A review by aqiul
Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson

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.