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Alif the Unseen by [Wilson, G. Willow]
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Alif the Unseen Kindle Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 236 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review


Praise for Alif the Unseen

“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 Potterish action-adventure romance [that] unfolds against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. . . . A bookload of wizardry and glee.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Outrageously enjoyable . . . The energetic plotting of Philip Pullman, the nimble imagery of Neil Gaiman and the intellectual ambition of Neal Stephenson are three comparisons that come to mind.”—Salon.com

“An intoxicating, politicized amalgam of science fiction and fantasy . . . that integrates the all-too-familiar terrors of contemporary political repression with supernatural figures from The Thousand and One Nights.”—Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post

“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

“A magical book. The supernatural and sociopolitical thriller Alif the Unseen is timely literary alchemy, a smart, spirited swirl of current events and history; religion and mysticism; reality and myth; computer science and metaphysics. . . . Alif the Unseen richly rewards believers in the power of the written word.”—The Seattle Times

“[An] excellent modern fairytale . . . [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.com

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

Alif the Unseen . . . defies easy categorization. Is it literary fiction? A fantasy novel? A dystopian techno-thriller? An exemplar of Islamic mysticism, with ties to the work of the Sufi poets? Wilson seems to delight in establishing, then confounding, any expectations readers may have.”—Pauls Toutonghi, New York Times Book Review

“A fast-paced, thrilling journey between two worlds, the seen world of human beings and the unseen world of the supernatural.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

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

“A delirious urban fantasy which puts the unlikely case for religion in an age of empowering and intrusive technology.”—The Guardian (UK)

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

Alif the Unseen is a true chimera. . . . There are few authors who can pull off dealing with religion, dogma, and mysticism as well as sci-fi, and Wilson is one of them. Alif the Unseen contains elements that will appeal to fans of the ecstatic digital visions The Neuromancer, devotees of the mythological richness of The Thousand and One Nights, international-news junkies and fellow hacktivists.”—Tor.com

“Written just before the Arab Spring, this wild adventure mixes the digital derring-do of Neal Stephenson with the magic of The Thousand and One Nights. . . . Alif the Unseen is a rich blend of storytelling magic.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“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

“Passion, power, and technology converge in this imaginative novel.”—Oprah.com

“Imaginative . . . Brilliant . . . Alif the Unseen . . . draws on Islamic theology, the hacking underworld, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, spy thrillers, and the events of the Arab Spring to weave an ‘urban fantasy’ in which the everyday and the supernatural collide. . . . A first novel that is witty, imaginative, and unorthodox in all senses.”—The Observer (UK)

“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

“Wilson manages to keep the various fantastical, technological, political and religious plates spinning without ever losing track of the story, or getting bogged down in polemic. . . .Though Alif the Unseen was recently compared to Harry Potter . . . it has more in common with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.”—The National (UAE)

“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

“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. . . . Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind story, both contemporary and as ancient as the Arabian sands.”—Shelf Awareness (online)

“Wilson writes beautifully, tells a great story, and even makes computer hackery seem like magic.”—Sunday Times (UK)

“The real magic of Alif the Unseen is catching a talented writer early in her career.”—Rita Mae Brown

“Outstanding . . . Wilson’s novel delights in bending genres and confounding expectations: It’s both a literary techno-thriller and a fantasy that takes religion very seriously. . . . Alif the Unseen . . . is one of the most inventive, invigorating novels of the year.”—The Christian Science Monitor

“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. . . . 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.”—The Austin Chronicle

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: 1733 KB
  • Print Length: 450 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0771089082
  • Publisher: Grove Press (June 19, 2012)
  • Publication Date: June 19, 2012
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0087GJVPO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,777 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
G. Willow Wilson knows how to write a sentence. The prose here is lovely (I was particularly caught by one simile describing a windowless prison as "both surreal and alarmingly ordinary, like an office building that had blinked"), and her descriptions of life in the modern Middle East are compelling and incisive. What she doesn't seem to know is how to plot a novel.

Alif the Unseen is several components jumbled together--a thriller about political revolution in an unnamed Middle Eastern city-state, a meditation on Islam, a cyberpunk story about hacking and debugging, and a fairy tale of jinns and other spirits. I use "fairy tale" rather than fantasy for a reason: as in a fairy tale, helpful creatures just keep turning up along every step of the protagonist's way, share their aid or knowledge, and then move on. There's little logic to these encounters or depth to the creatures' characterizations; they exist because the plot requires them and vanish once it no longer does.

That's fine for a fairy tale, which doesn't require realism. I can even enjoy a good fairy tale expanded to novel length (ala Bridge of Birds). But it mixes very poorly with the political and technological aspects of the novel, which are grounded in vivid descriptions of violent oppression and quantified computer specs. Alif is a real person with real problems; those problems deserve real solutions, not coincidence and deus ex machina again and again.

Alif the Unseen also contains one of the most blatant authorial inserts I've seen in or out of fanfiction (the only other one that comes close is Mercedes Lackey's "Myste"). "The convert" (unnamed) is a young, blonde American woman who came to the Middle East while in college, converted, and now wears a head-scarf. Sound familiar?
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