‘Alif the Unseen’: ‘Ms. Marvel’ author’s novel full of action, ideas

Published: January 26 2014 | 7:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:41 am in
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The one downside to being a book reviewer might be the constant need to make choices among current books. There’s always something I want to read that slips past me as I try to keep up with new releases and visiting authors.

This week, I decided to take a step back to read “Alif the Unseen,” the 2012 novel by G. Willow Wilson.

Wilson has been in the news lately because next month she is relaunching Marvel Comics’ “Ms. Marvel” title. The new Ms. Marvel is a teenage Pakistani-American Muslim from New Jersey, and this news has set the comics world aflutter. Wilson herself converted to Islam while a student at Boston University, and her writing — memoir, graphic novels, and her novel, “Alif the Unseen” — explore the traditions and beliefs of her adopted faith.

Alif is a “hacktivist” living in an unnamed Emirate. When his online activities garner the attention of the authorities, he finds himself on the run. In his plight, he is aided by a rich and varied cast, including the leader of a mosque, a royal who is secretly an online provocateur and a jinn (or genie in Western parlance).

To add to his consternation, Alif also has issues of love and loyalty to sort out.

Wilson brilliantly has blended modern day technology and ancient mythmaking to create a fast-paced adventure in which the seen and unseen choose sides and battle for the soul of a country. But the novel is about more than action (though there is plenty). “Alif the Unseen” is also a novel of ideas.

Wilson’s concept for how old, layered stories might

inform modern day computing and social change is breathtaking. She also has much to say about belief, clashing cultures and the nature of fiction itself.

“Alif the Unseen” is a remarkable book with broad appeal and important insights.

Rob Cline is a writer and published author, marketing director for University of Iowa’s Hancher and director of literary events for New Bo Books, a division of Prairie Lights.

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