Updated on August 5, 2015
29. ‘Alif the Unseen’ by G. Willow Wilson
This is not the story I expected it to be from the front cover, but this was not at all disappointing.
G. Willow Wilson combines the Arab Spring, the world of computer hacking, and ancient Eastern religion and magic, in this wonderful, fast-paced book.
Alif (so called after the first letter in the Arabic alphabet) is a computer hacker, working against the censorship imposed on his country by ‘The Hand’, an all-powerful man in government. After creating a computer programme so sophisticated even he doesn’t understand it, it falls into the possession of ‘The Hand’ who uses it against the network of underground hackers, and Alif is forced to go on the run. He’s given a mysterious book and, before he knows it, is plunged into a world of magical creatures, parallel universes and genies.
I thought fantasy and reality was blended quite well in this book. Of course occasionally there were leaps of imagination that were a bit shaky, but work if you just go with it. For example, Alif and Dina seem to very quickly accept that they have met creatures from folklore, and said creatures (Vikram the Vampire, and the massive genie) go from terrifying, deadly fiends to chummy friends just as rapidly. I felt that, in her haste to get on with the story, Wilson sometimes hurried through character and relationship development. Luckily the story’s so good that this doesn’t really matter.
I particularly loved the world of the genies: the changing alley is fantastically weird, and what they see when they finally cross into the other realm is wonderfully imaginative and brilliantly depicted. (Although the fact that the humans didn’t really go mad when they entered the other realm, even though they’d been assured it was truly dangerous, was a little disappointing.) I also really liked the discussion about books, and burning them, between Alif and Dina, because this is a subject which fascinated me anyway.
Names are important in the book. Alif remains hidden behind his screen name or handle, and we often hear about other characters names without hearing the names themselves. There are mentions of the dangers of giving out your name, both in the real and fantasy world, because of the power this gives another person over you.
This is definitely well worth reading, if you like a bit of magic and a really good yarn.
“‘So the stories aren’t just stories, is what you’re saying. They’re really secret knowledge disguised as stories.’
‘One could say that of all stories, younger brother.'”
This was sent to me by Atlantic Books. I kept seeing other bloggers on Twitter posting photos of their copies, and the cover was so beautiful I just had to ask for one! Physically it’s a lovely book – it’s hardback and the pages are really thick and smell great.
I read this almost entirely during my trip to Venice.
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?