Recommendation: Impressive novel with so many different aspects melding into one compelling story. Things get a little harder to hold on to towards the end, but the combination of old-world magic with modern technology makes this one hell of a good book. And look at that cover! Amazing. And true to the story. There’s no reason not to pick this book up.
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Somehow, G. Willow Wilson hasn’t written a novel before this one. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m maybe incredibly jealous. Usually with debut novels authors ease into their new profession. You know, something about family life or a basic mystery story or just something that doesn’t have multiple levels and complexities that weave in and out throughout the entire story. G. Willow Wilson didn’t care so much about any of that. She decided to go all out and came out with an amazing novel on the other side.
Alif the Unseen tells the story of a young man who goes by the name Alif. He’s a computer programmer living in the Middle East who protects some important information from the hands of the government. However, the government has reached out to a mysterious agent, known simply as The Hand, who has targeted Alif as well as his family and friends. Alif has to go on the run, looking all over for help in escaping and then taking down The Hand, whether it be in this world or another.
The coolest thing about this novel is how easily Wilson combines the mystical world with the modern and technologically savvy. Alif is basically a programming expert and from my extremely mediocre understanding of computers it seems like Wilson did a lot of research cause it all checks out to me. Wilson also knows a lot about the mystical traditions of the Middle East, telling stories of the different kinds of jinn that used to share the world with humans before we stopped believing, leaving them to the unseen world.
Honestly, if that was the only thing going on—if Alif was simply exploring the unseen world and seeing how it interacted with his physical and then his digital world—I would have been completely into it. I’ve read plenty of fiction about the digital age and how digital worlds can be both very similar and completely different from our physical realms (a wonderful book, Luminarium, comes to mind), but the added aspect of jinn and their historical significance, it just brought a whole other level to the thing. But, that wasn’t all. There’s also a complicated love triangle, a mystery, and a thrilling chase that all pop up in this narrative.
I also don’t want to overshadow Wilson’s writing. She’s quite talented, even if it’s not in the traditional, literary fiction way. Wilson doesn’t often delve into flowery language or intricate descriptions, but she keeps her story moving at a constant, driving click. The plot is easily the most fascinating part of the book, so why try to mess it up? Wilson’s a clever author and her hard work has paid off because this book is awesome.