Friday, March 15, 2013

Alif the Unseen

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson is a fantasy that is just a little bit different than the norm. Or at least fantasy that I normally read. Most fantasy novels I read are firmly lodged in the Western tradition. Wilson's work takes place in the Middle East. Think jinn (often spelled Djinn in the West for some reason) and Islam rather than dragons and some form (however tenuous) of Christianity.

Alif is the screen name of a "grey hat" hacker who helps dissidents hide from the oppressive government. One day he spots a government agent on his doorstep and he has to go on the run. The person he runs to turns out to be a jinn. Alif's world view does not include magic but he has to come to grips with it if he wants his life back.

I really liked this book. It's filled with great characters and the story is engrossing. I was up all night reading it because, even though I told myself I'd go to bed at the end of the chapter, I just couldn't put it down. Alif's "normal" world is one I know absolutely nothing about.The magical world was also new because jinn magic is not like that of wizards or sorcerers. It was refreshing to read something where I had no idea how things would be worked out.

The one quibble I have is with the end. It felt rushed. The book moves slowly until the last few pages and then things fly by. Of course, that could be because I wanted the book to last longer.

I liked the book so much that I read Wilson's graphic novel Cairo which is also about jinn and takes place in the famous Egyptian city. I was slightly disappointed that it was in black and white but I enjoyed the story for the same reasons I liked Alif the Unseen.