When the October book for the Sword and Laser book club was announced I was quite excited – it sounded fun and interesting and different. And to some extent it was, but in other ways it felt very similar to many young adult novels I have read in the past.
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson is a modern day fantasy/quasi-techno-“thriller” that is aimed for a young adult audience. One of the brilliant things about the book is the complexity of the overlapping layers – social, political, religious, modern day technology, and the fantasy elements of the jinn all overlap to create an interesting and unique setting that is simultaneously somewhat fantastical and completely believable.
While I found myself really enjoying the setting and the plot, the one thing that really let me down in this novel were the characters. The secondary characters in this story were great – they had fun personalities and often had surprising characteristics that made the story very enjoyable to read. They completely sold me on the world and the adventure. The main characters in the story, however, felt a little generic to me. I didn’t completely dislike them, but they really didn’t have any personality traits that made them feel unique or special. Their journey, behaviors, and reactions could be inserted into many different situations without having any affect on their personalities or outcomes.
Overall I have to say I liked this story, and I appreciate the way that it merged so many different elements to create a believable setting. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t know that I found the plot and main characters compelling enough to really consider it one of my favorites. I would highly recommend it to someone in the young adult age category, or to anyone who really enjoys reading young adult novels, but if you are looking for a bit more complexity in your characters and plot, it might not be complex enough to hold your interest. Definitely worth the read for the setting and secondary characters though.