Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson


What a wonderful gem of a book!

I added Alif the Unseen to my get-from-the-library list a little while back, when I saw Riv’s review praising it. And really, you should read her review because she did a fantastic job and I’m sure my review isn’t going to be nearly as articulate.

So. What’s this book about? I tried telling two different people about this book and they both just kind of gave me blank, confused stares. I always thought that writing book blurbs and summaries for the book covers would be the coolest job, but obviously I’d be terrible at it! Anyways, here’s the description from the book jacket:

“In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients – dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups – from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif – the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the state’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line.

Then it turns out his lover’s new fiancé is the “Hand of God”, as they call the head of state security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.”

Hackers! Jinn! Deserts! Young love! So much stuff that I didn’t necessarily think would fit well together, but totally did.

So young Alif is crazy good at computer programming or coding or whatever the cool technological lingo is. As a way to make some money and to kind of stick it to the Big Brother-esque government, he offers security and protection for the websites of his clients so that they can’t be tracked, shut down, and arrested. In real life, he’s a bit of a dolt at first. He has typical teenage-y girl problems, thinking he’s in love with a rich, pretty girl and ignoring the girl next door. He’s a little flippant with his mom. He’s stubborn. But once the crap hits the fan, he turns into a much smarter, caring, and heroic person.

I LOVED the premise of this book – that computer technology and the unseen world of the jinn are intertwined. Alif has a conversation with a man in a mosque comparing quantum computing to the meanings of all the words in the Quran. You have no idea how much the nerd in me enjoyed that. And when Alif figures out exactly what the Hand wants with The Thousand and One Days and what he thinks he can create with it? Maaaaaan.

Vikram is one of the jinn, and he’s awesome. Creepy and scary, but also funny and kind of a jerk. And there are a few other good secondary characters as well that I grew to really like, BUT I don’t want to tell you who they are because you should really just read this and discover for yourself. The whole story just kind of unfolds around you as you read.

Basically, there’s nothing I disliked about this book. It was an interesting concept, beautifully executed. I can’t wait to buy my own copy.

Sarah Says: 5 stars



  1. I’m so glad you liked it too! Just yesterday we were discussing some characters in “Alif” with the boyfriend (he doesn’t read that much so it’s nice when we happen to read the same book) and actually came to conclusion that secondary characters were more interesting than the main character(s) 🙂

    Yeah, all the nerdy cleverness and mixing up the worlds is very much my cup of tea, too.


  2. Oh, I’m so glad you liked this book, too. I read & reviewed this book last year and tried REALLY hard to get the author to my bookstore for an event–unsuccessfully. I can’t remember the last time I read a book that was so timely (its pub date was, like, two months after Arab Spring), diverse in bringing disparate subjects together, and just outright fun.

    Vikram was a great character, I agree, but I’d be hard pressed to choose a favorite.


    1. I’d love to meet the author someday. I can’t see what she writes next!

      Vikram was great, but you’re right, it’s hard to choose a favorite… Really the whole cast of characters was just fantastic and put together really well.


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