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The Dervish House

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ISTANBUL: QUEEN OF CITIES. Here histories, empires, and continents meet and cross. It is the mid-twenty first century and Turkey is a proud and powerful member of a European Union that runs from the Atlantic to Mt. Ararat.

In the sleepy Istanbul district of Eskiköy stands the former whirling dervish house of Adem Dede. Six characters' lives revolve around it.

A retired economist from the Greek community is hired into a top-security think tank, but keeps a dark secret from another century.

A nine-year-old boy, confined to a silent world by a heart condition where any sudden sound could kill him, becomes a reluctant detective.

A rogues trader sets up the deal o the century smuggling contraband gas but discovers it's only the tip of an iceberg of corporate fraud.

An art dealer takes an offer she can't refuse--a genuine legend of old Istanbul--and finds herself swept up in ancient intrigues and rivalries.

A slacker finds his life forever changed after an act of urban terrorism gives him the ability to see djinn--and they're just the start.

A young marketing graduate has five days to save a family nanotechnology start-up with a new product that may just change the world.

Over the space of five days of an Istanbul heat wave, these lives weave a story of corporate wheeling and dealing, Islamic mysticism, political and economic intrigues, ancient Ottoman mysteries, a terrifying new terrorist threat, and a nanotechnology with the potential to transform every human on the planet.

358 pages, Hardcover

First published February 1, 2009

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About the author

Ian McDonald

236 books1,161 followers
Ian Neil McDonald was born in 1960 in Manchester, England, to an Irish mother and a Scottish father. He moved with his family to Northern Ireland in 1965. He used to live in a house built in the back garden of C. S. Lewis’s childhood home but has since moved to central Belfast, where he now lives, exploring interests like cats, contemplative religion, bonsai, bicycles, and comic-book collecting. He debuted in 1982 with the short story “The Island of the Dead” in the short-lived British magazine Extro. His first novel, Desolation Road, was published in 1988. Other works include King of Morning, Queen of Day (winner of the Philip K. Dick Award), River of Gods, The Dervish House (both of which won British Science Fiction Association Awards), the graphic novel Kling Klang Klatch, and many more. His most recent publications are Planesrunner and Be My Enemy, books one and two of the Everness series for younger readers (though older readers will find them a ball of fun, as well). Ian worked in television development for sixteen years, but is glad to be back to writing fulltime.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 499 reviews
Profile Image for Jacob.
129 reviews466 followers
July 5, 2021
July 2010

Oh, my. That's a beautiful cover. I think I'll have to read this.

I know, I know, judging books by covers is a bad thing and I shouldn’t do it. This is why I haven’t read "...And Ladies of the Club", Helen Hooven Santmyer’s epic noviel about a reading group. Sure, it sounds like it might be interesting, but it also looks like a cheap romance novel, so no deal. I’ll wait a few years for the vampire/zombie/monster mash-up, hopefully titled "...And Ladies of the Stake." But Ian McDonald hasn’t failed me yet: I read Desolation Road last year after seeing the cover, and the sequel Ares Express earlier this year for the same reason, so of course I put this book on my reading list as soon as I saw the cover. What could go wrong?

As it turns out, absolutely nothing. The Dervish House is near-perfect. Maybe not as strange or as magical or as imaginative as McDonald's far-far-future Mars novels, but more powerful, more intimate, more human.

Set in Istanbul in April 2027, DH follows the lives of six inhabitants of the old dervish house of Adem Dede: Retired economist Georgios Ferentinou, who joins a top-secret think-tank to analyze the terror attacks likely to occur as Turkey celebrates five years of membership in the European Union; Necdet, who witnesses one such attempt, a failed suicide bombing on a train, and suddenly finds he can see djinn and other spirits; meanwhile, Can Durukan, a young boy with a heart condition that makes sound deadly, is the first to witness Necdet's unusual symptoms, and secretly investigates; gas trader Adnan Sarioğlu organizes the deal of the century and discovers an even bigger financial fraud, even as his wife, art dealer Ayşe Erkoç, takes a commission to seek out a legendary artifact: the Mellified Man of Istanbul; and Leyla Gultasli, small-town marketing graduate without a job, joins an up-and-coming family nanotech company with the potential to change the world. Over a period of five days, these six lives interact with each other, weaving together the mystical powers of religion and the very real power of money, treasures of the ancient world with the mystery of the new (and soon-to-be new), danger, intrigue, and an unusual terrorist threat that could change everything--all centered around a city equally thousands of years old and as young as the next revolution.

I feel like I should give this less than five stars, that I should find a bunch of tiny things wrong with the book that justify a less-than-perfect rating and a bored review, but I can't. Sure, the pacing may have been slightly uneven, the beginning may have been slightly awkward as each character was introduced, but who the hell cares? There are far too many things to love about this novel: McDonald's near-future Istanbul feels as real as anything today, his story is rich and intriguing, and I have a weird urge to read everything else he's written. 'Sides, I haven't given out many five-star rating to books this year, and if The Dervish House doesn't deserve a perfect score, I'm not sure what does. Highly recommended.

More by Ian McDonald
Desolation Road
Ares Express
Profile Image for Kathryn.
255 reviews109 followers
October 8, 2011
I couldn’t even finish The Dervish House. I got about 40 pages in (a full ten percent) and dropped it. A ton of characters were introduced, but not a single one succeeded in getting my attention or sympathy. I liked the setting (Istanbul), but got very, very tired of the would-be poetic description. The author went on for pages – in flowery present tense – about everything. Fireworks took ten pages to go off, and internal monologues lasted for three or four pages in the middle of dialogue. All in present tense.

(Note to authors: This is why present tense is a giant blinking neon sign flashing I AM A PRETENTIOUS JACKANAPES. 80% of the time, it’s true, and the other 20%, the author is some idiot writing his first novel, which is most likely self-published and/or unsold, who thinks present tense makes better writing. The cases in which a book in present tense is not bad are statistically insignificant.)

Presumably, since this book has been nominated for several major awards, it gets better. In my opinion, however, life is too short to go slogging through four hundred pages of pretentious present tense when the author has utterly failed to put anything the least bit interesting in the first forty pages.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,906 reviews1,235 followers
July 21, 2011
I didn't want to give this book five stars, but Ian McDonald hacked my brain. I had heard enough about The Dervish House—my first novel by McDonald, incidentally—to be fairly confident I would like it. Yet it is not the sort of novel that inspires love at first sight; rather, it tantalizes, flirts, and seduces its way into your heart. It accomplishes this through McDonald's style, the way he describes the city of Instanbul, invites us into its streets and its politics and the eponymous apartments shared by the main characters, and oh-so-casually exposes those characters' hearts, hopes, and dreams. And as a science-fiction novel, The Dervish House is simultaneously subtle and ostentatious. The trappings that make it science fiction are all laid bare and obvious for the reader to see, but just as essential are McDonald's invocations of Istanbul's rich and diverse history, religion, and politics.

It's true that novels with multiple, convergent storylines sometimes have to work harder to earn my love. Yet I'm a little puzzled by the way others have interpreted McDonald's use of this device: one person remarked that "it may occasionally feel as if you’re reading six novellas that just happen to be set in the same city" while a far more critical reviewer says: "The different characters' path only crossed at the very end in a unconvincingly co-incidental way." (He also disparages how the technology depicted in the novel is "only a few years away", which makes perfect sense for a novel set in 2027—only 16 years from now.) This was not my experience at all; on the contrary, I felt like the various storylines interacted and influenced each other to an admirable degree. I loved seeing Ayşe's friend Selma Özgün reappear as a member of the think tank to which Georgios is invited. I loved that Can's investigation of the tram suicide bomber, along with Necdet's subsequent behaviour, helped Georgios formulate what he saw as the most likely security threat, far-fetched though it may sound. I loved that Leyla, Aso, and Yeşar were hunting for half of a miniature Koran throughout Istanbul even as we, the readers, knew it was lying in Ayşe's antiques shop. I didn't love all of the characters equally—in particular, I found it very difficult to sympathize with Necdet after finding out why he had to come to Istanbul and live with his brother. Yet I couldn't imagine any other way of telling this story.

McDonald uses each character to explore a facet of Istanbul and what makes it such a unique place. Georgios provides a political and historical context, and as an old Greek man who has borne his share of discrimination by the authorities, he represents Istanbul's conflicted relationship with the diverse group of people who call it home. Necdet is McDonald's window into Istanbul's complicated relationship with Islam and the modern-day attempts to administer community-based justice. Adnan and his wife, Ayşe (who I'll confess was probably my favourite) are both dreamers and dealers, and they represent the modern merchants of Turkey: Adnan is the man with the connections, the power broker who buys and sells from both the East and the West, even as he plots to make it big; Ayşe, on the other hand, has her eyes turned towards the past, and she has her own big score to pursue. They are the most class-conscious inhabitants of the dervish house, for Adnan is aware that Ayşe "married down" to be with him, and part of his drive to succeed comes from a determination to achieve upward mobility through profit if not pedigree. Finally, Leyla and Aso give us a glimpse into Instanbul's role in the micro- and nano-revolutions. I'm not so sure how Can fits in, except that his role as the intrepid "Boy Detective" is essential to resolving Necdet's story and tying together the terrorists with Georgios' involvement in the security think tank.

So there you have it. If McDonald had tried to let one character or even a small ensemble cast carry the entire burden of Istanbul, then The Dervish House would have been a much poorer novel indeed. It's the multiplicity of voices, not to mention their variety, that makes this story a convincing microcosm of the city, lending credence to the idea that Istanbul itself is a microcosm of the world at large. Istanbul is synonymous with the idea of a crossroads city, but instead of merely telling us this, McDonald shows us in a first-class way, distilling the city and its history into a fascinating story. This is why Ayşe became my favourite character, for I was particularly intrigued by her search for a Mellified Man. Along the way, we're exposed not so much to a history of Istanbul as we are to an oral mythology surrounding the Mellified Man and certain tarikats of Islam. The question is never whether Ayşe will succeed in her search but what significance the search has on her own, personal understanding of Istanbul. She begins as the outsider, the sceptic who initially refuses to buy into the hunt for a legendary artifact—inevitably though, she dips her toes in the pond and the legend of the Mellified Man ensares her just as it has so many poor souls. I suppose I empathized with her, because this is much the same process I experienced while reading The Dervish House. It's an enchanting, entrancing novel, and I didn't enjoy it; I helped it take me hostage and use me as a bargaining chip. I went full Stockholm and held a gun to my own head while Ian McDonald negotiated with my parents for a ransom.

Fortunately, Ayşe's obsession proves, like mine, to be temporary but profound. It ends badly for her, at least at first, but her experience changes the way she thinks about antiques and about Istanbul. At first, Ayşe clearly loves the antiques she sells, but we get the sense that she is not truly as connected to them as she thinks. She used to be merely a dealer in antiques; she acquired items through her contacts and from other merchants, but the search for the Mellified Man is different. It is intense, and for some of her sources even personal. So Ayşe emerges with a better understanding of what the antiques she sells mean to some people; she adds to her aesthetic appreciation an appreciation of their emotional value.

The Dervish House is a very romantic novel, really, by which I mean Romantic. Just consider Georgios and his chance to see once again a lover from his youth, Ariana, who inspired him to become politically active—a path that would eventually saddle him with the guilt of betrayal and cause him to lose his tenure as an economics professor. While Georgios is debating whether to contact Ariana during her time in Istanbul, he is also participating in a security-oriented think tank led by his archnemesis. Georgios, an old man, is suddenly finding himself in a confrontation with the most volatile elements of his past. Or consider Adnan and his three friends. Together they are the "Ultralords" of the four classical elements, and they will pull off a scheme that will make them rich. Adnan might be a trader in stocks and commodities, but he is definitely a romantic: he views money and its exchange as a living, breathing organism, and he attributes his own success to the fact that the money "loves" him.

Moreover, McDonald has managed to unify technology (which we tend to associate with science, and thus rationalism) and romanticism here. Take Can's BitBots, a swarm of tiny robots that can assemble themselves into coherent shapes (Monkey, Bird, Rat, Snake) that Can can control remotely: Can wields his BitBots with all the impulsiveness, curiosity, and courage one would expect of a nine-year-old boy. Similarly, the nanotechnology that pervades McDonald's vision of 2027 is the ultimate technology of the romantic, for it allows unprecedented abilities: the enhancement of memory, of the senses, of the ability to experience and feel. And as McDonald demonstrates through Necdet, nanotechnology can even threaten what we believe, what we think, and who we are. This sinister theme lurks beneath the surface of the story.

Nanotechnology is the most obvious science-fiction device that McDonald uses in The Dervish House. He presents it without any fanfare; by 2027 it is just another part of life in Istanbul. Everyone has ceptep phones capable of displaying information directly on the retina, and it is common to sniff vials of nanomachines to enhance temporarily one's memory or concentration. McDonald alludes to the hypothetical apocalyptic endgame of nanotechnology, the so-called "grey goo" through out uncontrollable self-replication. But this is a novel about identity and personal experience, and so McDonald focuses on how nanotechnology affects individuals. With Leyla, Aso, and Yeşar, we see that the ability to store information within the body's cells would be potentially revolutionary: as Leyla puts it in her pitch, we could have perfect recall of what we see, of conversations we have, of every moment of our lives. Yet McDonald juxtaposes this against a terrorist group's attempts to use nanotechnology as a vehicle for ideological coercion. He taps into a very fundamental question: if who we are is partly a product of our experiences, and if we gain the ability to control or alter our memories of those experiences, what becomes of the person we think of as "us"? Whether it's grey goo or a much more subtle effect, nanotechnology has the potential to end humanity as we know it:

What we are engaged in is a massive, unregulated and improvised experiment in reprogramming ourselves. The true end of nanotech is not the transformation of the world, it's the transformation of humanity. We can redefine what it means to be human.

Of course, we have been redefining what it means to be human for as long as we have called ourselves human. However, up until now, most of those redefinitions have been social, ethical, legal. We have reprogrammed humanity through social engineering. Yet just as our increasing familiarity with our genome and genetics opens the door to eugenics, viable nanotechnology would offer a new form of re-engineering, one that is technological and therefore much easier to direct and exploit. A lot of posthuman science fiction uses nanotechnology as a method for humans to transcend the limitations of their present form; in many ways, The Dervish House shows the beginning of our long road toward that posthuman vision of the future.

Although this is what I am taking away from The Dervish House, I don't want to create the impression that McDonald beats us over the head with Big Ideas on nanotechnology. McDonald wields science fiction in the best possible way, as a setting. Nanotechnology just happens to be a part of his Istanbul of 2027 (a part he chose to put there, because that's the "fiction" part of science fiction). It's the entirety of this futuristic Istanbul, and all the characters it enables McDonald to create, that brings The Dervish House to life. Unlike Troika , where there was a discrete moment when I realized I loved it, The Dervish House is more elusive. This is a book whose complexity blooms slowly, perhaps even shyly. It's something that one discovers. I didn't want to give this book five stars; I thought four would suffice. Yet four days after finishing the book, I'm still thinking about it, still turning it over in my head, and with each revolution I feel more confident that this is one of the best books I have read all year.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Saša.
88 reviews40 followers
April 1, 2017
" Covek koji zvace gumu i zuri kroz prozor. Poslovni muskarac pretrazuje vesti na svom
ceptepu. To ljubicasto odelo mora da je od one nove nano tkanine koja leti hladi a zimi greje, i na
dodir se menja iz svile u somot. Zena cije lice ima izraz duboke tuge. Odmice desnu ruku od guzve, dize je da dodirne dragulj na vratu.
I...aktivira detonaciju sopstvene glave".

Moram prvo odati priznanje Ianu da je covek veliki prorok, jos od prve knjige je predvideo stvari koje vec danas postoje, pa je tako i u ovoj, jer je ista napisana pre 8 godina.
Ali mislim da je ovde pogresio jer je otisao tek 17 godina u buducnost (racunajuci datum izdavanja).
Samim tim, nije hteo da fantazira previse, pa je i nivo tehnologije u knjizi - realan.
Drugo priznanje je da je covek toliko posvecen mestima desavanja u svojim knjigama da je tesko poverovati da on nije ziveo u zemljama gde se njegove price odvijaju. Dugo.
A nije.
Pocev od Brazila, preko Indije do Turske, nivo detalja i poznavanja situacije je zaista neverovatan, i to je jedan od razloga zasto volim njegove knjige.
Ne samo geografski, vec i politicki, drustveni i religiozni detalji su znak svake njegove knjige.

Tako je i ovde, Istanbul i Tursku nisam "poznavao" toliko dok nisam procitao ovu knjigu.
Politicki, religijski i socijalni problemi su jako dobro prikazani, ali ovde je zaista preterao.
Toliko je vremena potrosio na te nijanse da je zaboravio na pricu. Skoro sasvim.
I na likove.
Iako ih ovde ima sest (glavnih, u Reci bogova ih je npr. devet), sem jednog, svi ostali niti su zanimljivi, niti su kompleksni i uglavnom su mi isli na nerve.
Cini mi se da je McDonald fasciniran Turskom, te je vise pricao o njoj, nego o svemu ostalom.

Ovo nije losa knjiga, naprotiv, ima delova koji su za cistu peticu, ali ima i onih za cistog keca, te mi
je trojka najrealnija ocena. Jaka trojka.
Ima cak i Beograda, Srbije, Hrvatske i Bosne. Svega ima.
Ali price najmanje. :)

“Have you ever looked at a map of our country, Necdet?’ Green Headscarf says. ‘It’s a map of the human mind. We’re split by water over two continents, Europe and Anatolia. We are seven per cent Europe, ninety-three per cent Asia. Conscious Thrace, unconscious, pre-conscious, sub-concious Anatolia. And Istanbul — have you ever seen a neuron, Necdet? A brain cell? The marvel is that the synapses don’t touch. There is always a gap — there must a gap, otherwise consciousness would not exist. The Bosphorus is that synaptic cleft. Potential can flow across the cleft. It’s the cleft that makes consciousness possible.”

“Do you think it’s a conspiracy?’
‘Mr Durukan, if God is dead then everything is conspiracy.”
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,498 followers
October 11, 2012
This wonderful book felt played like a symphony of multiple themes spun out by six key characters that slowly converge on a common narrative. The novel is so embedded in the cultures of Istanbul that Istanbul itself becomes a key character itself. Set in the year 2027, the scene is just around the corner, and the story often doesn’t appear to be science fiction. Yet McDonald projects some disturbing progressions for the science of nanotechnology, and the crises faced by most of the key characters reflects their intersection with plots involving these technologies.

The prose is lively, varied in pacing, and captivating in its range of perspectives. It is also dense in its digressions and cultural references, making it a slow read. Though it has elements of a thriller with terrorist plots looming in the background, the charm is in the personal stories of its characters and their transformations. The omniscient narrator evokes a bit of the sense of an admiring god who loves his resilient creation of a living city blended from ancient and modern elements. Slowly bringing the characters into a common plot is fun to experience and helped propel me as a reader through some of the challenging aspects of the read. To me, the experience resembles that of Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl”, although this near-term projection of life in this brave new world is less clearly a dystopia.

McDonald’s characters are fascinating and he does a great job making you root for them. They all reside in a particular formerly Greek neighborhood in Istanbul. The following thumbnail sketches serve as an ingredient list for this stew that may help a potential reader decide to try the book:
Georgios—a reclusive, retired economics professor of Greek origins who has many regrets from the past and hopes for some kind of redemptive opportunity to make a difference
Can—a handicapped boy of 9 whose horizons are expanded through his nanobot toys, through which he can explore the world in transformations as a rat, bird, or snake; when his spying leads to the discovery of other nanobot watchers in place during a terrorist suicide bombing, he is spurred on to carry out more detective work, results of which he shares with Georgios
Nectec—a shy loser with a dark past who witnesses an apparent zealot’s suicide on a tram and forever after is subject to hallucinations of ghostly djinn and an ancient saint with Shiva-like powers of life and death
Anant—a wheeler-dealer who gets high from hedge deals in the gas commodity market and hatches a risky illegal scheme involving contaminated Iranian gas
Ayse—wife of Anant and antiquarian dealer who gets drawn into a grail-like quest for a mummy preserved in honey; this “Mellified Man” is sought by many sectors because of its supposed healing properties when ingested, including a Sufi mystic associate who provides clues based on a quest for the secret name of God in the architecture of old Istanbul
Leyta –a new college graduate who takes on the task of raising venture capital for a start-up company intent on developing a vast capacity to store information in junk DNA sequences in cells of the body

Below I provide some samples of McDonald’s prose, so you can get a sense of his special skills and playful touches:
But Istanbul is wonder upon wonder, sedimented wonder, metamorphic cross-bedded wonder. You can’t plant a row of beans without turning up some saint or Sufi. At some point every country realizes it must eat its history. Romans ate Greeks; Byzantines ate Romans; Ottomans ate Byzantines; Turks are Ottomans. The EU eats everything.

A minor character, Selma Ozgun, is identified as an urbomancer , or psychic geographer, who learned that:
a living could be made just walking the city streets charting mental maps, recording how history was attracted to specific locations in layer after layer in impacted lives in a cartography of meaning; delineating a spiritual geography of many gods and theisms; compiling an encyclopedia of how space had shaped mind and mind had shaped space through three thousand years of the Queen of Cities.

Here is a jazz-like riff on “light” and “dark” economic markets:
The light market was the never-ceasing duel of lasers, all signaling to each other, all reacting to each other, like starlings dashing between minarets of the Blue Mosque or cars on the Ataturk approach. The dark was stumbling, feeling out the contours of a body, groping, whispering, recognizing, then the stifled exchange of bodily fluids.
Billions flow daily through pools of dark liquidity between massive institutional buyers and sellers who risk exposure should the market sense their submarine mass and move against them. …Raiders mount financial skirmishes into the dark to discern what might be for sale, how much and at what price. Some apply thermodynamics, looking for localized minute decreases in the overall entropy for the dark market to game the price. …Two terrifyingly smart quanta reasoned by analogy to black holes and information theory. The darkest tide pools, the black holes, give no sign of their presence or mass until a buyer enters their gravitational fields. They swallow all information of price or quanitity. …Quantum Field Pricing Theory was bold, was brilliant, was the stuff of Nobel Prizes. Adnan can admire it as long as it is in the money.

One advance of nanotechnology exploited in this tale is that of designer nanodrugs. Here Anant describes his use of one such drug to enhance his skills as a gas trader:
He can see a little way into things—details, geometries, lines of connection and intention are all clear in Adnan’s site….. He can hear the plastic click of his swing-badge as he strides into his customary place by the Money Tree. The hot wetsuit smell of money envelops him. That is what Ayse’s mystics and beloved dervishes experienced when they spoke of the oneness of things. Everything, all at once, connected yet discrete. This is how we are meant to be, at our best and greatest, Adnan understands. The nano is just another dervish dance.

The ability of designer drugs to emulate religious experience as explored in this book in a fascinating extension of P.K. Dick and Huxley’s projections. One of the terrorists in the tale speaks like one of several contemporary evolutionary psychologists on the subject:
“Religious experience is a universal human trait.” Big Hair says. “God is hardwired into us, into the brain chemistry, into the neurons. At a fundamental level, all human religions share common experiences and a common language. God spoke to us in parables and prophecies and allegories and poetry. We’ve lost that. We’ve become too conscious. We need to reconnect to our personal Gods.
Profile Image for Erin Lale.
Author 33 books16 followers
August 1, 2011
I received an electronic copy of this book in my Hugo voter packet. So I was reading it with an eye to seeing if it deserved an award, and I was holding it to a high standard. That may be why I was so disappointed.

This book has some really good ideas: original, sf'nal, even hard. Unfortunately, the reader has to plow through 250 pages of lead-up to get to them. Up until that point, this could have been written as a mainstream novel, and the sf elements could have been eliminated in under a minute by using find-and-replace to replace "ceptep" with "iPhone" and "nano" with "pills." By the time I got to the part where the "djinn" are explained, I was invested in the idea of djinn, so it was vaguely disappointing to find out what they really were, whereas it would have been cool and fun if I had been let in on the big secret soon enough to switch my emotions to "oh cool, an sf techy idea" rather than "now you tell me!" and "is this thing over yet?"

There is quite a lot of local color, in the form of descriptions of Istanbul, its occupants, history, legends, and physical culture, so if you're in love with Turkey, you might like this book even if you're not an sf fan, if you can stand the constant jumping around from one "main" character to another. I'm not against multi viewpoint, eye-of-god perspective; I've even written books that way myself. But this just isn't done very well. I didn't know what all the various plots and people have to do with each other until the very end, and by that point I just wanted to find out what happened and turn the computer off.

If I had received this book in my slush pile-- I'm the publisher and editor of Time Yarns, a transmedia micropress-- I would have told the author to cut it way down, find a viewpoint and stick to it, make the hard-sf angle of the plot come into the story well before the past-the-middle point, stop pausing the action for multi-page-length descriptions of objects that have no bearing on the plot, and if you're going to do a multi-viewpoint story, at the very least stick to either third or second person when you write about a specific character, and don't switch at the end.

Erin Lale
Publisher and Editor of Time Yarns
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,912 followers
December 4, 2013
Fascinating whirlwind of a future Istanbul, the oh so famed Constantinople thrown into a world of swarmbots, gray ooze of nanotechnology terror threats, and AI assisted economic hijinks.

The one thing I love most about Mr. Mcdonald's books are the levels of depth and exploration of the world he has created. I place the tech ideas and the wonderfully odd legends like the man of honey on a second tier of coolness, followed by wonderfully non-traditional heroes and anti-heroes that wouldn't normally spark much interest except on a humanist level.

I wouldn't call it so much as a complaint as a mild irritant, but all of these separate stories seemed to be converging in a way a bit beyond the titular building where they all lived, and there were a few minor crossovers, but honestly, I was hoping and expecting a slightly more grand blow up that included everyone a bit more directly. Sure, everyone was at least indirectly involved, but save for our boy detective, few had active rolls in the final serious conflict.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed each of their stories and rooted for them all in their turns, but it all came together to make the story mostly about showing us Istanbul in a tech future, not the grandiose changes that came about by the protagonists in it. Again, that's not very fair, either, because the heist portion of the novel was rather cool and the terrorist actions and the complications surrounding a forced religious breakthrough through nanotech was also kickass. Perhaps I just wanted more payoff for an ending. The buildup and characters and worldbuilding really rocked, tho. :)

I'll easily keep reading his works. They make me think, and I can't call this a fluff piece by any stretch. I'm going to say this piece is a serious work of sci-fi. Speculative fiction at it's best. Not easy reading, but so very well developed that it takes on a life of its own.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 12 books1,266 followers
July 23, 2010
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

(This is being published today for the first time in honor of "Ian McDonald Week" at CCLaP. For an overview of all the content regarding McDonald being posted here this week, you can click here.)

So what exactly are we talking about, anyway, when we talk about "cyberpunk," the subgenre in science-fiction that reached its popular height in the late 1980s and early '90s? Well, for starters, we're mostly talking about relatively 'day after tomorrow' tales, or at least opposed to stories that take place on distant planets a thousand years in the future; and we're talking about tales that are primarily grounded in the real world, stories about humans on Earth dealing with technology that may not currently exist, but that we can at least realistically picture in our heads. More importantly, we're talking about the ways these humans interact with this technology, which is the main difference between cyberpunk (which you could also arguably call the "Dark Age" of science-fiction) and the so-called "Silver Age" of Mid-Century Modernism that came before it; because while this kind of "space-age technology" was all brand-new then, with authors mostly envisioning it being used in official capacities by governments and the like in an effort to bring about utopian situations, the SF authors of the '80s and '90s had already watched humanity interact with this space-age technology for awhile, and knew that humans were mostly doing with it what they do with just about everything else -- exploiting and jerryrigging it to suit their own greedy, petty purposes, that is. And so is cyberpunk usually comprised of gritty, noir-like tales from the street, about criminals and con-men twisting this technology around to suit their own ends; and as a result, cyberpunk stories tend to have briskly moving, action-oriented storylines as well, usually touching only lightly on the underpinning philosophical issues that are the main hallmark of other subgenres of SF (such as the "New Age" of the 1960's and '70s, that came between the Silver Age and Dark Age).

I mention all this, of course, because today we're talking about Ian McDonald, who I and others have described in the past as the author of so-called "third-world cyberpunk" (or "Khyberpunk," as one of his fans once called it); or in other words, cyberpunk tales set not within the shadowy, rainy alleys of London and New York like such '80s authors as William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, but rather such developing regions as Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, a series of novels throughout the '00s that McDonald himself calls the "New World Order" sequence. Specifically, today we're talking about the latest in this series, the brand-new The Dervish House, set in a newly EU-ified Turkey just seventeen years from now; and indeed, that's probably the most important thing to know about the book -- that despite it comfortably fitting the definition of 'cyberpunk' as detailed above, this is also perhaps the most mainstream, least fantastical novel so far of McDonald's career, and much like the role Cryptonomicon played in the career of the aforementioned Stephenson, I have a feeling that The Dervish House has a good chance of being McDonald's first big crossover general-audience breakthrough, a novel that can easily be enjoyed just as much by people into world politics and the issues of contemporary Islam as it can by sci-fi fanboys. Although he may have technically better genre novels under his belt already (and let's face it -- he does), this is the first book of his that I can legitimately picture as a NYT bestseller; and that says something profound, I think, about the state of McDonald's writing at this point in his career, of the sophistication and maturity he's achieved in the 22 years he's now been doing this for a living.

But of course, McDonald's been heading in this direction more and more in the last decade in general; this is what his "New World Order" books are primarily known for, after all, for taking complex and realistic looks at all the various issues informing these developing sections of the world right now, using fantastical touches mostly as a way to comment on the present, and with things like that nation's religious beliefs and even the state of their infrastructure being just as important to his stories as robots or flying cars (although make no mistake, there are both robots and flying cars peppered into these novels). And really, it's hard to pick a more perfect place to explore such issues than the Turkish "Queen of Cities" known as Istanbul, which of course for a thousand years before becoming a Muslim powerhouse was known instead as "Constantinople," and which during the entire Middle Ages was the second-most important city on the planet for both the Roman Empire and then the Catholic Church.

These multiple layers of directly competing cultures and histories naturally makes Istanbul one of the most complex and fascinating urban spaces on the planet; and so it makes perfect sense for McDonald to set a speculative story about competing identities there, and especially to make one of its biggest futuristic conceits be its eventual entrance into the European Union, a topic that is being hotly argued in the real world even as we speak, an idea that at once makes perfect sense (before the Crusades, after all, Turkey was officially known as the eastern edge of European Christiandom) and is simultaneously a jarring thought to most Westerners (being as it would be the EU's first Muslim member, if their admittance actually goes through). Cleverly, then, McDonald explores such a grand issue through the microcosm of a much smaller scope -- our entire story, in fact, takes place among half a dozen unrelated strangers who all happen to live in the same residential building, off a forgotten back street in a nondescript lower-middle-class neighborhood of Istanbul, the "Dervish House" of the book's title which in reality is an abandoned old religious center whose original construction goes all the way back to the 1700s. (By the way, for more on why McDonald chose such a setting, as well as a lot more about what went into writing this book, be sure to check out my recent interview with him, coming to the website tomorrow.)

McDonald then smartly uses these character archetypes to explore many of the right-now issues that make up the national conversation in Turkey these days: one of our main characters, for example, is a retired Greek Orthodox economics professor, which gives McDonald an opportunity to explore the sometimes funny, sometimes terrible ways that both Greeks and Christians are treated by some in Turkey these days; while two other of these characters are a young, hip, entrepreneurial couple (he's a futures trader, she owns an antiques store), which gives McDonald a chance to look at how the latest generation of Turks are combining traditional Eastern beliefs with the influence of Western capitalism and popular culture (not to mention giving him a good excuse to introduce as a major subplot the hunt for a fabled object from Turkey's actual mythology, the so-called "Mellified Man" who a mysterious client of the wife has paid a six-figure advanced retainer to in the effort to find, and which sends her on a DaVinci-Code-type quest across the city that lasts nearly the entire length of the book).

But then, also in good cyberpunk fashion, McDonald eventually combines all these disparate threads into one giant uber-plot that all comes to a head by the novel's climax, which is where the book's science-fiction elements finally come into play; because much like how 2004's River of Gods is ultimately about artificially intelligent sentience, and 2008's Brasyl is ultimately about quantum-fueled time travel, so too is The Dervish House ultimately about the subject of nanotechnology and the coming "Singularity," of the various ways that the mechanical and biological are meshing in our lives more and more, through the now sometimes microscopically tiny devices that can be literally released by the millions into the air or injected into the bloodstream, capable of both fun consequences (the coolest temporary tattoos in history) and unbelievably dangerous ones (like an entire new class of ultra-deadly military weapons). But unfortunately and ironically, it's this aspect that's probably going to be the least satisfying to both types of McDonald's readers, both the existing SF fans out there and the non-fans; because like I said, in The Dervish House McDonald handles nanotechnology in what fanboys will mostly consider an obvious way that's much too easy to understand (or at least a lot easier than, say, Charles Stross's "Accelerated Age" stories which deal with the same issue), while to the uninitiated this hand-holding might still not be enough, with some of the ideas that McDonald bandies about threatening to go right over some people's heads, especially if you haven't already read another half-dozen books on the subject.

These are just maybes, though, not definites, and you shouldn't let it stop you from reading it anyway; because like I said, mostly The Dervish House is McDonald at what I feel is his best, profoundly fulfilling his growing destiny as the guy to bring together niche-audience speculative fiction with general-interest political thrillers, all through the unique filter of the kinds of places that few other authors have even dreamt yet about setting such stories in*. Just as River of Gods half a decade ago elevated McDonald for the first time into the ranks of the greatest genre authors of all time, so too do I believe that The Dervish House marks another important moment of his career, the moment he will likely expand into the awareness of a lot more than just genre fans, joining the likes of people like Thomas Pynchon and Michael Chabon, celebrated authors who happen to put out speculative works instead of speculative authors who occasionally put out celebrated books. It's why today it becomes the rare genre novel here to get a score in the 9s, because in this case I really do feel that it ultimately transcends the limitations of its genre, and is why I recommend it today to just about every reader out there.

Out of 10: 9.6

*And speaking of which, McDonald confirmed in our interview that his next "New World Order" novel (which he's working on as we speak) is going to be set in the "failed state" of Afghanistan. Man, I can't wait to see what he has to say about that.
Profile Image for Stefan.
405 reviews164 followers
July 8, 2010
Necdet, a troubled young man, is witness to what looks like a botched suicide bombing on a crowded city tram; afterwards, he starts seeing djinn and other supernatural creatures. Can, a nine year old boy with an amazing robotic toy — and a heart condition that confines him to a silent world — accidentally becomes involved in the intrigue. Ayse, a gallery owner, is contracted to find a mysterious and elusive relic, while her boyfriend Adnan, a successful trader, works on his own scheme to become rich. A retired Greek economist, Georgios, is recruited into a secret government think tank, and Leyla, a young social climber, tries to get involved with a promising nanotech startup.

These six narratives all take place in Istanbul, less than 20 years into the future. The city, historically a crossroads and now also the capital of the newest EU member nation, is where East meets West, old meets new, Christianity meets Islam, and Europe and Asia meet across the Bosphorus river that dissects the ancient city. Likewise, the lives of these six strangers will meet and interconnect in The Dervish House, a gorgeous new SF novel by Ian McDonald.

Just like in The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, that other excellent near-future SF novel set in a capital city where ancient cultural traditions mix with a strong modern and western influence, the various point-of-view characters tell a complex, multi-faceted story, but they also create a vivid impression of life in a bustling, endlessly fascinating metropolis, seen from several equally effective angles. However, don’t draw the comparison between those two novels too far: The Dervish House isn’t without some darker moments, but it’s considerably less grim than The Windup Girl, and Ian McDonald is a much more experienced writer, resulting in a more accomplished novel. Readers who liked The Windup Girl will probably love The Dervish House, but the reverse isn’t necessarily true, even though they’re both excellent and memorable novels.

The Dervish House is initially a bit confusing, as the six separate narratives are each introduced in rapid succession, but Ian McDonald has enough talent to help you settle into the novel quickly. After a few sub-chapters, you’ll start recognizing characters, and even before that point, you can just enjoy the gorgeous prose and the loving look at Istanbul. Luckily, the author doesn’t overdo the exotic, evoking the city’s atmosphere with a few details here and there, letting much of it come across naturally as the story progresses. Leyla hectically trying to get across the city to a job interview, Georgios gossiping in a coffee house with his ancient Greek friends, Adnan and his colleagues obsessing over an upcoming soccer match: it’s hard not to feel as if you’ve actually visited Istanbul after reading The Dervish House.

Even though there are connections between the six narratives, especially towards the end of the novel, it may occasionally feel as if you’re reading six novellas that just happen to be set in the same city. Luckily, they’re six really, really good novellas. Even though you may like some of the story lines more than others, as often happens in novels with multiple p.o.v.’s, don’t skim over any of them, because you’ll find that they all have strong, multi-dimensional main characters and solid plot arcs. By the end, when the stories weave together towards the novel’s climax, I felt as I’d read the literary equivalent of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, a movie that combines several Raymond Carver short stories into one big, impressive, bustling movie.

In the end, spending some time with these six characters in the fascinating city of Istanbul was pure enjoyment. Look for The Dervish House on the shortlists of the major SF&F awards next year. Highly recommended.

(This review was also published on the Fantasy Literature website: www.fantasyliterature.com - come check us out!)
Profile Image for Jeannette.
650 reviews139 followers
February 24, 2014

There, I wrote that. Even if you don't read the rest of the review, you would at least know my opinion.
It was a very boring account of events nobody cares about. Seeing all of the five-star reviews on its page, I cannot help but think that this is one of those books that people claim to love because someone at some point said that it's genius and suddenly people like it so much.
I was frustrated throughout the whole thing. The author, for unknown reasons, decides to write half the book in crippled, wrong Turkish, which begs a few questions:
1) How do you expect the people who don't speak Turkish to understand you?/How did everyone understand what he was talking about? What did you make out of the word dolmuş, horrifyingly made in plural as dolmuşes, which had me on the verge of smacking someone in the face?
Since everyone is so in love with it, you must have understood it, correct?
2) How do you expect people who do know Turkish not to want to break stuff while reading? The above mentioned dolmuşes are just one of a thousand examples. The author explains the meaning of the letter ı, yet he does not use it and half the proper words which should have ı in them, are written with i, which is extremely annoying. I get how one would simply use i, because ı does not exist in English, but since he talks about it at the beginning, tries to look smart and educated, he might as well put it in all the right places. Yet, the letter is barely used: in the word kadın, and not always, even there. Consistency is a very good personality trait in my opinion.

Also, the horrible, horrible characters. WHY? I could not like any of them to save my life. I could not even begin to be interested to save my life. They were all so random, so boring, stupid, idiotic. So pathetic.

The only thing which was in any way interesting(which is highly strange, considering that this is a book set in 2027, one would expect that so many interesting things have happened) was the Mellified Man. I even looked it up. A talented author could have spun a marvelous tale around this single element, with no need to add robots, nanotechnology, etc. McDonald, however, did not turn out to be a talented author. I do not think I will be returning to any of his other works.

This is a fine example of the "DO NOT JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER". I was taken by the cover, the title, the good reviews. Big mistake. Just thinking that I spent months looking for this, makes me sad and very angry.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,039 followers
June 13, 2011
This is the last of the Hugo-nominated novels for this year, and wow did I save the best for last.

The Dervish House is everything I always hope for when I open a William Gibson novel, and was so pleased to find here. Cyberpunk, sure, but in this incredibly vibrant setting (Turkey right after it has joined the EU) with a lot of sub-plots (Mellified Man, Nano Terrorism, ancient artifacts, insider trading, kind of, a clever boy and his bots).

One thing I love is McDonald's writing. Here's an example from early on:
"The air of Nano Bazaar is heady; every breath a new emotion. She reels from blissed-up euphoria into nervy paranoia into awed dread in as many steps. Dust swirls in front of her, glittering in the pinhole sunbeams through the patchy plastic awning."

Some cyberpunk is too obvious or not futuristic enough to be that interesting, or the opposite side of too incredulous to make it believable. I think McDonald has managed to pull of an incredible sense of realism, from the flesh-to-flesh data transfer to the nano-tech boosts (the new drug!).

"This is dangerous, like the true magic always is."

"She is looking for a blue house; blue as a cornflower. A city witch lives there; an urbomancer, a psychogeographer."

"No one ever questions the legitimacy of the blatant."

"Men are beautiful when they are serious."

Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,747 reviews1,201 followers
July 6, 2018
Book set in a sultry week in Istanbul in 2025, just after Turkey has joined the EU and with Arsenal playing Galatasaray in the CL SF. The book follows the stories of six characters living in a Dervish house.

At times baffling, the books is however incredibly evocative of the current Istanbul and of a future world. The book is like much of Neal Stephenson futuristic books but like his historic books is firmly based around Economics as well as exhibiting huge amounts of historic research (even if very much a UK person writing about Turkey and making mistakes as well as inconsistencies – even the football writing is inaccurate such as veering from being a QF, to one off match to a SF First Leg) and futuristic speculation.

The book also contains something of David Mitchell and even Orhan Pamuk. Further the book has an unexpected subtlety to it, many of the characters have deep back-stories and issues are left unresolved.
Profile Image for Иван Величков.
939 reviews61 followers
January 24, 2021
Страшно приятно изненадан и доволен останах от книгата.
Иън Макдоналд попадна в полезрението ми с разказа си в сборника "Стария Марс". Там ми се стори леко претенциозен и прекалено отдаващ дан на новите насоки във фантастиката, с които не мога да се примиря. Още тогава "Дервишката къща" беше излязла на български и аз самодоволно я зачеркнах от списъка си с книги за четене. Г000ляма грешка. За мой читателски късмет имах един талон за намаление и отидох да си купя някакво леко историческо романче. Не си харесах и взех тази книга с идеята да я погледна все някога. Не издържах и няколко дни по-късно я отворих... и потънах. Потънах в Истанбул.
Действието се развива само за пед дни и преплита шест истории. Интересно, че големия обем не развлачва действието,а сегашното време в която е писана само го пришпорва напред.
(За протокола, не обичам сегашното време в книгите. Много рядко се получава добре. На Гибсън му се получава, на Симънс също, но и двамата го използват като похват за определен ефект и не през цяла книга. Е, на Макдонълд му се е получило.)
Един пенсиониран гръцки професор по икономика ще се изправи пред демоните от миналото. Среща която е отлагал прекалено дълго.
Едно хлапе с рядко заболяване ще преживее приключението на живота си. Приключение, което му е забранено и може да му коства живота.
Един наркоман ще започне да вижда джинове и светци. Дали е просветление или нещо по-различно няма значение, защото преживяването ще го промени към по-добро.
Една антикварка ще получи пшредложението на живота си - търсене на митичния "Меден ч1овек от Искандер." Ще се впусне ли в гонене на вятъра?
Един борсов магьосник подготвя удара на живота си. Заедно със своите приятели/колеги ще опитат да продадат унищожаван излишък от газ на цените на Европа. Дали ще успеят да прескочат всички трудности, включително спукания финансов балон на компанията им и на каква цена?
Едно току що завършило маркетинг момиче може и да се върне на село, ако семейството не я подкрепи. Това ще я хвърли в света на нанотехнологиите и иновациите.
Всички те тръгват от старато дървено теке в непретенциозен квартал оттатък Босфора и се пръскат из дебрите на мегаполиса. Накрая, защото "перфектният път е кръг", отново се завръщат в "Дервишката къща."
Това са историите, но те не са най-важното. Всяка от сюжетните линии показва по една страна на Царицата на градовете. Конфронтации между ориента и запада, между модерното и традиционното, между религията и модерните технологии, между застиването във времето и яхането на новостите, между шовенизма и глобализма. Разкрива ни се колосална картина, която изпълва с копнеж за пътуване.
Бих добавил, че около четвъртък, когато по всички правила на романа и киното нещата тръгнаха да отиват по дяволите, наистина ми се прииска да продължи така. Истамбул да погълне човешките истории и да стане доминант в сюжетите. Но това не е Браян Ходж, така че всичко е точно накрая, макар и доста сладникаво.
Profile Image for Ric.
390 reviews39 followers
February 22, 2014
An n-dimensional, immersive SF novel about the dervishes in 2027 Istanbul. It's a totally engrossing book that demands reader attention, not a casual book to go through on a quick read. Not to say that this is some scholarly tome weighty with its own self importance but rather Ian McDonald attempts to fill this with very accessible characters striving for very real dreams --- the options trader hopped up on nanodrugs to get the edge in the financial world, the antiquities dealer following arcane clues to find the fabled Mellified Man, the engineering starter-uppers who've developed a way to read/write information on the human genome, the old Greek economist who finds vindication years after his career has ended, the bystander turned holy man by a nano virus who sees djinns and wants to understand why, and the precocious child with his robot toys in search of real-world adventure.

McDonald's prose flows. In the first half of the book, as he goes back and forth from the story's present (2027) to the history of the characters and the various movements of Turkish populations and ethnic groups, it feels like floating in a placid lake, letting the soft patter of the story bring Istanbul to life. Then, with all of the setup in place, he adds more movement to the narrative and connects all the seemingly random threads into a solid resolution.

The most interesting character for me was Can (the audiobook narrator pronounced this like John), the 9-year old, primarily because he is the most western of the characters and gets to play with the coolest nanotech toys. Plus he portrays a spirit of adventure despite disability which I think embodies the best SF. Can is uplifting, optimistic and innocent as a lonely child can be. Ayse, on track of the honey-preserved mummy, is sexy and defiant, and is another highlight of the book. I'm sure others will find some other aspect of interest.

There were enough interesting/cool threads in the book to keep me going despite some confusion and disorientation along the way. I enjoyed it, for a first McDonald, but will have to look for a clear reading time of two weeks length before I tackle the next one, perhaps River of Gods. 5 stars.
Profile Image for Jim.
77 reviews254 followers
November 5, 2011
For me, this incredible book is as near to perfection as I am ever likely to see. This could be my template for a five-star book – a definite masterpiece. Having just read another classic that also pushed onto my all-time favorites list – Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita – I was struck by just how completely the great writers can take possession of your mind and your life. All they require is some of those too-brief periods when you can sit and really concentrate on their wondrous stories and skills.

I found quite a few really excellent reviews of this book below. I will focus here on aspects that were not so frequently covered in other reviews.

First, a personal note about GR friends. I have reached a point, in my year-plus on this site, where nearly every book I read was unknown to me until I read a favorable review by a friend. In this case, Cindy liked The Dervish House and recommended it for fans of The Windup Girl. That would be me (I couldn’t put it down, and would definitely re-read it). And the comparison is certainly apt, as several reviewers have noted.

But for all my admiration of The Windup Girl, I think this book is written with much more depth and skill. It is certainly more sensitive in its treatment of female characters. Another book that would draw comparisons is Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity's Rainbow, which I read many years ago and was also a major influence at that time. But again, I think that The Dervish House is a superior read. Both books sparkle with dense, twisting prose. Both combine history, science, and human emotion with adventure and a rapidly evolving storyline. In both cases, the technical mastery is dazzling, and every sentence is tightly structured, with multiple layers of meaning and insight. But here, the writing is very full of human life, with characters that seem both real and worth caring about. Religious and spiritual traditions play a critical role here, and add greatly to the impact of the story. Pynchon’s masterpiece, by comparison, is arid and impersonal, and in that sense the reader (this one, anyway) is not personally drawn into the story.

This is not a book for those who want a quick or light read. The writing is very readable but dense, with an almost metronomic precision that must be followed carefully to be understood. Moreover, it is loaded with detail about Turkish history and culture that will not be familiar to many readers (including me). I am perfectly okay with this – I like to take a book on its own terms, and enjoy it (or not) by how well it succeeds in the world it creates. For me, the great writers always teach, and learning from them is one of the great joys of reading.

More than anything else, this book read for me like a felt-life guide through the past and near future of Istanbul. After reading it, I didn’t want to live there, but I certainly felt the value of understanding its complexities, and the central place it occupies in so many cultural histories. These historical lessons and perspectives alone would have made it a top book selection on my shelf.

But there is so much more here. In fact, the fluid integration of extremely complex themes is what I found most amazing about this work. It really pushed all of my intellectual and spiritual buttons, since the themes are both universal and a big part of my own everyday thinking, when I contemplate this crazy world and my place in it. The level of skill required to seamlessly integrate these deeper themes, in a ripping good story, was simply stunning. I found myself shaking my head in amazement, and I certainly didn’t want it to end.

***The following contains fairly specific hints about plot elements, but no direct spoilers (I think).

For example – what is really important for a meaningful and rewarding life? Each of the major characters has a different set of answers, and each of their stories is brilliantly written from his/her everyday point of view. These points of view are often expressed in extremely effective dialogue (and several gripping monologues), all very tightly woven into the storyline. It’s all about money for one – the deal, the river of currency flows, and the technical skill to grab a handful with perfect timing as it slides by. For another, a life of drug abuse and casual meanness is transformed, by a critical moment, to religious visions that have complex origins and multiple interpretations. The question of just what these visions represent becomes a fascinating element of the story. For a third, a life of sensory deprivation becomes a detective chase and a thrilling but dangerous adventure. All of these perspectives are presented as narratives with incredible skill, by a great writer at the top of his game.

A second example – what does the future hold for the human species? In most dystopian worlds, human actions have made the home planet all but uninhabitable, while those most responsible live largely in denial of their misdeeds, and above the resulting fray. Where does it all lead? The Windup Girl looks at this issue and presents a terrifying and cruel future that is, perhaps, inevitable given the path we are now on. By contrast, The Dervish House takes a much more subtle and nuanced approach. The toll of human excess is everywhere in evidence, and there are plenty of reasons to look back in anger at past abuses. But the characters generally don’t do this. They simply live in the world as it is. Yes, it is unbearably hot, and everyone knows this is very bad but they get on with it. Yes, nanotechnology has terrifying potential for both intended and unintended calamity. But nanobots and nanodrugs play important and workmanlike roles in everyday life, a bit like the smartphones that many of us rely on today. In this book, the future is a work in progress.

I was left shaking my head and smiling at the sheer artistry of it all. And anxious to move through my long TBR list of recommendations by GR friends. Their collective intelligence about great books is my great pleasure. For The Dervish House, my highest recommendation.
Profile Image for Chloe.
348 reviews530 followers
May 14, 2016
One of my favorite aspects of good science fiction is its ability to peer into its murky scrying bowl and divine absorbing pictures of possible futures based on current trends, cultural histories, and good old-fashioned chance happenings. Through such activities we are able to look at possible futures for ourselves and society and attempt to sway events accordingly. Unfortunately so much science fiction is written by white, comparatively affluent, straight men that this practice can lend itself to rather myopic ends. Thankfully there are writers like Ian McDonald that attempt to break free from these experiential constraints and create futures not rooted in Western modes of thought, but in the rich multicultural melting pots that much of the world calls home.

Over the course of his past three books, McDonald has created immaculately realized futures centered not in bustling American metropolises or pastoral English countrysides, but in the seamy fetid ports of the Amazonian headwaters, a parched post-climate change Indian subcontinent, and, here, the bazaars and tea houses of that great bordertown between Europe and Asia, Istanbul. While a strong argument could be made for the colonialist nature of this cultural appropriation (wherefore the genre writers of Turkey or Thailand? They must exist, how do I gain access to their works?) at the same time I feel that writers like McDonald and The Wind-Up Girl's Paolo Bacigalupi have found bold new directions in which to take science fiction. Beyond the boundaries of cyberpunk that even its esteemed godfather, William Gibson, found himself chaffing against, into a new and incredibly exciting frontier.

Set just after Turkey's entry into the European Union, The Dervish House is a richly detailed story that peers deep into the history of Istanbul and the swirling paths of migration, both physical and ideological, to piece together a story as detailed and tightly woven as any of the rugs one may find in the grand bazaar. The tale focuses on the residents of a single building, a former Dervish House that has been converted to more secular purposes for, much like Rome, everything in Istanbul is built atop the ruined foundations of another era. Within these walls live a great host of characters who, over the course of five days, unravel the web of connections that have unwittingly brought them all together and will, for better or worse, shape the future of the city perched along the shores of the Bosphorus.

It all begins when Nectec, the drug-addled brother of an upstart imam witnesses a suicide bombing on a tram and soon thereafter begins to be plagued with visions of djinn and spirits, leading him to believe that Allah has begun speaking to him. The tram blast is also witnessed by a young boy with a yen for adventure named Can, locked away in his apartment due to a mysterious illness that would cause his heart to explode if he's exposed to sudden noises, whose only exposure to the city is through the eyes of his shape-shifting Bit Bots, micro machines capable of becoming a monkey, bird, or rat, and who takes it upon himself to unravel the mystery of Nectec's visions and the nefarious forces that are hunting him. With the begrudging help of Georges Ferontinou, one of the last remaining members of what was once a large community of Greek immigrants with a checkered past of political activism, Can uncovers a plot to bury Turkey's hard-won secularism once and for all. Also within the walls of Adem Dede, the titular dervish house, lives Leyla Gultasli, a recent graduate of marketing school who is tasked with locating funding for a family-run nanotech start-up as well as recovering an ancient family heirloom, as well as Ayse Erkoc, an antiquities dealer who takes on the seemingly impossible task of locating a mellified man (a man mummified in honey) and her husband Adnan Sarioglu, the quintessential Young Turk with a wild plan to secure his fortune.

As in his previous two books, Istanbul itself is the main character here. Each chapter illuminates just a small portion of this teeming metropolis, leaving just enough in the shadows to let the reader know that several lifetimes could be spent before Istanbul reveals all of her mysteries. More than anything, such tantalizing gaps intrigue and draw the reader more deeply into the story and reveal why it is that McDonald may be the best science fiction writer currently putting pen to page. This was the last book I read in 2012 and may well be the best piece of scifi that I have read in this entire year. If you enjoy richly detailed views of possible futures, this book is not to be missed.
Profile Image for Kim.
426 reviews507 followers
May 20, 2012

It's taken me quite a while to finish reading this novel. I came close to abandoning it a few times because I didn't see where it was going and - more particularly - I was having difficulty caring about the characters. However, it eventually started coming together. It even became a bit of a page turner and, surprisingly, I ended up caring about the characters more than I ever thought I could.

Set in Istanbul in the near future, The Dervish House centres on a number of people who live or work in a disused tekke, the dervish house of the title. The various threads of the narrative include a search for an archeological legend - a Mellified Man, a financial scam, a terrorist plot and attempts to find funding to develop a new technology. In addition, there's an isolated young boy, Can, who with the aid of his toy robots, turns detective. The plot also touches on Turkey's recent political history and its history of race relations.

Apart from Can's adventures, what I enjoyed most about this work is the depiction of Istanbul. The descriptions of the city are more interesting than most of the characters and much of the plot. I'm glad I read the novel, if for no other reason than it's reinforced my desire to travel to Turkey some time soon. That said, I doubt I'll be reading it again.
Profile Image for Genia Lukin.
226 reviews175 followers
June 5, 2012
I am going to go out of my way and say that this is not a bad book at all. It's actually quite well-written, and the atmosphere the author creates is engaging and vivacious. The science-fiction elements are quite well-done, the cyberpunk feel is very much in place, the city of Istanbul is interesting...

Sadly, there were a couple places where the novel really fell flat for me; and these flat places completely ruined my experience, to the point where I found myself skimming more than I was reading. And when I skim more than I read - that is my personal rule - I one-star the book.

So what went wrong?

First of all, I found that aside from maybe two characters, whom I found vaguely interesting - the boy and the girl, Leyla, for some odd, inexplicable reason (perhaps because my husband is a high-tech employee, and I am familiar with startups) - I found literally none of the others, and their plots, worth following. Frankly, they bored me. And when one is bored, what more is there to say?

I also genuinely disliked the way the author deals with the boy Can, his heart condition, and his parents. Especially his parents. He creates this picture of overbearing, frantic, almost stupid parents. because, you know, they don't want their kid to die. There is no indication that the narrator is the nine-year-old boy, and the author lets us see differently. Nope. They're just a whiny, much too concerned couple. Perhaps so, but that aspect of the story genuinely rankled.

There is also the fact of dealing with Can's disability itself. There's this air blowing in the book that, if one is plucky enough, it would simply disappear. And that, let me tell you, is simply not true. The only way one can ever overcome one's limitations - and I say this as a disabled person myself - is to recognize them, and look them in the face. And, of course, on the other side of that rather crooked mirror there is the school where Can goes, where only one other boy apparently cared enough about the outside world, being such a fantastic anomaly. Augh!

No, sorry, disabled people don't stop being interested in the world just because they're disabled. And they don't become not-disabled because of pluck and verve. And that doesn't mean they're not worth your authorial attention if done right.

Otherwise, I found many of the characters a bit too flat. Adnan, the gas dealer, really didn't interest me at all; his wife only did because I couldn't understand why she is his wife; and so on and so forth. So, whereas I recognize this is not, actually, a bad book, I still did not like it, could not interest myself in it, and am happy to be finished with it.
Profile Image for Dawn Marie.
41 reviews8 followers
July 13, 2012
Although a geek girl at heart, I’ve never really read a great deal of Science Fiction. Some Bradbury, a dash of Heinlein, a little Gibson, fair bit of LeGuin, but not enough. Of what I read of Bradbury, I loved Dandelion Wine the best – a glass of nostalgic strawberry lemonade – sweet as childhood memory, with a metallic tang of old-school horror. Heinlein seemed to really, really like porn (and his mom, apparently?), and I can respect that, but I can’t say I enjoyed his work. Gibson caught my emo-imagination, but while he could spin a setting and a time that felt as real as silicon grit in your palms, his characters were holograms. Ian McDonald, who I’d never heard of until this year’s NorWesCon, balances strong characters with a future that feels only a breath away in his Hugo-nominated, Arthur C. Clark Award-nominated, British Science Fiction Association Award-winning book The Dervish House.

Like LeGuin, McDonald introduces you to people that he’s genuinely fond of: the farm girl looking to make good in the high-end world of marketing, the little boy cut off from the world by illness, whose elderly Radical Economist neighbor helps reach out to the world by modifying the boy’s pet robot, the decidedly secular antiques dealer who collects sacred art, the slick stockbroker who rides the highs of the market with a tube of concentration-enhancing nano powder in his pocket, and even the probably sociopathic Necdet, who has been subject to terrible visions since a terrorist attack during his morning commute.

This book is written by a white guy, by the way. A European. This is likely a failing on my part, but I can’t remember the last time I read a book where no one was American, or where at least 80% of the characters weren’t Caucasian (it was probably Achebe’s Things Fall Apart). And hey, it’s set in a world where the people of color aren’t interstellar Aliens! (I’m looking at you, various Stargates!)

Dervish House has glorious art, relic hunting, insider trading, kidnapping, a history of political unrest and a sheen of futuristic and unlikely optimism wrapping it all together. There’s riveting action and engaging science: McDonald untangles complex ideas in ways that make you feel 20 IQ points smarter than you were when you started the book. Whether it’s magic, nano-science or only superb craft, this book is worthy of your time.

Profile Image for Rachel.
1,367 reviews26 followers
July 1, 2017
Wonderful! The book started out slow and I had to drag myself through the first hundred pages before I even understood who most of the characters were and why they mattered. If not for that, I would give it five stars. The slowness is partly due to the intricate and poetic writing style. Normally I read very quickly, but this book requires you to read every word, and rewards you for that effort with fascinating story. It is not light reading, but it has plenty of humor and joy.

The setting is near-future Istanbul, and in a way, Istanbul is the main character - its architecture, religions, history, neighborhoods, commerce, and mostly the people who continue to create all of those. I have no idea how Ian McDonald knows so much about Istanbul (or for that matter economics, Mellified Men, or other Middle Eastern antiquities). But he makes it come alive. (By the way, mellified men are not something the author made up; check Wikipedia.)

The book has nanotechnology, terrorism, high finance, and a child's toy - tiny BitBots that come together in whatever shapes they are programmed. I liked the nanotechnology that made people have religious visions, even if it was a terrorist weapon. I actually believe this is entirely possible and not far beyond current technology. I didn't understand the technology that used people's genes for data storage. I can see how the data would get added, but how would the brain retrieve it?

I can't say I particularly liked, or identified with, any of the characters (except the 9-year-old), but they seemed real. The plot built up to an action-filled climax, and the resolution left no unresolved plot lines. Though I wouldn't mind seeing what happened next in each character's life.

Profile Image for James.
589 reviews113 followers
November 12, 2015
I nearly didn't read this book. The sample failed to interest me. In fact it seemed so over-written and dense that I wasn't sure what the book was about after the better part of the first chapter. However, in-part because the book was Hugo nominated and in-part because it was the io9.com book club read for the month I persevered and bought the book.

Rereading the first chapter made a lot more sense the second time around, and almost the very next page after the sample had ended the book came alive. Suddenly it isn't some weird prose about a stork it's a tense week in the lives of a number of characters who all live or work in one small square in Istanbul. Their lives are all changed suddenly when a suicide bomber kills themselves at the end of their street. The book is divided into five days - Monday to Friday - with two chapters for each. However, the story itself jumps between characters with almost total abandon (and certainly no warning) and the characters themselves frequently jump (also without warning) between present day and flash-backs. Basically, you have to pay attention. It's not for reading when you're tired.

Having almost given up on it in the first chapter (it's a little over-written in the final few pages as well I thought), I'm glad I persevered as the book was an excellent read for the other 99%. Maybe Ian McDonald just isn't good at beginnings and endings.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,143 reviews100 followers
April 26, 2019
Wonderfully intricate, layered and immersive. McDonald masterfully weaves together an impressive number of threads and incredibly deep knowledge of Istanbul and its rich history, into a fantastically ambitious near future cyberpunk story of high tech intrigue, high stakes finance, religious mysticism, conspiracy theories and the nanotech revolution. McDonald's portrayal of a hot, crowded near future Istanbul, lurking with ancient secrets and mystery is simply superb. Reminiscent on a number of levels, particularly structure, content and style to Neal Stephenson's outstanding The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.
Profile Image for Dalibor Dado Ivanovic.
350 reviews22 followers
April 16, 2017
Knjiga je odlicna, zanimljiva i pisana odlicno. Iskreno, da je ovo netko drugi pisao, vjerovatno ne bih niti probao citat, no, obzirom da je to Mcdonald, knjiga me pravo ponjela. Definitivno je jasnije pisana, nego sto je to Brasyl ili Reka Bogova, ima krace recenice i sve skupa je tecnije i poprilicno jasno. Neki dijelovi su stvarno sa predivnim mislima i opisima (te iste cu si zabiljezit). Na prijevodu svaka cast,vjerujem da nije bilo jednostavno...no napravljeno odlicno. E sad bilo bi divno da se prevede jos knjiga od istog autora, i da to uvijek radi ovaj odlicni prevoditelj.
Profile Image for Bbrown.
676 reviews83 followers
January 9, 2022
The back of the book blurb for The Dervish House brags that it has three interconnected plot threads and six point of view characters, but the plot threads are only interconnected thanks to coincidences shoehorned in by the author, and half of the six characters' stories are either dumb, lack stakes, or both. I'll address each character in turn as set out in the blurb to discuss just how McDonald messed this book up.

A retired economist: This character's story is one of the better ones, but even it is undercut near the outset by the economist's understanding of his field being blatantly stupid. The economist sets up betting markets to predict future events, and the genesis for this idea was when, as a child, he averaged out the guesses of his classmates to determine the number of toys in a jar. The problem is that, while the "wisdom of the crowd" for questions like this can in theory get you close to the right answer under certain conditions, it's absurd to treat this as a precise science. It's like saying that averaging out the bets placed in roulette will tell you what number will actually get rolled, obviously that's not how it works. As for betting markets, they're notoriously bad at predicting future outcomes even when the set of outcomes is limited—betting pools didn't even put Louis Gluck in the top 15 of people to win the Nobel Prize in literature last year, but win it she did. So it strains credulity when this character is able to use betting markets to zero in on upcoming terrorist activity.

A nine-year-old boy: At times the writing for the “boy detective” with access to technology that is somehow more advanced than that used by the police or tech-savvy terrorists got so absurd that I thought that McDonald may have been intentionally satirizing the cliché of an unnaturally smart child solving a mystery, but it never crossed the line far enough to convince me that McDonald realized how dumb it is.

A rogues [sic] trader: This was the worst of the stories. Oh no, will this asshole complete a trade so he goes from rich to super rich? Even if the story hadn’t lacked interesting stakes, I disliked this character and his companions so much that I hated wasting time reading about them and hoped that they all failed. And that error in the text of the blurb is not an isolated instance, the book is full of sentences with missing words, the text misidentifying characters, and other errors. This character’s story only connects with the two other plot threads by pure coincidence, and as such it’s completely unsatisfying when it does.

An art dealer: This character’s story, like the story of her husband the rogue trader, was undermined by the lack of stakes. Oh no, will this woman who has an art gallery as a hobby be able to complete her commission? It was also made less interesting by its execution, because most of her search consisted of characters feeding her exposition and her making progress thanks to coincidence. Credit where credit is due, the mellified man was an interesting historical curiosity that I hadn’t come across before, and it’s a commodification of a body in a different way than cybernetic modification of bodies as you usually see in cyberpunk. Note, however, that The Dervish House is weak sauce in general when it comes to cyberpunk, it doesn’t do the cyberpunk aesthetic well and it does nothing of interest with cyberpunk’s usual themes.

A slacker: This was the only story I liked, as it actually made me want to find out where the story was going. Unless you’re not thinking you’ll immediately realize that the character getting caught in a suicide bombing and shortly thereafter starting to see djinn are connected, which was intriguing enough on its own and clearly part of something bigger. Unfortunately, the story presented this connection as a twist halfway through, which means that McDonald thinks his readers are dumb. When all was said and done, only a small fraction of The Dervish House focused on this story, and the book has nothing interesting to say about religion or the intersection of it and technology.

A young marketing graduate: This story of trying to find financing for a nanotech company was fine but unnecessary. Like with the economist’s theories, the DNA technology focused on in this part of the book doesn’t make any sense. The internet already contains effectively all information, and you can access it with a phone the size of your hand. What advantage does having all that same information stored in your DNA give you over having a phone, except for obviating the need for good cell reception? The book mentions ideas like exchanging memories and experiences, but doesn’t try to explain how that would happen, and in any event that’s not what the technology being developed does. Again, the plot thread embodied by this character’s story only connects to the other two thanks to some unsatisfying coincidences.

The Dervish House is no more than an airport thriller with a dab of cyberpunk paint. Its Istanbul setting is interesting in theory, but it’s clear that McDonald has nothing more than a tourist’s understanding of the city, if that, so he wasn’t able to breathe any life into it. Only one out of its six point of view characters provided an engaging story, with two others being tolerable if I’m being generous. The other three were, on balance, poorly done. Using coincidences large and small, McDonald stitched all six together into an unsatisfying volume that had nothing to say, and that could have used another passthrough by a proofreader. 2/5.
Profile Image for Richard.
109 reviews28 followers
August 20, 2011
A twisting dance as six stories entwine in the heart of near future Istanbul. The old world and the ultra new, the ancient and the nascent future whirl together around the old Dervish House in Adem Dede Square.
Heat struck Istanbul, at once archaic and enigmatic then industrial and grimy, but also thrusting and modern, the palpitating heart of new European future Turkey, the crossroads of East and West, makes a fascinating and atmospheric setting as the stories spiral ever faster around each other and around the Dervish House.

The young Turk financier an Ultralord of the Universe, his wife the purveyor of antique and holy art. The old Greek economist, the grandson he never had a fragile but inquisitive and brilliant boy in a cloistered world. A sociopath rescued by his Islamist brother and his sect of street judges. The family girl from the countryside pushing her way ahead in the frenetic business world of the city with her extended family and their bleeding edge nano tech brainchild. All their stories interweave twist and sway together, touching each other holding on then whirling off again, spinning to individual climax and a collective crescendo that leaves the dancers breathless as the heatwave breaks and the sun sets over the Bosphorous and peace descends over the Queen of Cities.

This is a wonderful mix of story and atmosphere, characters and ideas, relationships and politics, history and the future, the big and the small, but never losing the human scale of love, loss and desire. This is Science Fiction because of the future politics and yet to be born technology, but it is beautiful storytelling whatever the genre.

Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 111 books709 followers
August 3, 2011
I need to think on this one a little bit. It's beautifully written but leaves me a bit cold. I loved Can, Boy Detective. I loved the city of Istanbul and its place in the story. Still, many of the other characters didn't fully live for me, and there were a handful of items or moments that seemed like they should be significant but lost their value to the plot just before the end. The last paragraphs were excellent, and the action of the last two days made up for the positioning of the first three. It may grow in my estimation, but right now I can only say I liked it.
Profile Image for prcardi.
538 reviews73 followers
July 5, 2017
Storyline: 2/5
Characters: 4/5
Writing Style: 4/5
World: 5/5

Ian McDonald continues to excel with so many of the components of a good story. He makes it interesting: Every McDonald book I have read has been situated in an exotic location which he calls forth vividly with an indisputable eye for detail, backed by thorough research. He makes it meaningful: Each of the near-future, cyperbunk books he has published between 2004 and 2010 offers a layered look at society. Every location is a site of contested culture - a hegemonic one overlaying an older, traditional one. In every instance the alien is strangling - though, importantly, not suffocating - the indigenous, and the contest is reshaping both. The author adds to this a layer of foretelling; he conjectures what that world with its mix of cultures will look like in the rapid, technology-advancing future. The results are definitely something that stimulate. McDonald also makes it believable: He gives himself a more difficult task than simply making the technology conceivable; McDonald delves into myths, rumors, and conspiracies and brings them to the realm of the real. He takes that which might otherwise be dismissed, forgotten, or relegated and shoves it to the forefront of his developing world, technological drama.

Despite the admiration I had for McDonald, this is the first book of his I enjoyed. River of Gods, Cyberabad Days, and Brasyl all shared those many strengths listed above, but they were also unapproachable. Each location was too bizarre, the cultures were too detailed, the technological future too distant. The large casts of characters added to the tumult and then there was his insistence on writing it in cyberpunk jargon. The Dervish House permitted me, for the first time, to deeply breathe in a McDonald story and experience it in full redolence. The series vision, I think, is a big reason for that. In interviews the author has referred to this as his "New World Order" series, though nothing in the books themselves identify them as part of a serial. There are no overlapping characters or events. The worlds, however, are consistent and McDonald has been moving backward from India in 2047 to nearer and nearer our present time. As he progresses backward, the technology is less advanced, the future more comprehensible. It might also have something to do with Istanbul and its being a mix of the European and the Asian, thereby halving the exoticism. The experience was better, too, because though technically a cyber (future built on the premise of the internet and its increasing integration into daily life) punk (society that has internalized and normalized delinquency - drugs, crime, etc) novel, this is not the writing style of a cyber punk artist. No more sentence fragments, street jargon, arrogance, and abruptness in word and tone. This was written by a poet. Written by someone infatuated by Istanbul and wanting to declare his love to the world. This was a story where every word had been weighed, every contrast and juxtaposition considered. This was a McDonald story in which to revel.

Though I found it a vast improvement over his other, then-recent books, not every sentence or development was perfected. McDonald continues with the wide cast of characters, and it doesn't appear to be a narrative choice that I appreciate. It kills momentum. With six main characters whom mostly lack clearly overlapping narratives, you get the storyline piecemeal. And it comes so slowly. Everytime I started to get interested and involved in a perspective, it would then shift to another's seemingly unrelated one. My enthusiasm and anticipation would have to start over anew. That was tiring. Also, even though the writing and content was beautiful, the density still made it difficult to absorb very much at one sitting. A chapter at a time was definitely pushing my limits; read much more than that at once, and I found I wasn't enjoying myself anymore. There were also a couple of character plot climaxes that came off as a little too hokey, too convenient or casual. These were unworthy of all the care and preparation that had come before, and they stood out starkly because the rest had been so precisely measured. Finally, there were a couple of "winners" among the character cast whom I had long since ceased cheering for. Not every scoundrel has to get his or her just desserts, but when they don't you hope there is some point or reason. McDonald seems like an author with points and reasons, but some of the resolutions were unsatisfactorily surprising for me. These were all minor nuisances though when considered against the bulwark solidly supporting The Dervish House.

I'm pleased to report, in the end, that not only was this one an accomplishment, it was a treat.
Profile Image for Alexandra.
766 reviews91 followers
May 28, 2011
I have long been enamoured of Turkey. Actually, strictly speaking I have long been enamoured of the idea of Turkey: the decadence, the luxury, the it’s very different there. Over the last number of years I have come to the realisation that this idea, or dream, of the country is a very European one, and a very colonial one in many regards – it’s a view of “the East” that has existed in “the West” at least since the Romans had their snooty ideas about Egypt and Persia. Despite being well aware of its source, and feeling uncomfortable about that, there is still an allure in those incredibly not-politically-correct views. And that’s the point, of course: the allure comes from the (alleged) exotic nature of somewhere very ‘different’ (from Western Europe), and difference is always attractive. (The point, too, was that by identifying certain things like decadence as traits from over there, the viewer could take the prim moral stance and still enjoy it. But I digress….)

I got to thinking about these sorts of things in reading The Dervish House because it is set in near-future Istanbul: a city in many ways very similar to those of Western Europe, America, and Australia that I am familiar with, but with enough differences – real differences – that it retains an aura of the exotic. The story could, with some changes of course, be set in any city really. But setting it in Istanbul allows McDonald to do many things, not least of which is imbuing his setting with a deep sense of history that the relatively new cities of America and Australia just don’t have. Istanbul is very much a character in this novel; the complexity of the city itself – geographically, historically – is deeply important to the plot and the characters. There is even a character whose main interest in life is mapping the social history of the city, an idea I find very attractive.

The Dervish House is a simultaneously dense and frantic novel. In 472 pages McDonald covers five days in the life of the city, from the point of view of six main characters. An old Greek man, a young Turkish invalid, a successful businesswoman, an ambitious businesswoman, a no-hoper and a stockmarket player: with this cast, McDonald creates a vibrant city. Some of their stories interweave with one another, at one point or another, while others appear tangential; all combine to give a rich, rich view of the near future. Their plots are wonderfully varied: there’s romance, there’s adventure, there’s corporate espionage and shady deals and antiquarian detective work; religious fanaticism, world-weariness, wild success and disappointments. At times the writing is so dense that I had a little trouble following it, but the sheer beauty of it – along with the compelling sense that I needed to know what was going to happen – meant that wasn’t too much of a hassle.

One of the things that fascinated me about this book is that reading it as an SF reader, it’s clearly SF; there are enough references to nanotechnology and other futuristic things to ensure that. However, the date isn’t made clear until about two-thirds of the way through the book, and the technology isn’t really central, so it ought to have broader mainstream appeal, too.
Profile Image for Daniel.
671 reviews43 followers
April 30, 2018
Repost 2011 review:

This is really a difficult book to review. After finishing River of Gods a while back and seeing this was coming out I was really looking forward to it, but it took me a month to finally plow through it. It's written in the present tense, which takes a bit of getting used to. Contrary to the claims of many literary types, I feel like present tense narration adds distance, like trying to "watch" a movie by having someone else watch it for you and describe what's going on over the phone.

The real problem though is the different story lines. It's like someone took a solid 5 star novel set in Istanbul and 1 star novel set in Istanbul and decided to weave them together. The 5 star story would be that of Can, a nine year old boy with a heart condition which forces him into a life of isolation and artificial deafness; Georgios Ferentinou, a retired professor of experimental economics; and Necdet, a man with a dark past whose life takes a strange turn after being caught up in a terrorist attack. I loved Can and the professor, and always looked forward to their segments. Necdet's got progressively more interesting and the three threads form an really fun adventure story.

The other three character threads are Leyla, a young woman looking for a job that gets roped into helping a relative try to get funding for his nanotech startup; Ayse, an art dealer who gets commissioned to find an legendary object; and Ayse's husband Adnan who is plotting a business scam with three friends. Leyla's thread is just boring. A ways into the story when Ayse gets into the hunt her thread becomes interesting, but the resolution is completely unsatisfying. And Adnan, well, he's just completely loathsome for most of the book and the probably the main reason I was always reluctant to pick up the book again. McDonald connects Adnan's scam to the terrorist story in the end, but in a way that was different from, and far less satisfying than what I had been anticipating from the point Adnan's scheme was explained.

If you cut Leyla's thread out entirely and made Adnan less horrible to spend time with I think it would still be at least a 4 star read despite the unsatisfying conclusion to Ayse's thread and underwhelming way Adnan's was tied in. But as is I can't give it more than 3.
Profile Image for Maree.
803 reviews24 followers
August 22, 2011
This book took me a long time to read, was mildly interesting throughout, and much better now that I'm not reading but reflecting back on it. It was a great story and I loved how everything was woven together through the stories and the character, but it seems to me, especially with the end, that this is a story about Istanbul, not about any of the characters.

It was a very complex novel, which makes it difficult for me to break down in any meaningful way all that was happening all at the same time, but I have to say that character-wise, I loved Can and his youthful eagerness to have some excitement in his otherwise quite sheltered life. I loved his 'grandfather' in Gregorio, and how he sought redemption not only for his once bountiful career but his actions during the protests. I loved Ayşe and Adnan's drive in solving puzzles and their wonderful relationship despite their sometimes underhanded dealings. I loved Leyla and her drive to show her family that her college degree meant something, as a woman and as the youngest who was supposed to take care of her parents, not have a career. None of these characters were stagnant; they all changed and developed throughout the novel, which I think was excellent.

I think the only character I wasn't that taken with was Necdet, but what was happening to him was interesting in itself, so I was okay with that. But everything in this book was interesting, not fascinating or exciting, and it kept up a very slow pace for nearly the entirety of the book, which I disliked, but the rich details did add a lot.
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