Alif the Unseen

G. Willow Wilson
Alif the Unseen Cover

Alif the Unseen


This new age of genre fiction is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we've got new authors breaking away from the tired tropes of SF/F, and crafting stories in new enviornments like the Far East, Arabia, and Africa. On the other, sometimes I feel like people praise these authors even if the stories they tell aren't that good. Rather, that they're being congratulated on what they tried to do, rather than what they accomplished.

Fortunately, Alif the Unseen isn't like that. It's a excellent story with the right mix of horror, humor, new enviornments, and thought-provoking points. I enjoyed it a lot.

I'll admit, it didn't excite me in the beginning. The set-up was good, and the location and plot moved along just fine, but I had a real problem with Alif himself. He was thoroughly unlikable. He's mean, rude, cocky, and annoyingly in love with some girl that he won't end up with. It didn't make for a very empathetic character. Until he really gets involved with the plot, that is.

For all the magic and jinn and critiques of Middle Eastern security states, Alif the Unseen is very much a coming of age story about its title character. He goes from being a bratty youth to an accidental hero and finally a man. It's pretty inspiring.

Of course, the other characters are a blast to read as well. Especially Vikram. Vikram is the man.

Throughout the book is a recurring theme of theology and science, of technology and magic, and how the two aren't so different. While it's fun to read about disembodied spirits having malware problems, the use of the Alf Yeom and Quran as metaphor for computer coding is surprisingly well developed and thought provoking. Rarely have I seen a book that uses ancient knowledge in a modern day setting so well.

This story isn't perfect. But it is exciting, well told, and an interesting glimpse into another world. I'm looking forward to the next book Ms. Wilson releases.