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Alif the Unseen Hardcover – June 19, 2012
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Best Books of the Year So Far in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
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[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 andeven more remarkablyuniversal 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 inhabitsat once recognizable and surreal, visible and invisibleis 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
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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?
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?Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Loved this book! Had to read it for a class on Islam and now it's one of my favorite books!Published 1 month ago by Maria Mancini
The pacing and writing style were the best things about the book. I also thought she did a great job with the jinn.
I do not think she writes men very well. Read more
Alif the Unseen
by G. Willow Wilson
Alif the Unseen seems to confirm the trend that in-person book clubs (as opposed to Goodreads groups) don’t... Read more
A phenomenal thrill-ride that also offers a nuanced look at culture, religion, technology, modernity, tradition, politics, and freedom. Read morePublished 4 months ago by E
A really cool fantasy set in a totalitarian Islamic state. Uses the more mythical elements of the religion in order to create an imaginative story that's part political thriller... Read morePublished 4 months ago by David Nestor
Really enjoyed reading the book. Extremely well written and breaks away from the standard mould of fantasy books.Published 5 months ago by umer riaz
It was well regarded by Sword and Laser, so I checked it out. It was novel, literally, because of the setting and religious aspects to the story that are rarely explored in western... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Nathaniel Olson
The plot of this book seemed to meander around for a while eventually just ending when the author decided they had written enough pages. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Julie