Alif the Unseen (Review)

Book cover for "Alif the Unseen" by G. Willow Wilson.Title: Alif the Unseen

Author: G. Willow Wilson

Publication Year: 2012

Pages: 448

Genre: Fiction

Source: Purchased from Kinokuniya

From the cover:

He calls himself Ali – few people know his real name – a young man born in a Middle Eastern city that straddles the ancient and modern worlds. When Alif meets the aristocratic Intisar, he believes he has found love. But their relationship has no future – Intisar is promised to another man and her family’s honour must be satisfied.

As a remembrance, Intisar sends the heartbroken Alif a mysterious book. Entitled The Thousand and One Days, Alif discovers that this parting gift is a door to another world – a world from a very different time, when old magic was in the ascendant and the djinn walked among us.

With the book in his hands, Alif finds himself drawing attention – far too much attention – from both men and djinn. Thus begins an adventure that takes him through the crumbling streets of a once-beautiful city, to uncover the long-forgotten mysteries of The Unseen. Alif is about to become a fugitive in both the corporeal and incorporeal worlds. And he is about to unleash a destructive power that will change everything and everyone – starting with Alif himself.

This is the first book I’ve ever read that combines both the modern world and the world of the djinn. Books about supernatural beings have been popular for who knows how long, but I’ve never come across one that takes Islamic folklore as its basis. You know, aside from the movie of Aladdin. And I’ve read another of Wilson’s books, The Butterfly Mosque, but it’s non-fiction … so I knew that I liked her writing, but I wasn’t sure if I’d want to read a novel. Sometimes people don’t cross over very well, yanno?

Now that I have read it, though, it’s one of the books I’m recommending the most to people. I think it’s probably one of my favourite books from the past year. I devoured it, finishing the whole thing in maybe a couple days (which, given the slowness of my reading lately, is actually a big deal). I strongly enjoyed the exploration of the spiritual world, particularly as told from the perspective of a character who wasn’t really religious throughout the book. It’s interesting to read about the djinn with a healthy dose of skepticism alongside it. Gives it a bit of realism.

There’s also a great subplot that is fascinating for its complexity. It seemed at the beginning of the book that it would be just a straight out forbidden love kind of thing, but then it didn’t turn out that way. I don’t want to give too much away, but I do have to say that it was both romantic and culturally appropriate.

If you pick up only one book from those that I review this month, definitely choose Alif the Unseen. It was a great mix of adventure, the supernatural, and technology that I would definitely recommend.


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

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