The Dervish House

By Ian McDonald

Rating: 5 stars

I’ve been a fan of Ian McDonald for several years now, and this book does nothing to make me reconsider. From the opening paragraphs, introducing us to Istanbul, the Queen of Cities, the language is rich and beautiful and quickly draws you in. The story is in six strands, each following a different protagonist across five days following a terrorist suicide-bombing as their paths cross and weave. Interleaving Islamic mysticism, nanotechnology, a hunt for ancient Ottoman artefacts and more, this was a joy to read.

The characters are all drawn well and have good motivations and histories. The only thing that didn’t entirely work for me was the relationship between the financial trader Adnan and his wife Ay┼če. I’m not sure why, and it may have been more to do with my prejudice against financial traders than anything else, and it certainly didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.

The city was lovingly and beautifully described and crafted, becoming another character, and player in the mysterious plot. I did sort of wonder just how true that the characters were to Turkey, or whether they were just Westerners in Istanbul. However, I’m not really familiar with the country at all, so I’m going to give the book the benefit of the doubt and suggest that a near-future Turkey, just having joined the European Union would be modern, forward-looking and diverse, as this novel portrays.

The book isn’t short on SF ideas either, from a boy’s robotic smart dust that forms into animals, through corporate scams that would shame Lehman Brothers to how forward-looking terrorists might use nanotechnology. Believable, creepy, marvellous and at times terrifying. There’s a lot here to chew on and you’ll be thinking about it long after the final page.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575088627
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2009

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