, dar nu se compară totuși cu Vikram. Recenzia, aici:

  • Ned Hayes
    2018-11-08 16:45

    Alif the Unseen has a fantastic premise -- in more ways than one. A computer hacker in the Middle East discovers that jinn are real. This means that we get exposed to not just one culture, but two. We receive a complete immersion in Middle Eastern realities of life, alongside a supernatural world that on the surface feels quite compelling.The concept is great! Computer hacker in the Middle East discovers that jinn are real, and an ancient book contains a way of writing a new type of code. Great concept. Great book cover.There are some disappointments ahead though, for the avid reader. I found the Middle Eastern component fascinating and spot-on. What's really unusual, and wonderful about the world that the author paints is that he focuses his novel on the dispossessed and on-the-fringes part of Arabic culture today. Imported workers, and their children compose a huge percentage of the population -- and the working adults -- in many of the "oil rich" Gulf countries, but their stories are often overlooked. That is definitely not true in this novel. Kudos for painting a picture of a complex and multicultural Arabic / Muslim world, replete with prejudices, cultural frisson, and misunderstandings. The only American in the novel is a bit of a bumbling idiot, which is a nice change. However, I was sorely disappointed in the supernatural aspect. What is up with authors who are writing otherworldly or supernatural stories that don't have a basic familiarity with how it's been done for years in the fantastical literature field? Even Salman Rushdie did obvious unoriginal work in his book "Haroun & the Sea of Stories," because he wasn't familiar with the basic works of writers like Phillip Pullman, C.S. Lewis, and Stephen King and Garth Nix. I mean, c'mon, learn from the folks who have been writing supernatural fiction for a long time. To start with, the jinn in the classic story "Mischief in Fez" ( have a lot more intrigue to them, a lot more danger, and a hell of a lot more of the supernatural about them. So I'm sad to say that the jinn aspect in Alif the Unseen had a bit of a paint-by-numbers aspect to it. This is -- and I'm trying to be generous here -- because I'm assuming the novelist simply hasn't read enough of similarly-themed genre books. I'm assuming they are actually an original writers, with good idea,s and they just don't know that their "wholly original" ideas have been done to death already. Otherworldly alley with strange characters in it? Check. Jinn who act like disreputable back-alley drug dealers instead of actually supernatural? Check. Jinn who look human, except their legs go the wrong way? Check. (See the Ritual and every other novel in that genre)And the description of how code is written, and how the ancient book is used to craft a new kind of code was sadly reliant on metaphor, and on descriptions of writing code that are just wildly out of line with reality or even supernatural believability. If you have a hacker writing code, please ensure that when he starts going in really cool directions, he's not entering some virtual reality world. That's been done -- to death -- in Lawnmower Man, etc. Again, just read a ton of Stephen King, and learn what's not original, and you'll be fine.Finally, the pacing and the revealing of the love interest was boring and obvious. At least plant some signals early on that our main character (Alif) SHOULD be in love with the person he ends up with at the end of the book. It's both trite, and non-intuitive. Doesn't work. So, if you've gotten to the end of this review, you're probably wondering why I'm so harsh on Alif the Unseen. It's because I had such very, very high hopes for this novel. Great concept! Great ideas! And furthermore, I like books that feel "realistic" in their pacing and their believability. I want a book that feels like "history", but happens to have the fantastic and the supernatural at the core.Three examples come to mind as the GREATEST books I've ever read in this genre. If you don't like these three books, then my review (above) probably won't have as much relevance or pertinence for your reading of "Alif the Unseen."DECLARE by Tim Powers (won the Hugo) is a brilliant book about Middle Eastern djinn, the Cold War, and the "supernatural" backstory of real-life British spy Kim Philby. Real history is woven around a really incredible supernatural story about World War II and events that followed in Russia and the Middle East. I highly recommend it. Makes you believe! JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL is a wonderful Jane Austen-like story of magic in England in the 18th century. What's marvelous about it is that magic is both easy and incredibly difficult. It's not something to be trifled with, yet it is -- those who take it for granted, pay dearly. Those who treat it with contempt run into all sorts of class and privilege issues. Quote for the ages: "“Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. “I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, “but a gentleman never would.” And I've had the privilege of reading Nick Hallum's forthcoming novel WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS, which is a re-telling of 9-11 and the events of 2001-2010 (War on Terror, etc.) from the point of view of a backstage NSA spy who knows the real story about djinn and the Middle East and skyscrapers (it's hard to explain), and again, weaves real life history into a supernatural story that is quite compelling. He hasn't published it yet...

  • Kayıp Rıhtım
    2018-11-15 00:48

    Günümüz fantastik edebiyat okurunun en büyük sorunu artık pek az orijinal eserle karşılaşabilmesidir. Neyse ki arada çok nadiren de olsa “Artık beni hiçbir şey şaşırtamaz,” diyen okurları bile ters köşeye yatırmayı başarabilen farklı eserler de çıkıp yüzümüze çılgınca bir sırıtış yerleştirebiliyor. G. Willow Wilson’ın kaleme aldığı Elif de işte tam da bu sınıfa giren kitaplardan biri.Elif konusunu iki sağlam temele dayandırıyor. Bunlardan ilki Kur’an-ı Kerim’deki her kelimenin aslında birden fazla anlamı olması ve yıllar geçtikçe yeni anlamlar kazandığı gerçeği. İkincisiyse Fransız yazar Petis de la Croix’nın on altıncı yüzyılda kaleme aldığı, kaynağı bugün bile bir muamma olan Binbir Gündüz Masalları.Hikâyemiz Reza adlı, İranlı bir arifin gerçek bir cini hapsetmesiyle ve ona zorla Binbir Gündüz Masalları’nı anlattırmasıyla başlıyor. Görünürde alelade masallardan oluşan bu derleme, içinde tamamen cinler tarafından yazılmış, tuhaf öyküler barındırmaktadır. Fakat aslında Kur’an benzeri, çok katmanlı bir dil kullanmakta ve içerisinde çok daha derin anlamlar barındırmaktadır. Reza bu gerçeğin farkındadır ama hikâyelerin manalarını çözemez. Fakat gelecekte birilerinin yapabileceğini iyi bildiğinden öyküleri özenle, tek tek kaydeder. Ardından yüzlerce yıl sonrasına, isimsiz bir Orta Doğu şehrine gidiyor ve kitaba ismini veren kahramanımızla tanışıyoruz. Kendisi hayatını hackerlık yaparak kazanan, gerçek ismi yerine ekran adını, yani elifbanın ilk harfi olan Elif’i kullanmayı tercih eden genç bir delikanlıdır. Sansüre ve sansürcülere karşı koyan herkese din, dil, ırk gözetmeksizin yardım eder. Babası Arap, annesiyse Hintlidir ve karışık kanının Arapların ağır bastığı bu ülkede kendisine pek de yardımcı olduğu söylenemez. Ama bu durum internetten tanıştığı İntizar adlı, zengin ve genç bir Arap kızıyla âşk yaşamasına engel olmaz.Derken bir gün işler raydan çıkmaya başlar. Devletin içinde Tanrı’nın Eli kod adlı, çok yetenekli bir anti-hacker ortaya çıkar. Kimliği kimse tarafından bilinmemektedir, ama tüm korumaları üstün bir başarıyla yıktığına kimsenin şüphesi yoktur. Şehirdeki tüm haktivistler birer birer yakalanmaya başlar, sıranın Elif ile arkadaşlarına gelmesi çok yakındır. Bu da yetmiyormuş gibi babası İntizar’ı başkasıyla evlendirmeye karar verir. Hatta başlık parası bile hazırdır. Çaresiz ve umutsuz İntizar babasının bu isteğine rıza göstermek zorunda kalır. Ama ‘müstakbel’ nişanlısından intikam almayı da ihmal etmez ve adamın çok çok çok istediği bir şeyi gizlice Elif’e gönderir: Elf Yevm, yani Binbir Gündüz Masalları. Olaylar da o noktadan sonra iyice karmaşık bir hâl alır.Elif o noktadan sonra bir yandan Tanrı’nın Eli adlı anti-hackerdan ve Devlet Güvenlik ajanlarından kaçmaya, diğer yandan da Elf Yevm’in sırrını çözmeye çalışmaya başlıyor. Üstelik istemeden de olsa işin içine Dina’yı da katıyor. Sonunda kendilerine yardımcı olabileceğini umdukları, Vampir Vikram adlı birinin yanında alıyorlar soluğu. Ama o da ne? Vikram normal bir insan değil, düpedüz cindir! Sonrası cinler alemiyle bizim dünyamız arasında gidip gelen soluksuz bir macera...Elif çizgi-roman tadında; aksiyonu, macerası, karakteri ve kahkahası bol bir macera sunuyor bizlere. Kesinlikle kaçırılmaması gereken kitaplardan.- M. İhsan TATARİİncelemenin tamamı için:

  • Dot
    2018-11-07 20:40

    Religion, metaphor, rebellion. The Quran and the Internet. Hackers, effrits, and sheikhs. Douglas Hofstadter shoutouts.Holy moley. I read Cory Doctorow's Little Brother a few weeks ago, and wrote up a review saying "You start to think, why isn't there more accessible counterculture stuff like this for YA? Intelligent, interesting, informative..."Alif the Unseen first hooked me as I scanned the back cover and saw "young Arab-Indian hacker" and a mention of jinn (djinn/genie). A closer look at the front revealed the circuitboard pattern in the title's calligraphy, and my excitement grew. Now, after finishing, I can't throw enough adjectives at this book.The environments are finely crafted, completely believable, and often beautiful. We see skyscrapers after a sandstorm, the contrast of chaiwallahs and Starbucks, and the difference between darkness and night. Otherworldly elements are unnerving and strange in exactly the way they should be, from goat-pupiled eyes and backwards bending limbs to the metallic taste of crossing through dimensions. The characters are perfectly realized; never too-accomplished, never too one-sided, shades of subtle coloring throughout. It's the little things, like how Alif is an accomplished gray-hat, but those skills don't cross over into smartphone logistics. Too many authors would be tempted to paint him as a boy genius with tech brilliance in every arena, instead of a realistic guy with a realistic skillset. And Dina, oh Dina. The devout girl next door who calls The Golden Compass dangerous and later, bold in her face-veil, stares down criminal elements and much darker forces. Alif's Hofstadter-reading ex-girlfriend Intisar, studied but sheltered. Let's just call it the best book I've read this year, and leave it at that.

  • Wil
    2018-11-15 21:05

    I seem to be a detractor here on Goodreads. Strangely, I read this book fairly quickly which is unusual for something I eventually give 2 stars. But it seemed to unravel towards the end, with yet another hackneyed battle between good and evil... I just couldn't stomach it, probably because after 400+ pages I hadn't really come to care for the characters that much. This book has all the trappings of a page turner -- genies, exotic Isalmic locales, technology, political intrigue and revolutions, etc. -- but in the end it needed more heart and soul. The dialogue was largely wooden, and consisted of usually no more than one or two lines of dialogue at a time, all of which were always 'on script' and predictable. This book would be totally acceptable for an adolescent, and seemed more geared toward their reading levels. As another reviewer already pointed out, the references to technology were not more than stage trappings. At one point a character notes the 'ticking sound' of a microprocessor as it tries to crunch the numbers for an incredibly demanding algorithm.

  • Jonathan Strahan
    2018-10-24 16:59

    One of the most interesting and rewarding books I've read in 2012, G. Willow Wilson's debut novel Alif the Unseen is ostensibly a contemporary young adult fantasy novel about a dissident computer hacker set in an unspecified Arabic country at a time of rising civil unrest. The book has a lot to recommend it - engaging characters, a fast-paced narrative and so on - but what makes it most interesting is the way it interrogates the boundaries between science fiction and fantasy, between secular and religious worldviews, and about the role of women in traditional societies. That a book focussed on dissent and revolution is so respectful of traditional religious perspectives is a significant strength of the book. Highly recommended.Note: Check out this review of the book by James Bradley (

  • Vavita
    2018-11-04 18:01

    The whole idea of merging the digital and fantasy world was great. There is a lot of action, in both real and fantasy worlds. I loved reading about this "unseen" reality. Unfortunately that was the only good part of the book.Alif is an idiot who makes mistakes, apologyzes, has anger outbursts, apologyzes, makes more mistakes. And two women fell for him! I can't believe it! The women were a joke. None of them a fully developed chatacter. The only character who was a joy was Vikram. He kept me attached to the novel more than anything else.

  • Regina
    2018-11-15 19:43

    Have you ever traveled to another country or place with a different culture and wanted to be more than just an observer? More than just a tourist? When I travel, I have this mindset that I want to go and take in, not judge or compare and not think — oh in the US we would do this. I want to just be and try to pretend I am a local. This is really hard to do, but I try to challenge myself to do this. In the fantasy and urban fantasy genre, there are not many books that take place in what we call the “middle east” and there are even fewer books where the protagonists are Muslim. There are some authors beginning to write fantasy and urban fantasy books set in non-Western settings. But the western setting or western characters are definitely the majority. Alif the Unseen is a book in which the reader is allowed to travel to a an unnamed and fictionally created Middle East city/country and be a local; Alif allows the reader to exist and act and not judge or compare. The main characters are residents of the fictional middle eastern city and thus the story and the world are seen through their eyes, not the eyes of a Western tourist. Alif the Unseen was an experience, it was definitely a great read but it was more than just a read. Computers and the internet are huge factors in our modern world, but the idea of the computer and the internet playing a key role in the fantasy aspect of book is virtually untouched in fantasy and urban fantasy books. Some have touched on it tangentially, for example the Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant where the characters are bloggers. But what I mean, is that where the computer and the internet are components of the world building or perhaps characters on their own — Ready Player One of course comes to mind as an example of this. Ms. Wilson’s book takes the computer and internet world and fashions it into part of the world building in her fantasy setting.Alif the Unseen is an adventure and self-discovery tale, as so many fantasy stories are. It is set in a modern world, where computers, the internet and cell phones play a part. But woven in to the tale, are elements of arabic mythology of jinn, shape shifters, demons, vampires, and alternate worlds that exist just on the other side of the air we breathe.The richness of Alif the Unseen is in the descriptions of clothes, food and social interactions. Social mores and customs are mentioned, but not overtly criticized it is just a matter of fact expression of how life is. Underlying the story is a very subtle criticism of racism, xenophobia, classism, monarchies, powerful and censoring governments, religious judgment and condemnation, and gender discrimination. Ms. Wilson, though, doesn’t present these criticisms as a polemic but more as characters reacting to situations and unfairnesses that they experience. And remember, the readers are there not as Western tourists, but as a local who lives there and is an active participant in the culture. Faith and belief are a key part of this story. The characters are believers and their faith gives them strength and courage. I do admit that expressions of faith make me uncomfortable, but in the end Alif the Unseen is not preaching but expressing.For awhile now, I have been interested in the push of ideas and the gentle rub of potential change in the Middle East driven by young people, Alif the Unseen touches on this very interesting topic — a subtle revolution and resistance taking place on the internet. If you crave romance, there is a very sweet romance and references to sexuality while not overt they are obvious. Alif the Unseen is not perfect, but few books are. There are slow parts to this book, parts that I wish were edited out. But overall it is a great read and I highly recommend it.I recommend Alif the Unseen to anyone who enjoys fantasy, urban fantasy, computer based adventure, fairy tales and/or stories about young people trying to make things better.To read more of this review and others like it, check out: