Friday, July 27, 2012

Alif the Unseen

Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl ditches boy for another. While this could invariably be the story of my life, it is rather the rollicking tale of a brilliant hacker known only as Alif in G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen. The novel takes place in an unnamed Middle Eastern security state where Alif uses his talents to shield from surveillance anyone who desires online anonymity, regardless of beliefs or politics. However, a tremor of fear is spreading among Alif’s clients as a mysterious digital presence coined the Hand of God appears responsible for a string of hacked accounts. Add to this stew a pinch of heartache: the sudden ending of Alif’s relationship with the love of his life, the beautiful Intisar, due to her betrothal to another man, and things start to heat up. When Intisar sends him an ancient and allegedly jinn-dictated tome known as Alf Yeom wa Yeom (The Thousand and One Days) and Alif finds himself on the run from the state, this tale kicks into a rolling boil and doesn’t let up until it spills over into a full-blown revolution. Along the way, Alif picks up many unexpected allies, human and otherwise, finds himself in some rather fantastic places, and learns what true love is really all about. While some of the hacker lingo bandied about was a bit beyond me, I found Alif the Unseen to be quite an enjoyable and thoughtfully crafted fantasy. I think what I loved most about it were the characters, from the dangerous and otherworldly Vikram the Vampire to the devout and fatherly Sheikh Bilal, not to mention the ever-faithful Dina and the wise-cracking NewQuarter, whose comic outbursts had me laughing out loud. I felt they all balanced each other beautifully and it was a treat to get to know them. This is not a creature-of-the-month demon-slayer urban fantasy like most seem to be nowadays, but rather an adventure stitched from the myths, magic, and upheavals of the Middle East. I wasn’t familiar with G. Willow Wilson before I read Alif the Unseen, but now I’ll definitely be watching to see what she comes up with next.  

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