Tuesday, December 30, 2014
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 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. With shades of Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, and The Thousand and One Nights, Alif the Unseen is a tour de force debut—a sophisticated melting pot of ideas, philosophy, religion, technology and spirituality smuggled inside an irresistible page-turner.
Alif the Unseen is a brilliant debut novel published in 2012. The setting is engrossing, drawing on Middle Eastern lore and combining it with the world of modern computer hackers. That level of creativity makes for a satisfying story on many levels, with enough personal drama for literary fiction and enough magic for a fantasy novel. Aladdin's genie even makes a cameo! The characters are wonderfully varied -- petty, noble, cowardly, and one-of-a-kind -- and each person is fully realized. Wilson avoids stereotypes by including plenty of female characters and people from many different backgrounds, with many different levels of piety. You can find Alif the Unseen in the adult fiction section, but it would hold equal appeal in YA!