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Alif the Unseen

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  16,434 ratings  ·  2,750 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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Victorvanr I would definitely say yes. I may students give a different perspective on the Islamic world
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Amany Rajab
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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 ·  16,434 ratings  ·  2,750 reviews

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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
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
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
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
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
May 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
I read a chapter and a page of this and I drew the line when this guy was keeping the stained bed sheet of his "first time" as some sort of pride possession!!!
Cassi aka Snow White Haggard
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: galleys, read-in-2012
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
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
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A clever mashup of equal parts efreet fantasy and golden hackers in a Big Brother Muslim state seems like a winner at first glance to me. I love everything about the first two and the addition of throwing it into a Muslim culture MAY or may not have been a winning move. Sometimes it can come off strange or cheesy or uncomfortable.

Fortunately, Wilson's strong writing and respectful nature carried a number of complex and interesting characters into a great tale with romantic elements, stronger hac
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 is hit-or-miss when it comes to a respectful representation of a culture that one is not raised in.

I was impressed
Popsugar Challenge 2020 - A book by an author with Flora or Fauna in their name

'They had no idea what it was like to live in a place that boasted one of the most sophisticated digital policing systems in the world, but no proper mail service'.

This one quote represents my time in the Middle East perfectly!

This is a techy fantasy novel written by the comic author of Ms Marvel based in the UAE and the middle eastern sand swirls off the pages. I felt these streets, I loved the Egyptian, Indian an
Simona B
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. ...more
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 abou
Jul 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels, i-have

Potential spoilers are hidden

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
♛ may
Book 9 completed for #RamadanReadathon

i survived!!!!! 🙌

oh man, i was sold when i heard this was a cyberpunk book about a renowned hacker set in the middle east. it sounded absolutely genius

what i didn't know what that the main character is a piece of trash and how the portrayal of arabs and muslims was kind of strange?? idk, it wasn't all negative (there were religious characters that were fleshed out and relatable and Good People and i appreciated that) but there were just some stereotypes that
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
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
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
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
This novel falls squarely into the pile of contemporary SFF books that is, sadly, growing at an alarming rate in my recent reading explosion: it’s yet another a well-meaning exercise in bringing to life a severely under-represented milieu (in this case, the modern Middle East), complete with a deep dive into its culture and mythology, that all but collapses under the weight of flimsy plotting, thin characterization, and serviceable but ultimately mediocre sentence-to-sentence craftsmanship. I do ...more
“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 cho
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,
Clif Hostetler
Aug 10, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
I became interested in this book because it appeared to be a novelist’s interpretation of the Arab Spring.  The story involves a young computer hacker living in a totalitarianly governed Arab state who clandestinely provides online firewall protection to dissident groups. The hacker is known by his online handle, Alif. The country’s rulers consider him to be a terrorist; in his own mind he’s a “gray-hat” -- a principled hacker using illegal methods to protect freedom of speech (i.e. a hacktivist ...more
Paul E. Morph
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
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.

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
What an original and richly evocative urban fantasy story. I loved the cultural setting and a fabulous cast of characters. Recommended!
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
Mar 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: jilted hackers, veiled American academics, djinns with computer viruses
Taking place in an unnamed country in the Middle East, Alif the Unseen is a mix of alternate history/contemporary political thriller with fantasy elements.

Alif, the eponymous main character, is a pseudonym for a young hacker in an autocratic Islamic country where he is a poor immigrant offering anonymity and Internet access to anyone who wants it. He helps Islamists, secularists, feminists, religious minorities, anyone who wants to evade the state's Internet firewall and ever-present monitoring.
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Hugo, World Fantasy and American Book Award-winning author of novels and comics, including THE BIRD KING, INVISIBLE KINGDOM, and ALIF THE UNSEEN. Co-creator of Ms Marvel. Honorary doctor of letters, Rutgers University. I accidentally started a dutch baby baking cult during quarantine. Not very active on here right now, but often found on Twitter.

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