Alif the Unseen is set in an unspecified Arab Emirate. The novel starts with a supernatural introduction to a book, the Alf Yeom (The Thousand and One Days), dictated by a captive Djinn. It then moves to present day and follows the life of Alif, a computer hacker and programmer, at war with the ruling Emir and his apparatus of state, together with two young women, Intisar and Dina, who feature in his life. I won't detail the entire plot, but it ranges from a supernaturnal fantasy, taking in a lot of IT/technobabble and Arab Spring politics. It is difficult to catergorise the novel in a particular genre because it seems such a mishmash of ideas. He reads like the Arabian Nights meets Harry Potter, The Matrix, and a socio-political Arab novel, with a bit of Star Wars thrown in places. Some will no doubt be enchanted by the supernaturnal storyline, but I found it a little bit of a mess.
The author writes quite well and I enjoyed the beginning, but it becomes a bit too weird and fantastical for me at the end. The basic idea about the unseen world of The Djinn is intruiging, and takes you into some of the background of the Islamic faith, which was unknown to me and interesting. However for me the story just doesn't quite work. The novel starts very promisingly and then the plot becomes a bit clunky and sags into a bit of a mess, which is a pity. I didn't find the lead males characters very convincing either. I think it may have been more effective if the author had written either a pure fantasy novel, or a political novel with the information technology themes. Trying to weld them together into a single plot just created a molten mess, similar to Alif's computer melted-down hard drive.