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Alif the Unseen [Kindle Edition]

G. Willow Wilson
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (206 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 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.

Editorial Reviews


'An exhilarating techno-thriller but also far more than that... Wilson has created in this rich, literate novel a profound dialogue between tradition and modernity, belief and non-belief, fairy tale and urban reality.' Guardian 'Brilliant... witty, imaginative and unorthodox in all senses' Observer 'Charming and original' Sunday Telegraph 'G. Willow Wilson has a deft hand with myth and with magic, and the kind of smart, honest writing mind that knits together and bridges cultures and people. You should read what she writes.' Neil Gaiman 'A dazzling novel about faith, cyberspace and 21st-century Middle Eastern politics' Metro 'Wilson works magic - An exuberant fable that has thrills, chills and - even more remarkably - universal appeal' New York Times 'Marvelous - Alif the Unseen takes events similar to those of the Arab Spring, adds a runaway computer virus, an unconventional love story and the odd genie to create an intoxicating, politicized amalgam of science fiction and fantasy.' Washington Post

About the Author

G. Willow Wilson is the author of the graphic novels Cairo, named a Best Graphic Novel of the Year by PW and Comics Worth Reading; Air, nominated for an Eisner Award, and Vixen, winner of the Glyph Comics Fan Award for Best Comic. Her most recent comics project is the relaunch of Mystic with artist David López. Her first non-graphic work was the memoir The Butterfly Mosque, a Seattle Times Best Book of the Year.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1287 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (June 19, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0087GJVPO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,584 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishingly Good May 29, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It's rare to read a book that blows me away with such a complete vision - but G. Willow Wilson's "Alif the Unseen" is one such book. The vision presented of the near future in the Middle East, combining both technology and the supernatural world of Djinns, is truly amazing and ranks right up there With William Gibson's "Neuromancer" or Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash".

Ms. Wilson does an excellent job developing both her male and female characters as well as broaching philosophical, metaphysical and religious topics and debates. Like Stephenson and Gibson - comfort with technical computing concepts enhances the novel but isn't required; and a willingness to suspend disbelief as the "real world" shifts to incorporate the unseen, by most, Djinns, and their world.

I'm hopeful that this book is only the first in a series of books featuring these characters because I found myself unable to put the book down until I finished it. It's uncommon that a new science fiction or fantasy book makes it onto my permanent bookshelf next to seminal works of science fiction and fantasy (Gibson, Stephenson, Asimov, Heinlein, Tolkien, Herbert et al), but Ms. Wilson belongs there, both for her characters and for her choice of subject matter. My only quibble is that I wish she had included an language and term glossary at the end of her book because some of her terms were new to me and I had to look them up elsewhere. If you like quality writing of any genre - this book is worth your time.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Part fantasy, part technological thriller, and part sociological satire, G. Willow Wilson's "Alif the Unseen" is certainly one of the more unusual books that I've read recently. For sheer ambition, it's hard not to sing the praises of this bold and striking new novel. The story, which is set in a contemporary (but unnamed) Middle Eastern security state, opens as an ill fated romance, morphs into a chase thriller, and wraps up in another dimension completely. But for its increasing divergence from the known land into one of legend, the book has a lot to say about the world in which we live. It proposes that while our belief systems may have evolved, an underlying truth remains constant and waiting to be discovered. But the increase in modernization has taken us further from universal understanding and connectivity. Language, writing, prayer, mythology, and even the Internet hold the link to our past and the key to forging forward toward a future filled with knowledge as opposed to oppression.

Enough overbearing analysis, though, for it makes "Alif the Unseen" sound like a ponderous chore. So let me make it clear, this is one incredibly fun ride. Even devoid of any subtext or deep meaning, the principle narrative is like a cracked fairy tale for adults. A skewed version of "The Thousand and One Nights" (told from the more supernatural vantage point) is the plot device that sets most of the action in motion. When a young hacker has the book thrust into his hands, he soon becomes the target of a powerful and treacherous state agency. With his devout neighbor and childhood friend, the pair seek refuge in the most unlikely of places. Soon, things they never thought were real start to open up a mythical new world.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Thoughtful June 17, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Alif the Unseen" is by no means a perfect novel. It falls victim, at times, to plot contrivance and relies on coincidence perhaps too much as a device in the narrative. Despite these flaws, however, is a highly entertaining novel that provokes thought and poses fascinating questions in realms philosophical, spiritual, political and scientific. The depth of the book is astonishing, especially considering how much plain fun you will have traversing those depths with very flawed but very sympathetic and human characters.

The fact I read the entire book in one night should serve as enough of a recommendation. I acknowledge, as noted, that there are weaknesses in the work but they are by no means fatal and most of them prop up towards the end of the book. In short, it is worth reading - anything that successful combines djinns with Star Wars references is probably worth reading.

That said it is not, as the 'reviews' at the back of the book's own cover claim, the next "Harry Potter." But then...what is?
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Did not live up the hype July 8, 2013
By Liz
I picked this book up based off rave reviews that I had seen for it lately. However, for me, it did not live up to the hype. I thought it kind of dragged at parts. I also found the descriptions of computer programming, using metaphors like 'building a tower covered in jasmine,' to be an interesting idea...but one that did not make a lot of sense for me. I'm familiar with how programming works, and I just did not feel that the metaphors fit the art and science of computers. It's an interesting challenge, trying to write an exciting book where large paragraphs of the plot take place with the main character changing the world through coding, but the author's lyrical solution was off putting to me.

I also had trouble liking the protagonist, Alif, at all. He is terribly sexist. He point blank says to his companion, Dina, after she outsmarts him, "I almost forgot you were a girl for a moment!" I get that the author is trying to show that he grows up as the story progresses. However I just could not get over that he keeps a blood stained sheet, from taking the virginity of the girl he is infatuated with, and then when she breaks it off with him, he send her the sheet with a note saying "You might need this." That was an unredeemable introduction to his character, and that poisoned the rest of his story. I don't really feel like he changes or becomes a better person, despite meeting djinn, being imprisoned, and accidentally becoming the figurehead for a revolution. He just wants to go home so he can date and marry his neighbor, and continue their conservative lifestyle.

His neighbor, Dina, however, is an amazing, intelligent, passionate and steadfast character. I only wish she had found a better partner than Alif.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A smashing good thriller, with bonus social insight
G. Willow Wilson ran away to Islam, and she certainly does a great job of explaining why someone would do this, as well as writing a smashing good thriller. Read more
Published 14 days ago by janet fairchild
4.0 out of 5 stars gripping!
Viscerally stimulating, vivid in its descriptions of a place and time that slips from reality to fantasy. Loved the incursion into the land of the ghaib.
Published 15 days ago by silma
3.0 out of 5 stars A fun read.
A novel with its heart (and soul) in the right place... the story is imaginative and not too tidy - and critically it has a willingness to not always make sense. A fun read.
Published 16 days ago by Tom McGreevy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Interesting. Well written. worth a read.
Published 27 days ago by Richard
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite Coherent
In some ways, this book was pretty impressive to me. There's magical fantasy. There's internet computer hackery. There's political/social commentary (of the mid-east flavor). Read more
Published 29 days ago by Bret
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Reading, But A Generous Stretch of The Imagination
The more I got into "Alif The Unseen" the more I expected of the story. Unfortunately, not being a regular fantasy novel reader, I found myself lacking in imagination to fully... Read more
Published 1 month ago by W. Powell
5.0 out of 5 stars The best and most imaginative fantasy I've read
The best and most imaginative fantasy I've read.
Published 2 months ago by local boson
5.0 out of 5 stars they’re part of a beautiful mass of information technology
You have no idea how much I want you to read this book. It’s a fantasy novel from 2012, set in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, belonging in the adult fiction section but with a... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Fate Fortuna
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book despite all the documented flaws
A good book despite all the documented flaws. I thoroughly enjoyed it until the fantasy took over the novel. Read more
Published 3 months ago by CB
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthwhile read
Good story with aspects of techno-thriller, magic and a bit of love story as well.
Published 3 months ago by S. M. Rathburn
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More About the Author

Born in 1982, G. Willow Wilson began her writing career at 17 as a music and DJ critic for Boston's Weekly Dig. After moving to Egypt in 2003, Willow's articles and essays on Islam and the Middle East appeared in publications including the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, and Glamour. A lifelong fan of comics and graphic novels, Willow's first ongoing comic book series, AIR, was nominated for an Eisner Award. Her memoir, The Butterfly Mosque, the story of her conversion to Islam and life in Egypt, was named Best Book of 2010 by the Seattle Times. Her first novel, Alif the Unseen, debuts in 2012.

She enjoys British films, cooking, and World of Warcraft, and holds a purple belt in kajukenbo.

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