Book Review – Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Review of: Alif the Unseen
Author:
G. Willow Wilson
Price:
$5.46

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On 2013-11-15
Last modified:2013-11-15

Summary:

It's still pretty unusual for a book to be set in the Arab world and to include Islam as a plot element, so that was refreshing.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

The blurb promotes:

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.

Altogether this was a pretty good book.

It’s still pretty unusual for a book to be set in the Arab world and to include Islam as a plot element, so that was refreshing.  It’s nice to be shown the world from a different point of view, and that’s one of the common goals of Sci Fi/Fantasy.

The contrast between ancient culture and modern (near-future?) technology was also enjoyable.

My biggest problem with the book is the pacing.  It’s as if there are two plot arcs – it feels like the book should end about halfway through but it keeps going and starts building up the tension again for a second climax at the end.

There are also some things that aren’t explained and some plot points that don’t pay off (setup for a second book?) but they weren’t terribly egregious.

The author also took some liberties with the “hacker” plotline – it felt like she was a lot more comfortable describing Islam and the middle east than describing technology.  In a few cases it skates on the edge of being like movies like The Net and TV shows like CSI that very earnestly get technology very wrong.