Alif the Unseen is a 2012 novel by G. Willow Wilson. It is set in the contemporary Arab world, in a fictionalized Gulf State. The genre of the book is a mixture of fantasy and cyberpunk, and although it is not directly marketed as such, it could also be classified as a young adult book, although one with an elevated level of graphic content, both in sex and violence.

Alif is the codename of a young hacker living in a fictionalized version of Dubai or a similar place. He uses his talents to provide internet anonymity to dissidents, be they secularists, Islamist, or anything else. He is also involved in an affair with a royal woman, which provides the impetus for the plot: when she breaks up with him due to an arranged marriage, he programs a key logger/typing style analysis tool to block her from contacting him again, which turns out to have disastrous consequences. He quickly finds himself being chased by the state security apparatus, and seeks refuge with a frightening underworld enforcer known as "Vikram the Vampire", who turns how to be a jinn, a supernatural being. The stakes in the battle turn out to be much higher than he originally thought, and over the 400 pages of the book, he must dodge a confusing array of threats, both natural and unnatural.

This book kept my attention for the most part, although there were a few places where the action tended to drag, as it seemed that the characters were taking one too many detours or plot twists than necessary. The climax of the book was also overlong and overdone: the main villain as much as said "Since I have you all constrained, now it is time for a pages long discussion of my nefarious plans and even more nefarious philosophy!" But apart from the plot and characters, it also touches on a number of themes. The author is a Muslim, and while she doesn't proselytize, she does engage in some apologetics. Along with issues of faith, the book is also about social movements and revolutions, and how the internet provides a tool for them. It is also about the relationship between the real and the unreal, and the seen and the unseen. There is a lot going on here, and while in places the execution is a bit wobbly, I considered it a worthwhile read.

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