Monday, June 25, 2012

Review - Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (4.5/5 stars)

Reading Level: Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Cyberpunk
Size: 320 pages
Publisher: Grove Press
Release Date: June 19, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0802120205
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: ARC through Amazon Vine
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

I got an advanced reading copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program for review. This was a creative and interesting book that combines mythology, cyberpunk, and political activism.

Alif is the name for a young Arab-Indian hacker who generally spends his days protecting his clients from surveillance and censoring. Alif has also fallen in love with young aristocratic woman. Suddenly things fall apart for Alif; his lover spurns him and the State agency known as the Hand infiltrates his system. Alif ends up on the run. He meets with his lover one last time and she gives his a strange book. Who knew that Djinn really existed? Alif is forced to flee through both our world and a magical one as he tries to stop the Hand from destroying both his work and that of his friends.

This book reminds a lot of previous books you might have read; but is a unique combination of all of these books. There is a bit of Gaiman’s Neverwhere in here in how the city of the djinn is hidden within Alif’s city, there are also the quirky characters and flight from unknown evil. There is a bit of Stephenson’s Snow Crash in here as well, which shows in the hacking sequences and in the rebellion towards the government. This story is part mythology, part cyberpunk, and part political statement all set in the Middle East.

That being said it was different than anything I have ever read before. It gave some interesting incite into Middle Eastern politics and culture. At the same time it also references some unique mythology from that region. This is not a book you read quickly, this is a book that you need to think times it gets a bit dense.

This is a creative story, as I said I’ve never read anything like this before. The characters are all pretty good and interesting; although this is more a plot driven story than a character driven one. I don’t know a ton about the Middle East and it was incredibly interesting how the culture was blended in to the rest of the story. Practical issues, like how women eat around their veils, were mentioned in the telling; there are just a lot of interesting cultural things that I never really considered before.

Additionally this story bluntly discusses a lot of other issues in the Middle East region; repression, sexism, censorship, corruption, and separation of social casts. This ended up making the story somewhat educational, despite the fact it is a fantasy.

This is also a wonderful fantasy/urban fantasy. Alif walks in and out of the world of the djinn; it is an interesting concept and an unique world. I love how Alif discovers a new way to program that he believes he has learned from the djinn’s book of stories.

My only complaints would be at times the book is a bit dense and towards the middle-end of the book I thought the pacing was a bit slow. Also, although the characters are fairly well done, they weren’t characters that totally engaged me and pulled me into the story. They were interesting, but I never really cared a lot about them.

Overall an excellent urban fantasy/cyberpunk/political story. This book is unlike anything I have ever read before. I loved how Middle Eastern culture was blended into this fantasy and how we get to see some scenes of every day life. I loved even more that the mythology of this region was highly incorporated into this story. Then of course there were the glorious hacker scenes; where it is code against code to see who saves the world. My only complaints are that the story is dense (which makes it a slow read at times) and the characters were decent, yet not highly compelling. Highly recommended for fans of urban fantasy/cyberpunk or for those who are just interesting in Middle Eastern culture.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- Horror and Urban Fantasy Challenge
- 150+ Books Reading Challenge

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