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Alif the Unseen Hardcover – June 19, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Praise for Alif the Unseen

“[G. Willow Wilson] works magic. . . . Ms. Wilson has not set out to copy JK Rowling’s books or anyone else’s; she has her own fertile imagination and fanciful narrative style. But as an American convert to Islam, she has an unusual ability to see the best of both worlds. In Alif the Unseen she spins her insights into an exuberant fable that has thrills, chills and—even more remarkably—universal appeal.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“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, author of Stardust and American Gods

“[A] Harry Potter-ish action-adventure romance [that] unfolds against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. . . . Improbably charming . . . A bookload of wizardry and glee.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times "Books for Basking" summer reading list

“Driven by a hot ionic charge between higher math and Arabian myth, G. Willow Wilson conjures up a tale of literary enchantment, political change, and religious mystery. Open the first page and you will be forced to do its bidding: To read on.”—Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Out of Oz

“An intriguing mix of fantasy, romance and spirituality wrapped up in cyberthriller packaging. . . . Wilson’s desert fantasy moves at the breakneck speed of a thriller through cityscapes, wilderness and ethereal realms as she skillfully laces mythology and modernity, spirituality and her own unique take on technological evolution. Rather than the time-worn ghost in the machine concept, Wilson creates a djinn in the machine fusion of magic and tech that blurs the line between the mythical and virtual, suggesting a brave new world in which mankind’s oldest stories will bleed through more strongly than ever. . . . [Wilson] also boldly approaches larger issues such as religion, philosophy and the contrast between Eastern and Western culture, using fantasy as a lens through which to view reality. . . . Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind story, both contemporary and as ancient as the Arabian sands.”—Jaclyn Fulwood, Shelf Awareness (online)

“A fantasy thriller that takes modern Islamic computer hackers fighting against State-based repression and entangles that with the fantastical Djinn-riddled world of One Thousand and One Nights. . . . Here's a book for summer reading, like a novelization of one of Joss Whedon's best Buffy episodes crossed with a Pathé newsreel of the Arab Spring uprisings. It’s a page-turner.”—Wayne Alan Brenner, The Austin Chronicle

Alif the Unseen is a terrific metaphysical thriller, impossible to put down. The fantastical world Alif inhabits—at once recognizable and surreal, visible and invisible—is all the more fantastic for the meticulously detailed Koranic theology and Islamic mythology Wilson expertly reveals. A multicultural Harry Potter for the digital age.”—Hooman Majd, author of The Ayatollahs’ Democracy and The Ayatollah Begs to Differ

“A ferocious new voice in fiction. . . . As with every comic-book artist turned author, the critical question is this: Can her talent for vivid characterization translate from image into text? The answer, in Wilson’s case, is a resounding ‘yes.’ . . . There is no question that Alif the Unseen is one of those rare events in the history of publishing, when an ancient pattern of storytelling (The Arabian Nights) is grafted onto an up-to-the-minute world crisis. This synthesis has great spiritual authority, thanks to the vision of G. Willow Wilson.”—Michael Alec Rose, BookPage

“A book of startling beauty and power.”—Holly Black, author of The Spiderwick Chronicles

Alif the Unseen . . . is a breezy yet thought-provoking blend of techno-thriller and urban fantasy, set in an unnamed Arab emirate. It will whisk you away to the new vistas of wonder and wisdom. . . .[An] excellent modern fairytale. . . . The prose of Alif the Unseen is smart and agile; romance and adventure flow easily between Deep Thoughts. . . . [Wilson] surpasses the early work of Stephenson and Gaiman, with whom comparisons have already been made. . . . Alif the Unseen will find many fans in both West and East. They will appreciate it for being just the fine story it is and as a seed for potent ideas yet to come.”—io9 (online)

“An ambitious, well-told, and wonderful story. Alif the Unseen is one of those novels that has you rushing to find what else the author has written, and eagerly anticipating what she'll do next.”—Matt Ruff, author of Fool on the Hill and The Mirage

“I have the utmost respect for G. Willow Wilson’s writing. . . . Alif the Unseen is set in the Arab Spring, and offers a refreshingly modern view on the Arab world. With nods to The Thousand and One Nights, Wilson has created a modern classic that dares explore themes of technology, spirituality, and religion.”—Largehearted Boy (online)

“A terrifically fun novel about the connections between literature and coding, magic and Islam, and the identities we create for ourselves.”—Alyssa Rosenberg, ThinkProgress (online)

“One of the most compelling narratives you'll read this year, Alif offers masterful insight into contemporary Middle Eastern societies whose ongoing transformations are as unexpected and profound as those in our own. It is also a powerful reminder of how far fantasy has come since Tolkien.”—Jack Womack, author of Random Acts of Senseless Violence

“[Wilson] ushers the energy of the Arab Spring into urban fantasy while unleashing jinns into the digital age. . . . As timely and thoughtful as it is edgy and exciting, this dervish of a novel wraps modern tendrils around ancient roots, spanning the gulf between ones and zeros, haves and have-nots, and seen and unseen worlds.”—Ian Chipman, Booklist (starred review)

“A Golden Compass for the Arab Spring.”—Steven Hall, author of The Raw Shark Texts

“Imaginative storytelling . . . Wilson skillfully weaves a story linking modern-day technologies and computer languages to the folklore and religion of the Middle East. For readers ready for adventure and looking for original storytelling, this excellent novel supersedes genres as easily as its characters jump from one reality to another.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“Willow Wilson is an awesome talent. She made her own genre and rules over it. Magical, cinematic, pure storytelling. It's nothing like anything. A brilliant fiction debut.”—Michael Muhammad Knight, author of The Taqwacores

“[An] intriguing, colorful first novel. . . . Wilson provocatively juxtaposes ancient Arab lore and equally esoteric computer theory, highlighting the many facets of the East-West conflict.”—Publishers Weekly

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. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; First Edition edition (June 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802120202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802120205
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (223 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #201,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Willow is author of the New York Times bestselling comic book series MS MARVEL, winner of the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. Her first novel, ALIF THE UNSEEN, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2012, long listed for the Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) and winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.

She enjoys British films, cooking, and Massive Multiplayer Online video games, and holds a purple belt in kajukenbo. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Thom Mitchell VINE VOICE on 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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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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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By S. Masood on 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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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Liz on July 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
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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