I'm not really sure I can adequately wrap up how I feel about this book. That's in part to it just having been weeks since I finished it. I thought the time might help me get some clarity, but if anything it muddied the waters a bit.
Alif the Unseen is about a hacktivist who finds himself unexpectedly in possession of a most peculiar book and a most peculiar computer program. When it becomes clear one of his greatest boogeymen is after one of them, he has to go on the run, along with his childhood friend, to a world lying in the shadow of the supernatural. Heck, sometimes they even jump all the way in. :).
So, I guess the first thing I'll say is, this is one of those books I enjoyed and will happily never read again. Our hero is the sort of guy who makes you roll your eyes at how he behaves, but is likeable enough that you want him to become better and succeed. The female main character is... well, flat out, I loved her. She was tough when she needed to be, blunt when it was important to be, and retained her femininity, which seemed important to her as well. I want more of her. I want a book of her.
And the rest of the cast was likewise strong, excepting the villain who, if I'm being honest, I didn't really *get.* I understood, from a logical standpoint, his plan and his endgame. I could appreciate through the writing that he scared the living daylights out of the characters, and with good reason. But the story always felt like it kept him distant enough that I was never scared of him, or scared for the characters on account of him. He might be the weakest link for me.
The other weak link is that the story takes a very long time to really get going. There's a lot of travel - ask someone about the book - travel - ask someone about the book. It never feels repetitive while reading it, but at some point I looked up and realized what was going on.
The story is a wonderfully unique experience in the contemporary/urban fantasy landscape, taking place in an unnamed middle-eastern state and hopping into the folklore and mystery without getting too familiar or descriptive. It felt like respect. The explorations - of self, of choice, of religion and faith and the differences - varied from interesting to flat out fascinating to me. But at the end of the day, while I was glad I read this, I didn't really enjoy reading it.
I don't know quite what it is. It could be the pacing. It could be that the themes are too heavy for the sort of light reading I usually return to multiple times. It could be just that I was in the wrong mindset when I read it. But all in all, I recommend this, and highly!