"Alif the Unseen" is the new book by G. Wilson, the writer of "The Butterfly Mosque". Read a summary here: http://www.npr.org/2012/12/13/166480907/the-years-best-sci-fi-crosses-galaxies-and-genres
I'd been DYING to read this book ever since it came out. So a couple of days ago I finally grabbed hold of it in the airport and sat down for a good read! I wasn't able to finish it but I got about halfway through.
So firstly, I really think that G. Wilson has the right idea, and she's trying to do something quite important - write a good story, with normal practicing Muslim characters, without being preachy or weird. Frankly I think that the ideas in the story are really, really cool and thought-provoking, about djinn and cyber-space especially. I really enjoyed reading a novel so obviously written by a practicing Muslim familiar with the Islamic lifestyle - you can tell this simply by all the casual references to things in daily life that a Muslim is used to, whether it's a scene where someone goes to salah and the main character makes the correct prayer for them, or when he is talking to the neighborhood cat and says, "You can't come inside, the maid's a Shafa'ii and cat hair makes her ritually impure."
She flawlessly describes Gulf life, right down to the cat in the courtyard, the heated cement, the maid who hands the (ungrateful) young man his food, the gulf between the immigrants and the 'pure' Arabs - overall the descriptions were real and authentic. I also liked her portrayal of Dina - a girl who is munaqqaba, as a very self-possessed and strong main character, just a girl living her everyday life with faith and strength and humor.
On the other hand, I think that the 'liberal' feeling of the novel takes away from its potential, especially to Muslim readers. I was disappointed to find quite a bit of sexuality in the story, which it would have been perfectly fine without. Although Wilson's made it up to the best-sellers and gotten loads of lovely reviews, I think that most Muslim readers will not like the book, mainly for the sexuality and swearing, as well as some more fiqh-related themes, for example comments from Dina on how she listens to music because it's "the shariah of innocent creatures".
I'm not sure whether I'll finish the book or not - on one hand it had such potential! and it's a good read, but I'm rather disappointed, as it could have been a very good novel without being so Islamically conflicted. I get the feeling that this is often the case with "Islamic" novels, leading to the absolute lack of anything decent with Muslim characters for Muslims to read.