Title: Alif the Unseen
Author: G. Willow Wilson
Pub. Date: July, 2012
Summary: In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker protects watched groups from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble-until he falls in love with the wrong woman and unleashes a forbidden text thought to be written by the jinn.
As the book opens, Alif ‘s computer has just been breached by the “Hand of God,” as the hackers call the state’s electronic security force, and he is scrambling to protect his clients-dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other vulnerable groups in autocratic states across the region. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and when it turns out the fiancé is the Hand, and the state security forces come after Alif with guns drawn, he must go underground, trying all the while to fight back against a piece of code he wrote to protect his lover but which the Hand is using to create the most sophisticated state surveillance the world has ever known. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days,the secret book of the jinn, has fallen into his hands and may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death.
Tell me a book is comparable to Neil Gaiman and I’m all over it. Tell me a story flows just like a Neil Stephenson novel and I’ll drop everything I’m doing. Tell me the writer is similar to Philip Pullman and I’ll race to the closest bookstore to grab a copy of their book.
Unfortunately, Alif the Unseen didn’t enchant me nearly as much as it did other readers. It certainly wasn’t a bad book – not in the least! However, it definitely started out a bit slow for me before things really took off. To me, rather than comparing the novel to Gaiman or Stephenson, I see it as more of a Dan Brown novel set in the Middle East with a little magic thrown in. Now, granted, others might balk at the Dan Brown comparison, but I don’t see it as anything negative. His novels are all extremely fast-paced and entertaining and I can’t recall a moment in Alif the Unseen where I felt the story dragged.
Alif is a 23-year old hacker working for whoever asks: feminists, communists, Islamists. Because the Hand keeps a close watch on all Internet activity, Alif goes to great lengths to protect both himself and his clients. Unfortunately, he has a momentary lapse in judgment (naturally brought on by a girl) and creates a computer program that leads to disastrous results. Alif quickly finds himself deemed a terrorists and wanted by the government.
Along with his childhood friend Dina, Alif discovers himself on the doorstep of a jinn: Vikram the Vampire. As a good-bye, the girl Alif loves gave him a book, Alf Yeom (or, The Thousand and One Days), a book recounting the jinn’s history and tales. After teaming up with an American woman (who Vikram may or may not be in love with), it’s revealed the book is the long-lost original. 700 years old. What’s more, the book is true. Jinn are real as Vikram’s existence proves.
Interspersed throughout the book were snippets of tales from The Thousand and One Days and those were an absolute joy to read. I’m a huge fan of age-old fairy tales and fables and these were great.
The Big Battle toward the end felt a bit rushed to me and it seemed like a lot of the technical ~coding~ explanations were simply glossed over and told as a matter-of-fact (Alif typed so-and-so and this happened).
Despite not falling madly in love with Alif the Unseen, I enjoyed it very much! Once I got into the swing of things, I devoured the book in just a few days.