Alif the Unseen

Wilson, G. Willow

Book - 2012
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Alif the Unseen
In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients, dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups, from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the State's electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover's new fianceé is the head of State security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.

Publisher: New York : Grove Press ; [Berkeley, Calif.] : Distributed by Publishers Group West, c2012.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 0802120202
Characteristics: 433 p. :,map ;,22 cm.


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Jan 16, 2014
  • JCLChrisK rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This is a top-rate fantasy/techno-thriller set in an unnamed middle-eastern police state. Alif, as he pseudonymously calls himself online, is a mildly revolutionary dissident who operates as a hacker for hire until he finds himself in more trouble than he ever imagined and forced to put his beliefs into action in the real world. He also finds that information is much more than the latest computer code, as he comes into possession of an arcane codex that leads him into a world of jinn, other spirits, and ancient and divine magic. A unique blend of technology, magic, religion, fable, culture, love, and adventure that I found most engaging and captivating.


Alif was surprised to see that the wooden shelves lining the shop were packed more or less equally with books and computer parts: old tomes bound in leather, paperback novels in several languages, clumsy motherboards from the early nineties, third-generation optical drives less than a year out of beta.
"Is this a bookstore or a computer store or what?" he asked. "Who shops here?"
Sakina laughed without unkindness.
"What third-born questions," she asked. "This is neither a bookstore nor a computer store, Alif. I trade in information, no matter what form it takes. People come here when they wish to buy or barter for knowledge."
"Oh." Alif wished he hadn't spoken. He gazed pensively at a quad-core processor sitting on a shelf at eye level. Sakina looked at Vikram.
"Computers and books," she said. "Does that mean he can't see the other things?"
"Probably not," said Vikram, giving a fond slap to the back of Alif's neck. "He's still made of mud, after all."

Dec 29, 2013
  • beachcat2 rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

I agree with other commenters below - a great read! - but I also loved the imagery: the Old Quarter city walls made of rose quartz glowing in the desert sunsets... A blend of fantasy and fiction, new and old.

Oct 10, 2013
  • ClaireM_W rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

This is for adults who enjoyed Harry Potter: Alif is more sophisticated, very digital, and just as rich in magical stuff. A lot of fun.

Aug 31, 2013
  • hmcgivney rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

This was such an interesting blend of old and new: old mythology and new technology; old religious traditions and etiquette, along with new attitudes towards authority and revolution. The characters, especially Alif, seemed complex and realistic (though the villain was a bit melodramatic at times), the story was consuming, and I felt completely transported by the setting. Wonderful!

Apr 27, 2013
  • JCLGreggW rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Say you're a fan of fantasy and sci-fi, with supernatural beings living right beside us, right out of sight. Or perhaps you're more interested in more of a political/social novel, where a young revolutionary uses their skills to undermine an oppressive government. Maybe you're more in the mood for a good YA romance, where the hero finally falls for the girl who's been under his nose the entire time. Maybe you're into exotic locales where the present has deep ties to the past, and where history helps influence the present. Maybe you like high-tech thrillers, with groups of crusading hackers doing hacker things. With ALIF THE UNSEEN, a delightful mashup of a dozen different genres, you get all of these and more.

Feb 10, 2013

Fabulously entertaining - a blend of myth, digital gaming and adventure, with a dash of Arabic scholarship thrown in.

Nov 24, 2012
  • carolynrogers rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Insight into a contemporary Middle Eastern country whose ongoing transformations are unexpected and profound.

Sep 18, 2012
  • mdejesus rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Wonderful book. I loved this book because it is timeless. It combines our modern day technology with religion and magic seamlessly. The story is incredibly detailed and I couldn't put the book down. I recommend this book to everyone.

Jul 31, 2012
  • shapjul rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

I thought this was a terrific book. It's a really unusual combination--computer whiz at the heart of the Arab Spring uprisings with a hint of the Arabian Nights added in. Readable and thought-provoking. Good characterizations, too. A really unusual and excellent book that I would recommend to any fiction reader.

Jul 30, 2012
  • midcapacb rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Excellent book with a really interesting and different story about Islamic culture and religion in a fictional Arabian Peninsula country


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Sep 18, 2012
  • mdejesus rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

mdejesus thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


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Sep 18, 2012
  • mdejesus rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

"The unseen is unseen, the apparent is inescapable."


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