Reviews

Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson

cupiscent's review against another edition

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4.0

A very good book. Not quite book-of-the-year material, for me, but that's a subjective thing.

What I like most about this is how every aspect of it builds the feeling of the world in which it takes place - an Arabian-penisula city-state under an oligarchical thumb. Not just the descriptions of place and people and culture and lifestyle, but the very way in which it was told, the way sentences were put together, the way the story unfolded, built the sense of the historical and sociological and even linguistic context of the story - all of which turned out to be central to the concept of the story itself.

In that way - the way in which it covers themes of religion and programming as building systems from language - it reminded me quite a bit of some of Neal Stephenson's work. In other ways - the way it's the story of a boy growing into a man - it's a bit YA-ish (though in age range and mature-content it might fall more into that debatable "new adult" bracket). While it takes a while to get going, it's an interesting journey once it does, and the urge to slap Alif never quite overwhelmed my curiosity as to what his potential might grow into.

And I found the love story - the genuine one - to be charmingly restrained, mature and gentle, in keeping with the character who drives it (and who I enjoyed a great deal).

rubybastille's review against another edition

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5.0

“If mans’s capacity for the fantastic took up as much of his imagination as his capacity for cruelty, the worlds, seen and unseen, might be very different.” Page 346

A celebration of freedom and technology and faith and love and hope. It’s exhilarating and funny and I could start over and read it again right now.

samants's review

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4.0

8.5/10. I liked this book, and I'm a big fan of the alternate representation it offers of an Islamic country and people (the only white person in this book, a blonde American woman, is never named and referred to as "the convert" throughout the whole book). The computer science was a little shaky at times, and the narration could be a little crude, but I liked the fantasy part and Dina was a great character. She's too good for the main character imo, but I really liked that in the end, he went with her and not Intisar.

librovert's review

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3.0

Alif the Unseen is nothing if not unique. In part a fantasy world where The Thousand and One Days is a book that belongs to the jinn, the book has an urban fantasy flair to it. But it is also part sociopolitical commentary in the form of Alif, a hacktivist who finds himself caught in the middle of a rising rebellion against his state in the Middle East.

The books prologue started off with a strong fantasy vibe and then it backed off when it jumps to the present. It seemed a little odd with the way the book was set up and I would have liked to get more in depth into the fantasy aspect of the book.

I thought the character were well crafted (except Intisar, Alif's love interest - I could have done without her entirely) and believable. The story was entertaining and eye-opening all at once. The novel explores aspects of the Arabic world from religion to their views on Americans (though I did feel some of this was stereotypically contrived) and the effect of social media on the ability to organize and rebel against a goverment.

Definitely an interesting read. I'm glad I read it, but I'm wasn't completely enamored by it.

kaisermatthias's review against another edition

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5.0

A stunning combination of creatures interpreted from the pages of the Qur'an, their invisible qorld adjacent ours, and the concerns of a contemporary computer hacker who suddenly meets them. The people feel real, and the world is ours with plausible additions. A tour-de-force not to be missed.

quart_of_court's review

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adventurous dark emotional hopeful inspiring reflective fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

4.75

moreteamorecats's review against another edition

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3.0

Consistently entertaining fantasy. A quite decent Harry Potter joke just past the midpoint and repeated references to a character reading [b:The Golden Compass|119322|The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, #1)|Philip Pullman|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1333617993s/119322.jpg|1536771] specify the genre as myth-based and YA-friendly, both of which are true here. The first half looks like it's going to be Stephensonian post-cyberpunk, but halfway through it turns out we're going to be hanging out with lots of jinni, which is a different genre entirely. I wasn't entirely convinced by the central metaphor, but once I accepted that the Big Religious Ideas lurking around the edges are more backdrop than subject, I settled in and had a rollicking time.

jenamac's review

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adventurous mysterious medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.5

aqiul's review against another edition

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3.0

Alif the Unseen has all the positives it needs in its plot: A young hacker in the middle-east, a dictatorial country, a shadowy state organization that hunts hackers and disappears them, djinn and other mythical creatures and to top it all off, teenage love!

The book started off great. Our protagonist is not a very like-able character and I felt that it was a pretty good thing. Our protagonists love interest is part of the royalty while he is a nobody hacker who protects anti-nationalists (almost). There are a bunch of other important characters across the book and to me the strongest of them were Vikram, Dinah and Sheikh Bilal. Intesar and Abbas were average characters. While Intesar could have had a better role as either trying to save our young hacker or turning on him permanently, she didn't do much once the book got going. Abbas was not very villainy and died a pretty unceremonious death as well.

The story progresses at a decent pace and it is enjoyable. The characters are not shallow (not all of them) and the locations in the book are described beautifully. There were many times where I felt I was in the empty quarter or in Bakara District (hope I spelt that right). The people, the culture and their relationships are very well done. As a no-name country in the middle-east, the author has succeeded in making me believe in it.

The places where the book falls a bit flat is in the action part. Some mild spoilers ahead: The djinn are shown as toothless and weak creatures because there is pretty much no action or fight scenes involving them. I could probably count the instances where the unseen were in a combat situation on one hand. There are so many types of unseen like the marids, silar, ifrits and so on who are spoken of as being dangerous but are not shown to be actually dangerous. There's also demons are supposed to be wily and dangerous and yet again are not shown to be dangerous.

I feel the author skipped an important piece in the story to show how powerful these beings could be.


Overall, the book was fun. It had some great parts and I loved the way the cities were fleshed out and the locations explored. I'd give it a solid 3/5.

tien's review against another edition

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5.0

The beginning of the book, Chapter Zero, was set in a fascinating long ago time of Persia. The encounter between man and Djinn brought about of The Thousand and One Days into the world of men. From ancient Persia, the setting shifts to current days where Alif, a young man of Arab-Indian descent, is making his living from covering his clients’ sites from the authorities.

At first, I really wasn’t sure whether I like Alif –not the usual hero type, I thought. There were quite a number of frustrating times that I felt like screaming, c’mon, get your act together. However, in the end, he is definitely the type of hero needed in this book once you get to know what you’re fighting against. James Bond cannot win all kinds of battles.

The techie talks just went over my head and it doesn’t affect my understanding of plot much, most times, I ignore it. One part I really enjoyed though was the stories from the secret book. It kinda felt like reading The Thousand and One Nights somewhat with its morals etc. I also really liked Dina – a devout Moslem girl-next-door to Alif. She was unexpectedly strong and courageous. I loved the fast pace of the story and I could barely put it down as something’s bound to happen on the next page.

I reckon if you like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code or any of his books, you may enjoy this similar work of interlacing modern technology with myths and the supernatural world.

Thank you Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room for providing copy to read & review