Alif the Unseen

G. Willow Wilson

Alif the Unseen
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Alif the Unseen

G. Willow Wilson

‘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 Welcome to the Empty Quarter, the domain of Djinn, ghouls, demons and the effrit who take the shapes of beasts. You used to walk among us, and we among you. Now things are different. Now we are Unseen. Alif is a 23-year-old Arab/Indian hacker working in the Arab Emirates. His job is to provide security to enemies of the Arab states, ranging from pornographers to militant Islamists. Alif has fallen in love with the beguiling Intisar, an aristocratic woman he meets online. But their budding love affair is cruelly ended when her father arranges a marriage for her with a man of her class. a man who turns out to be the state’s leading censor, a shadowy and powerful figure known only as ‘the Hand’. The state security forces come after Alif with guns drawn, and he must go underground, trying all the while to fight back against a piece of code he wrote to protect his lover but which the Hand is using to create the most sophisticated state surveillance the world has ever known. As their final communication, Intisar sends the heartbroken Alif a mysterious old book. Bound in what looks like human skin, and titled The Thousand and One Days, Alif soon realizes that this token of affection is actually a dangerous source of old world magic. And as the keeper of this amulet - the secret book of the jinn - Alif is about to become a wanted fugitive from both the corporeal and the celestial worlds.A life and death struggle ensues as the might of heaven and earth is unleashed.


Alif is an Arab-Indian hacker-for-hire in an unnamed Middle Eastern emirate with a digital policing system so effective it’s referred to as the Hand of God. In an already rightfully paranoid community, Alif’s chosen occupation is fraught. But it is his clandestine affair with the aristocratic Intisar that truly precipitates his downfall.

When Intisar’s parents organise her betrothal to a prince, she is forced to end her relationship with Alif. Her last communication with him is strange: she sends him an original edition of the Alf Yeom, an ancient book of unusual provenance that is allegedly a subversive take on the classic The Thousand and One Nights and purportedly dictated by a jinn.

When Alif’s computer is breached by state security, he goes into hiding with his loyal best friend, Dina. Investigations soon reveal that Intisar’s new fiancé is none other than the head of state security, the Hand of God himself, and he wants the Alf Yeom at any cost. Desperation drives Alif deeper into the Empty Quarter, the occult underbelly of the City, and closer to the unbelievable truth about the book.

Alif the Unseen is billed as G. Willow Wilson’s debut novel, but she is a writer of experience, having penned an acclaimed memoir, The Butterfly Mosque, and several graphic novels. As a convert to Islam and a part-time resident of Cairo, Wilson is uniquely positioned to tell this story that riffs on Middle Eastern politics and Arab society – attitudes about class and race, relations with the West, and the simmering tension of the Arab Spring.

If this all sounds like a big, hot mess, then let me reassure you: Alif the Unseen works on every level. It’s a supernatural action story tinged with yearning and romance; a satire with sharp, political teeth; and a homage to the power of myth, words, names and computer codes.

Leanne Hall is a children’s bookseller at Readings Carlton, and a writer of young adult fiction. Her novel This Is Shyness won the Text Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Writing, and her latest, The Queen of the Night, was released in 2012. She blogs at the and you can follow her on twitter - @lilymandarin.

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