Monday, June 25, 2012

Alif the Unseen (review)

4/5 stars

Alif the Unseen is such a unique book.  It's a computer-science heavy fantasy novel set in the modern Middle East.  There is coding, firewalls, cloud servers and genies, all in the same book.  Doesn't that sound amazing?  This book is fantasy blended with real science, something that I've never seen before. It's a big risk that pays off.

Very rarely to I go quite as highlighter happy as this book made me.  It was smart, clever, funny and thought-provoking.
"How dense and literal it is. I thought it had a much more sophisticated brain."
 "Your mother's dense," Alif said wearily.
"My mother was an errant crest of sea foam. But that's neither here nor there."
This book just goes.  It doesn't stop to explain everything.  I appreciated the respect it showed it's reader.  Admittedly I don't know a lot about Middle Eastern folklore or legends.  Anything I need to know I can research.  The book doesn't info-dump, yet I had no problem following the story.

This book talks about how sometimes religious people pick and choose what to believe.  In this instance, it's talking about the Quaran and how people tend to ignore the references to jinn (genies) even though it's throughout the text. However I think it's something interesting that applies beyond just one faith group.
Superstation is thriving. Pedantry is thriving. Sectarianism is thriving. Belief is dying out. To most of your people the jinn are paranoid fantasies who run around causing epilepsy and mental illness. Find me someone to whom the hidden folk are simply real, as described in the Books. You'll be searching a long time. Wonder and awe have gone out of your religions. 
For me the highlight of the book was Dina.  Alif's neighbor, she's tremendously stubborn, intelligent and very pious.  She decided to veil her face, against the wishes of her family and everyone who knew her. Normally it would be easy to write off such a character as an oppressed woman.  But Dina is too awesome for that.  She's one of the bravest and most intelligent characters, always having foresight when everyone else just runs around panicking.  She's a complex character, a mixture of faith, practicality and intelligence.
"Maybe you should stay here until this has blown over," he said. It's going to be dangerous.""I know. That's why I wore sneakers." (Dina)
I want more books that dare to be different.  I'm not saying this book is perfect.  At times it's a little slow, the prologue is especially weak and it talks about urinating a lot.  But sometimes that doesn't matter!  What matters is that it tells a story that completely surprises you and that you can stop reading.


roxanne s. sukhan said...

This one's on my eReader. I can hardly wait to get to it.

Pam (@moonlightreader) said...

Definitely sounds unique!

Unknown said...

Sounds like a really good read!! I will have to try it some time!!
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Ninette said...

I've tagged you for a blog award. Thank you for your thoughtful reviews.

Lubna said...

I would echo what Pam said, it sounds like a very unique book.

Cassi Haggard said...

Read it everyone!!!!! I'm really anxious for other people to read this so I can gauge their reaction. So far out of the people I know, only me and my friend Catie have read it and we were both really impressed.