Alif the Unseen

Alif the Unseen

Book - 2012
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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 fianceé is 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.
Publisher: New York : Grove Press, 2012
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780802120205
Branch Call Number: FIC WILSON 2012
Characteristics: 433 pages : map ; 22 cm


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From Library Staff

At first, this novel seems to be “just” a smart and gripping political thriller, featuring a 23-year-old hacker on the run from government security forces in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Soon, however, the story verges into fantasy in the style of J. K. Rowling or Cornelia Funke but with a ... Read More »

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cals_sarahrawlinson Apr 03, 2020

This is an absolutely outstanding book. If you love fantasy or near-future sci-fi, I would highly recommend it. I came to this book after reading many of G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel comics, and while it's definitely a different kind of book (e.g. it has much more adult content), her imaginative story-telling and empathetic voice are the same.

IndyPL_SteveB Sep 13, 2019

Unique fantasy combining computer hacking, the Middle East, Islam, and genies (or “djinn”). Winner of the World Fantasy Award, 2013. THIS one is not like anything you have read before.

“Alif” is the on-line name for a young anti-government computer hacker in an unnamed Middle Eastern emirate. He doesn’t attack the government himself; but he helps anyone who is targeted by the government to keep their communications hidden and anonymous. Unfortunately, he discovers that a friend’s fiancé is actually “The Hand” -- the man secretly in charge of preventing freedom of computer use. The Hand appropriates Alif’s program and begins using it to arrest all of the underground government protesters. Alif and Dina, a neighbor friend, flee to the criminal part of the city to ask for help in getting out of the country. They are looking for a criminal leader who goes by “Vikram the Vampire.” Vikram is actually a djinn and his help has a price.

The adventure part of this novel is pretty exciting on its own; but what gives the book original weight and meaning are the conversations about the meaning of language, about the connections between a computer program and the words of the Quran, and about what begins revolutions.

The characters are surprising and powerful, with some strong women, several djinn, a wise religious leader, and a nasty but perfectly understandable villain.

nrobocop_nwpl Jun 08, 2019

A romp of a book that combines hacking, the djinn, and cities made of quartz. It might not be the most memorable book in the world, but it was fun while it lasted.

Aug 26, 2017

Superb. A story and characters that moved me, made me think, spun me around held me in thrall for its entirety.

I am grateful for books such as this.

Jun 27, 2016

A book that combines hackers, magic, romance, evil, good and "neutral" characters and dreams. A lot of my favourite elements there, so I had to pick this up.

It's quite a hefty looking book, but don't let that put you off. G. Willow Wilson starts with a classic boy meets girl, boy loses girl tale, set in a Middle East police state... then flips into hyperdrive with information that our protagonist is not only a hacker, but is now on the run from the head of state security or - "The Hand".

To aid him in his journey, the boy (Alif) has to call on some allies - not all from the rational world. Welcome to a world of Jinn, demons and holy men, steeped in folklore and excitement that keeps you guessing until the very end.

I'll be looking out for more of her books!

JCLChrisK Jan 16, 2014

This is a top-rate fantasy/techno-thriller set in an unnamed middle-eastern police state. Alif, as he pseudonymously calls himself online, is a mildly revolutionary dissident who operates as a hacker for hire until he finds himself in more trouble than he ever imagined and forced to put his beliefs into action in the real world. He also finds that information is much more than the latest computer code, as he comes into possession of an arcane codex that leads him into a world of jinn, other spirits, and ancient and divine magic. A unique blend of technology, magic, religion, fable, culture, love, and adventure that I found most engaging and captivating.


Alif was surprised to see that the wooden shelves lining the shop were packed more or less equally with books and computer parts: old tomes bound in leather, paperback novels in several languages, clumsy motherboards from the early nineties, third-generation optical drives less than a year out of beta.
"Is this a bookstore or a computer store or what?" he asked. "Who shops here?"
Sakina laughed without unkindness.
"What third-born questions," she asked. "This is neither a bookstore nor a computer store, Alif. I trade in information, no matter what form it takes. People come here when they wish to buy or barter for knowledge."
"Oh." Alif wished he hadn't spoken. He gazed pensively at a quad-core processor sitting on a shelf at eye level. Sakina looked at Vikram.
"Computers and books," she said. "Does that mean he can't see the other things?"
"Probably not," said Vikram, giving a fond slap to the back of Alif's neck. "He's still made of mud, after all."

Dec 29, 2013

I agree with other commenters below - a great read! - but I also loved the imagery: the Old Quarter city walls made of rose quartz glowing in the desert sunsets... A blend of fantasy and fiction, new and old.

Oct 10, 2013

This is for adults who enjoyed Harry Potter: Alif is more sophisticated, very digital, and just as rich in magical stuff. A lot of fun.

Aug 31, 2013

This was such an interesting blend of old and new: old mythology and new technology; old religious traditions and etiquette, along with new attitudes towards authority and revolution. The characters, especially Alif, seemed complex and realistic (though the villain was a bit melodramatic at times), the story was consuming, and I felt completely transported by the setting. Wonderful!

JCLGreggW Apr 27, 2013

Say you're a fan of fantasy and sci-fi, with supernatural beings living right beside us, right out of sight. Or perhaps you're more interested in more of a political/social novel, where a young revolutionary uses their skills to undermine an oppressive government. Maybe you're more in the mood for a good YA romance, where the hero finally falls for the girl who's been under his nose the entire time. Maybe you're into exotic locales where the present has deep ties to the past, and where history helps influence the present. Maybe you like high-tech thrillers, with groups of crusading hackers doing hacker things. With ALIF THE UNSEEN, a delightful mashup of a dozen different genres, you get all of these and more.

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Jun 25, 2016

richadubey thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

mdejesus Sep 18, 2012

mdejesus thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


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mdejesus Sep 18, 2012

"The unseen is unseen, the apparent is inescapable."


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