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Alif the Unseen

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3.84  ·  Rating details ·  13,840 Ratings  ·  2,395 Reviews
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 p ...more
Hardcover, 433 pages
Published June 19th 2012 by Grove Press
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Rick Riordan
Feb 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Adult urban fantasy/cyberpunk. I picked this up because I loved the Ms. Marvel comics written by G. Willow Wilson, and while this is very, very different stuff, it was a fabulous read. Somehow I went into this thinking it was a middle grade or young adult novel. It's not. The content is quite dark and adult. It's the story of a twenty-something hacker living in an Arabic city state simply called The City. Alif is secretly in love with the daughter of a high-ranking family, and (SPOILER) when she ...more
Maggie Stiefvater
Nov 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult, recommended
How I loved this problematic novel.

I picked up Alif the Unseen in Oblong Books. It was the last event of my U.S. book tour and I was driving home instead of flying and so I had the unusual liberty of not caring about whether a book purchase would force me to check my luggage.

Mostly I picked it up because it seemed impossible to summarize. My favorite sorts of books to read and write. The back of the book begins with “In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shield
...more
Catie
Jan 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Just when I think that young adult fantasy has nothing new to show me, this one comes along to change my mind. Granted, this is being marketed as an adult novel, but I would disagree with that classification. If anything, this is more of a hybrid. The main character is an early twenties hacker/activist (“hacktivist”) who’s living at home and dealing with his over-attentive mom, the annoyingly devout girl next door, first heartbreak, and an all-powerful instrument of the state who wants nothing m ...more
Nafiza
Dear People who Read Books,

Please read this book.

No, really, I mean it. Okay fine, I will tell you why you need to read this. The characters in this novel, while not being teenagers, are young adults and therefore this novel meets the criteria set (by me) to be called Young Adult. Okay, let me begin again. Properly this time.

Alif the Unseen is set in a city in Saudi Arabia and it is, perhaps, one of the few books I have read that manage to write in a setting like Saudi Arabia without preaching a
...more
Carol.
Jul 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who want a stretch fantasy
The end of the year, and I decided to finish with a bang, picking the most promising books lingering on my ToBeRead list. It’s been one interesting read after another, and if they weren’t all equally amazing, most have been thought-provoking and interesting. Alif came to my attention as a genre-bender, an urban fantasy set in the Middle East and about a computer hacker on the run. Great characterization, trim plotting, an unusual urban setting with clever fantastical elements means it was one of ...more
Simon
Jul 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
VAGUELY SPOILERISH (though nothing major).

In the introduction to his magnificent book The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, Arthur Lovejoy turns a memorable phrase when he describes those who thrill to "the metaphysical pathos of obscurity." This book, I fear, is subject to that particular weakness. There's lots of stuff about stories/computer code/metaphor/multiple interpretations/multiple realities that just doesn't make any sense (at least, not to this heathen). When Al
...more
Cassi aka Snow White Haggard
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012, galleys
Alif the Unseen is such a unique book. It's a computer-science heavy fantasy novel set in the modern Middle East. There is coding, firewalls, cloud servers and genies, all in the same book. Doesn't that sound amazing? This book is fantasy blended with real science, something that I've never seen before. It's a big risk that pays off.

Very rarely to I go quite as highlighter happy as this book made me. It was smart, clever, funny and thought-provoking.

"How dense and literal it is. I thought it had
...more
Felicia
May 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Well, this is a wonderful book! I love loved it! It's about Alif, a hacker in the Middle East, who has an ill-fated romance with a woman, is stalked by a mysterious government hacker called The Hand, and interacts with real Djinn who actually exist, invisible among us. It's totally fascinating! A really enjoyable read that combines politics and tech and magic in a wonderful way.

Recommended for people who like Neal Stephenson or Da Vinci Code, just a fantastic thriller with magical overtones and
...more
Simona Bartolotta
Aug 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
I don't know if it was because of the poorly appealing characters or something else, but my interest in this story went from zero to -100 in a matter of a few dozens of pages. I forced myself to go on but came across nothing intriguing enough to make up for that. I simply did not care in the slightest. Too bad.
Wendy
Dec 22, 2012 rated it liked it
My friend and I were discussing the problem of finding books featuring non-White protagonists written by non-North American descended authors. We noted that, more often than not in our limited scope, we’d find non-White protagonists written by White authors, or, White protagonists who find themselves in non-White environments, written by White authors. Generally speaking, the result are hit-or-miss when it comes to a respectful representation of a culture that one is not raised in.

Shortly after,
...more
Rob
Executive Summary: A blend of fantasy, technology, politics, and religion that just worked for me. I really enjoyed this book.

Full Review
I seem to be a hot streak lately. I try not to give out 5 stars lightly. Based on good reads, I've given 5 stars to roughly 13% of the 221 books I've rated as of this writing. 18% of those have been given out this year. It's not exactly relevant to this review, but I'm an engineer and that sort of thing interests me.

I forget where exactly I first heard about
...more
Yahya
Dec 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a truly genre-bending Islamic hacktivist jinn fantasy cyberthriller, which has to be the most original novel in English in 2012. It is a surprisingly seamless melange of American comic-book sensibility (a fast-moving plot; a coming-of-age storyline) within an Islamic setting, contemporary (a corrupt unnamed Gulf city rife with repression, and ripe for revolution) and imagined (an alternate genie (or jinn) universe). At the same time, amidst all the furious plotting, it asks deeper questi ...more
Alex Ristea
Er, I finished this 400-page book in two sittings. That's either an exemplary review on its own, or a gloriously egotistical comment on my reading prowess.

Let's go with the former, because to be honest, I've been in a bit of reading slump since Outlander. I've still read a lot, sure, but I wanted the sort of book that would grab me, throw me in, and not let me go until I was finished with it (or perhaps, until it was finished with me.) Alif the Unseen was for me all of that—it cured my slump, an
...more
Zanna
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Zanna by: Carol.
Shelves: magical-realism
I really enjoyed this. Realistic and fantasy aspects mesh into a richly believeable world, the characters are satisfyingly flawed and sympathetic, book-within-book goodies abound and every plot hinge, whether the fulcrum is a romantic moment, a sharp insight, the revelation of a possible enchantment, an unexpected appearance (especially the occasional deus ex machina) or the use of honed hacker skills, had me grinning. Furthermore, power dynamics are complicated when (twice) privileged character ...more
Red Panda
Being a big fan of G. Willow Wilson's comicbook work, it was only a matter of time before I gave her novel a shot. I'm glad I did. This is a great fantasy adventure that whisks you along at a fair old clip and takes you to some surprising places.

While I don't want Wilson to stop writing comicbooks, I'd love to see her write another novel. If this one's anything to go by, I'd definitely read it.
Kirstine
He had spent so much time cloaked behind his screen name, a mere letter of the alphabet, that he no longer thought of himself as anything but an alif – a straight line, a wall. His given name fell flat to his ears now. The act of concealment had become more powerful than what it concealed.

I love that this book is set in the Middle East. Most of us, no matter where we live, are probably a little guilty of ignorance when it comes to what goes on in any part of the world that isn’t ‘close’ to us,
...more
Amel
Jul 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels, i-have

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Potential spoilers are hidden
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Let me break down my thoughts about this book from the moment I noticed it on GR till I turned its last page, because somewhere along the way something went really wrong. Here comes -often- those moments when I find myself putting a book down, pausing, looking around at all the glowing reviews and five star ratings, and asking myself the question... Did I read the same book? That was a disappointment!!

This b
...more
Hiba
“I am a mighty fortress, sheathed in stone.”
King Vikram thought for a moment.
“I am a catapult,” he said. “Stone-breaking, fortress-sundering.”
“I am a saboteur,” countered the vetala. “Oath-breaker, weapon-disabler.”
“I am ill luck,” said King Vikram. “Upending plots, dismaying plans.”
The vetala was favorably impressed.
“I am fortune,” it said. “I crown luck with destiny.”
“I am free will,” said King Vikram. “I challenge destiny with choice.”
“I am divine will,” said the vetala, “to which choice an
...more
Penny
My rating should be taken in light of the fact that the line "Alif felt a swell of admiration. She really was as smart as a man." meant I was now rating this book out of 3 rather than 5. Yes, perhaps one could make the argument that the protagonist was on a journey on self discovery which included learning that his culture is wrong to think that women are inferior. I don't care. I think it's offensive and small minded and to have read this in a book penned by a woman makes me shake with anger.

As
...more
Megan Baxter
Dec 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
There is an uncertainty I feel about some books, a desire to go out and see how they were otherwise received, because I don't trust my own judgement. On one hand, sometimes I think that I should shoot from the hip, as I mostly do, and record my own reactions. But on the other hand, sometimes I think that's a healthy recognition that while my own reaction is valid, it may be a topic, or a culture, or an issue I don't know enough about, and me saying "Yup, sounds like the Middle East to me!" may b ...more
Keertana
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Alif the Unseen is one of those obscure novels that not many people have actually heard of, but, thanks to my numerous GoodReads friends who read such varied genres, it somehow came to my attention. Needless to say, all my friends have LOVED this book. For me, though, Alif the Unseen was slightly boring, hard to get through, and dragged ever-so-slightly. I thoroughly enjoyed the second half the book, but I wasn't as impressed as everyone else. While Alif the Unseen remains to be
...more
Kayıp Rıhtım
Günümüz fantastik edebiyat okurunun en büyük sorunu artık pek az orijinal eserle karşılaşabilmesidir. Neyse ki arada çok nadiren de olsa “Artık beni hiçbir şey şaşırtamaz,” diyen okurları bile ters köşeye yatırmayı başarabilen farklı eserler de çıkıp yüzümüze çılgınca bir sırıtış yerleştirebiliyor. G. Willow Wilson’ın kaleme aldığı Elif de işte tam da bu sınıfa giren kitaplardan biri.

Elif konusunu iki sağlam temele dayandırıyor. Bunlardan ilki Kur’an-ı Kerim’deki her kelimenin aslında birden faz
...more
Nnedi
Aug 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This review will be scattered because I don't have much time. So be it. I really enjoyed reading a fantasy novel that truly wove in culture (politics, practices, cultural conflicts, words used, and all). This novel read like it was written by someone closely connected to its setting. I like that. There's an ambitiousness in it. It's not afraid to comment on things (and not afraid to show the negative sides. It's sure that it will not fall into cliche) and it's thoughtful and loving in how it goe ...more
Liviu Szoke
Am avut așteptări mult mai mari de la un roman totuși premiat cu World Fantasy, mai ales că poveștile cu parfum oriental mă atrag foarte tare. Însă n-a fost să fie, căci povestea mi s-a părut atât de încâlcită și de fragmentată, iar Alif un prostovan atât de mare, încât pur și simplu nu am reușit să rezonez cu nimic. Singurul personaj atrăgător al poveștii mi s-a părut Vikram Vampirul, care, pe alocuri, este pur și simplu genial. Nu mult în urma lui vine și NewQuarter, dar nu se compară totuși c ...more
Ned Hayes
Mar 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
Alif the Unseen has a fantastic premise -- in more ways than one. A computer hacker in the Middle East discovers that jinn are real. This means that we get exposed to not just one culture, but two. We receive a complete immersion in Middle Eastern realities of life, alongside a supernatural world that on the surface feels quite compelling.

The concept is great! Computer hacker in the Middle East discovers that jinn are real, and an ancient book contains a way of writing a new type of code. Great
...more
Dot
May 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Religion, metaphor, rebellion. The Quran and the Internet. Hackers, effrits, and sheikhs. Douglas Hofstadter shoutouts.

Holy moley.

I read Cory Doctorow's Little Brother a few weeks ago, and wrote up a review saying "You start to think, why isn't there more accessible counterculture stuff like this for YA? Intelligent, interesting, informative..."

Alif the Unseen first hooked me as I scanned the back cover and saw "young Arab-Indian hacker" and a mention of jinn (djinn/genie). A closer look at the
...more
Wil
Sep 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
I seem to be a detractor here on Goodreads. Strangely, I read this book fairly quickly which is unusual for something I eventually give 2 stars. But it seemed to unravel towards the end, with yet another hackneyed battle between good and evil... I just couldn't stomach it, probably because after 400+ pages I hadn't really come to care for the characters that much. This book has all the trappings of a page turner -- genies, exotic Isalmic locales, technology, political intrigue and revolutions, e ...more
Allison Hurd
This was a really great read! Not really science fiction at all. I'd call this urban fantasy or mythic fantasy. It's believably "contemporary" and about a hacker, but add in some Jinn and a magical book, voila, it's not cyberpunk anymore.

CONTENT WARNING: (no actual spoilers, just a list of topics) (view spoiler)

Things to love:

-The world. A seamless blend of seen and unseen, magic and machine. It felt real, despite being e
...more
YouKneeK
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, standalone
I went into this book blind, so I didn’t really have any expectations, but somehow it still wasn’t what I expected. It’s sort of like a cyberpunk story with magic. I liked it quite a bit, although it wasn’t perfect.

The story is set in the Middle East and the main character, who calls himself Alif, is a programmer who helps people of all beliefs run illegal web sites by protecting them from detection by the government. Illegal in this context has more to do with illegal beliefs and ideas, not nec
...more
Jonathan Strahan
Aug 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
One of the most interesting and rewarding books I've read in 2012, G. Willow Wilson's debut novel Alif the Unseen is ostensibly a contemporary young adult fantasy novel about a dissident computer hacker set in an unspecified Arabic country at a time of rising civil unrest. The book has a lot to recommend it - engaging characters, a fast-paced narrative and so on - but what makes it most interesting is the way it interrogates the boundaries between science fiction and fantasy, between secular and ...more
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“A story is a story, and one may glean from it what one likes. Good sense need not enter into it.” 358 likes
“All translations are made up" opined Vikram, "Languages are different for a reason. You can't move ideas between them without losing something” 64 likes
More quotes…