Alif the Unseen
G. Willow Wilson
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“Driven by a hot ionic charge between higher math and Arabian myth, G. Willow Wilson conjures up a tale of literary enchantment, political change, and religious mystery. Open the first page and you will be forced to do its bidding: To read on.”—Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Out of Oz
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.
With shades of Neal Stephenson, Philip Pullman, and The Thousand and One Nights, Alif the Unseen is a tour de force debut—a sophisticated melting pot of ideas, philosophy, technology, and spirituality smuggled inside an irresistible page-turner.
“[A] Harry Potter-ish action-adventure romance [that] unfolds against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. . . . Improbably charming . . . A bookload of wizardry and glee.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
every inch of skin he could reach, picking filth from under his slippery fingernails. The bath was murky with dirt when he stood and wrapped himself in a towel. Fresh clothes had appeared while he bathed: a loose linen tunic and pants folded neatly on the warm stone behind the tub. He dressed, looking up when Dina slipped through the doorway at the other end of the courtyard with a hand mirror, scissors, and a razor. “Where did you get this stuff?” Alif asked her. “I can’t picture the marid
he would try again to reach her. Intisar had always preferred to meet at night. Society didn’t mind if you broke the rules; it only required you to acknowledge them. Meeting after dark showed a presence of mind. It suggested that you knew what you were doing went against the prevailing custom and had taken pains to avoid being caught. Intisar, noble and troubling, with her black hair and her dove-low voice, was worthy of this much discretion. Alif understood her desire for secrecy. He had spent
mouth. “He says the paper was made using a process that went out of vogue in Central Asia by the fourteenth century. It’s almost certainly Persian, too, or at least the paper itself was made in Persia. He thinks that awful-smelling resin is what has kept the book in such good condition, though he can’t tell offhand what it’s made of. He wants to have the lab analyze it.” “So …” Alif trailed off, unsure of what he wanted to say. “So I was wrong.” The convert smiled wryly. She looked tired.
Alif, feeling emboldened. “Any alley, immovable or not, as long as there’s someone there who can tell me what I need to know.” “Alternately,” said the convert in a slow, condescending voice, such as one would use with a child, “you could just wait until you meet your friend and ask her where she got it and what she expects you to do with it.” Alif rubbed pakora grease on his jeans, wilting under the convert’s scrutiny. “I could,” he mumbled, “but I don’t even know for sure that she’s going to
they echoed against the washroom walls, creating a kind of operatic harmony: Sheikh Bilal’s loud indignation, Vikram’s musical contempt, the convert’s nasal protests. Dina was silent but he could guess what she was thinking. A wave of guilt passed over him. He had no right to bring her into his perverse orbit, so far removed from the little duplex in Baqara District where she performed the hidden offices of her sex. She would be tainted by his infamy—he had, perhaps, put the nice young suitors