My relationship with this book is problematic. On one hand, I love it for what it is. Finally, we have something that draws on Eastern and Islamic tradition. It’s great and wonderful. We need books like this.
On the other hand, it is so predictable and some parts of the book just don’t work for me.
So three stars.
I loved the idea- the combination of the Arab Spring, fantasy, and Islamic faith is beautiful. Several sections of the book are so engrossing that the reader is easily lost in the world. The use of computers and coding is great as are the different levels and type of religious belief. While the central character is a man, the women are for the most part strong.
Yet, the weakest part of the story is the love story or to be more exact the love subplot. Part of Alif’s situation is caused by his relationship to a higher class girl who breaks up with him. The leads to the ever overused good girl/boy/bad girl love triangle. We all know how this plays out. To be honest, while Dina is a wonderful character, her romantic relationship with Alif felt forced. In fact, the relationship between the convert and another character felt far more real. While the Alif love triangle does make some interesting strides in terms of the black versus light, it also harkens to the good girl is religious, bad girl not so much trope that always puts my teeth on edge. Quite frankly, in some ways I thought Insitar’s story might a bit more interesting.
Another area of concern is the convert. While I can understand wanting to keep American characters either non-existent or at a minimum, the fact that she is the only character to not be given a name is annoying. It basic makes her a caricature and that weakens the novel.
However, despite the flaws (ones that many books have), this book is important because it does widen the realm of fantasy, in particular urban fantasy. I think I might actually try Ms. Marvel now
I'm not really sure I can adequately wrap up how I feel about this book. That's in part to it just having been weeks since I finished it. I thought the time might help me get some clarity, but if anything it muddied the waters a bit.
Alif the Unseen is about a hacktivist who finds himself unexpectedly in possession of a most peculiar book and a most peculiar computer program. When it becomes clear one of his greatest boogeymen is after one of them, he has to go on the run, along with his childhood friend, to a world lying in the shadow of the supernatural. Heck, sometimes they even jump all the way in. :).
So, I guess the first thing I'll say is, this is one of those books I enjoyed and will happily never read again. Our hero is the sort of guy who makes you roll your eyes at how he behaves, but is likeable enough that you want him to become better and succeed. The female main character is... well, flat out, I loved her. She was tough when she needed to be, blunt when it was important to be, and retained her femininity, which seemed important to her as well. I want more of her. I want a book of her.
And the rest of the cast was likewise strong, excepting the villain who, if I'm being honest, I didn't really *get.* I understood, from a logical standpoint, his plan and his endgame. I could appreciate through the writing that he scared the living daylights out of the characters, and with good reason. But the story always felt like it kept him distant enough that I was never scared of him, or scared for the characters on account of him. He might be the weakest link for me.
The other weak link is that the story takes a very long time to really get going. There's a lot of travel - ask someone about the book - travel - ask someone about the book. It never feels repetitive while reading it, but at some point I looked up and realized what was going on.
The story is a wonderfully unique experience in the contemporary/urban fantasy landscape, taking place in an unnamed middle-eastern state and hopping into the folklore and mystery without getting too familiar or descriptive. It felt like respect. The explorations - of self, of choice, of religion and faith and the differences - varied from interesting to flat out fascinating to me. But at the end of the day, while I was glad I read this, I didn't really enjoy reading it.
I don't know quite what it is. It could be the pacing. It could be that the themes are too heavy for the sort of light reading I usually return to multiple times. It could be just that I was in the wrong mindset when I read it. But all in all, I recommend this, and highly!