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review 2016-06-24 00:38
Alif the Unseen - G. Willow Wilson

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

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review 2015-02-22 00:00
Alif the Unseen
Alif the Unseen - G. Willow Wilson This story combines ancient mythology and the somewhat mystical world of the internet, and births a metaphysical work that is simultaneously tangibly graspable, and at the same time, vaguely mirage-like. In reading it, I found myself on the one hand, drawn into the plot, while simultaneously, marveling at the author's imagination and ingenuity. Calling it 'Alif' -- the Prime, is another stroke of brilliance. The zero-point, the origin, the 'state' where all potential lies.
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review 2014-10-10 21:50
Once upon another time
Alif the Unseen - G. Willow Wilson

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!

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review 2014-09-30 00:00
Alif the Unseen
Alif the Unseen - G. Willow Wilson DNF: Despite adoring the writer, I had serious issues enjoying this narrator. He was an immature jerk that I couldn't possibly root for... that does not a good novel make. :(
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review 2014-06-20 21:51
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
Alif the Unseen - G. Willow Wilson

I've got to say that this is a very different book. I haven't read much books that revolved around jinns in "modern" society (but I've played Golden Sun ~kudos if you get this reference) so this concept was pretty unique to me. In my library I found this in the adult fiction section. I got the overall feeling as if the main characters were teenagers though. An age isn't mentioned at all (unless I completely overlooked it) so this is just a guess. That being said, I would have to say that this is a book for mature readers.


Maybe one reason is for the swear words that appear every now and again. Also along with possible mentions of rape. There isn't a scene that depicts this but the fear of rape is mentioned a lot. This book immerses us into a whole different culture. The names, the setting, and the overall environment is not similar to our own. We get to explore the mindsets along with the possible dangers a women in Middle Eastern countries could be exposed to if they're not careful. While we might not find the situation ideal, we get to see how the characters develop in this environment while getting away from the main antagonist, the Hand.


Alif, our main character, is a computer hacker of sorts. He keeps his clients off the grid using code and has been under the radar until he receives this ancient book. Alif finds out that the Hand is looking for the book for some reason, and people from the State (their government) are trying to find him. Usually when people from the State come then it usually mans that someone is in BIG trouble. The Hand works for the State and takes down hackers and sites that go against the State. Alif then goes out to find what's so special about this book he received and why the Hand of all people would want the book.


I like how Alif's character was depicted fairly true to character. He is someone who works behinds the scene so I was very happy to read that he wasn't abnormally athletic when he was running around. I felt as if Alif's reaction to the whole situation was very believable too. I enjoyed the struggles that he went through trying to get away from the state along with the disbelief that comes when he meets a jinn. I also like how his wits are there when he faces a situation (I have big expectations for someone who writes their own program with code).


I enjoyed this book though. The overall concept was fascinating and I've got to say that I was rooting for Alif all the way. He was literally the underdog.




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