It’s always refreshing to leave your genre comfort zone. When it comes to fantasy, I tend to mostly stick with high fantasy of the young adult western variety. I think Alif The Unseen by G. Willow Wilson caught my eye because first, the cover is bright and gorgeous, but also because it is very outside my realm of expectations and experiences — instead of wizards and knights, it’s jinn and hackers. Y’all, I want MORE from Alif’s world, it is SO entrancing.
So the plot of Alif The Unseen is basically this: There’s this guy who goes by the handle of Alif. He is a hacker and lives in an unnamed Middle Eastern country with a very strong internet censor in place. Alif works to actively get websites past censors and has clients whose identity he cloaks so they can have free speech. Anyways, Alif is jilted by this girl, Intisar, and writes a firewall program to block her based on personality regardless of internet alias and IP. From there, things spiral OUT OF CONTROL and Alif and his next door neighbor, Dina are on the run from the State but have the help of a few friends.
Y’all, what I pretty much learned from Alif The Unseen by G. Willow Wilson is that technology and jinn or genies are freakin’ cool. I mean, what a creative pairing. Perhaps I am not all that well read, but I have never ever read anything quite like this. I thought G. Willow Wilson did an imaginative job tying together the past with this book written by the jinn called The Thousand And One Days that is sort of a hint for all of Alif The Unseen, the present with Alif’s situation and Arab spring, and the future which is the technology, together.
I was very interested and riveted by the character of Alif. He is the quintessential underdog which I ALWAYS root for. He is half Arab, half Indian. His mom is the second wife. Alif lives in the poor section of town. In this story, he’s not one of the privileged and I liked reading about that. Alif and his friends are such a rag tag group. We get this complete sense of David vs. Goliath when it comes to the hackers vs. the State, and yeah I LOVED IT.
The best parts though, are the parts that come from the jinn book The Thousand And One Days. Bits of Alif The Unseen are interspersed with excerpts from The Thousand And One Days which are these short stories that are very well written and intriguing. My favorite is the one about Vikram the Vampire for various reasons that you will see when you read the book.
Frankly, I am kind of sad Alif The Unseen is not getting the attention or the traction it deserves. It is a wonderful book, perfect if you are looking for something out of the ordinary and just want to read an adult fantasy that does not follow the usual formula. Straight up, I am a fan of this book and whole heartedly would recommend it to you if you have similar taste to me.
Disclosure: Received for review via Netgalley.
Other reviews of Alif The Unseen by G. Willow Wilson:
Bibliophilic Monologues – “a novel that needs to be read widely”