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The Dervish House

Posted by Shawn Boyles On Wednesday, August 18, 2010

THE DERVISH HOUSE is Ian McDonald’s latest near future SF tale set in an up-and-coming country. Recently he has covered the near future of India in RIVER OF THE GODS and then Brazil in BRAYSL. Both of those books made the Hugo Award shortlist for their respective years and I have no doubt that this one will too.

The book begins with a suicide bombing aboard a bus. From there the story follows six individuals over the course of the next five days as events spiral around them and bring them together in unexpected ways. I would tell you more about it but the plot lines are many layered and finely woven together and I’m afraid I would just muddle it up. More than being about the characters, the book is about Istanbul and Turkey. Indeed at times it seemed like the six people you follow throughout the book were secondary characters to the future city and its complex history. Like both of the previously mentioned books by McDonald you get the feeling reading them that McDonald has done exhaustive research and gone to great effort to make the book feel real, feel authentic. Indeed I’ve read reviews of his work that have praised McDonald for writing a book that feels like it was written by someone from Istanbul.

The books strength however is, in my opinion, also one of its weaknesses. The book is so wrapped up in being authentically Istanbulian, (Is that a word? It is now...) that there were many times that I felt apart from the characters I was reading about. The book often deviates from the plot and the minds of its characters to paint you a picture of one of the various facets of Istanbul culture, sometimes for pages at a time. I would often turn the page to see that the next few pages were consumed with only two paragraphs of long description, instead of plot moving dialogue.

It’s a minor fault however. The book is beautifully written and packed with more ideas that you usually find in ten novels. Some of the ideas from this book were just mind boggling. I literally put the book down on a few occasions just to savor the ideas being presented here and think them through. My wife got sick of me throwing these ideas out at her with my “isn’t that so cool?” face. She usually responded with her, “you are such a nerd” face, but I get that a lot.

THE DERVISH HOUSE is Ian McDonald’s most accessible work by a long shot.. The characters and story here are easier to keep track of than some of his other works and the book subsequently moves along at a much better pace. The conclusion to the book brings all the characters to the climax of their respective stories, and it’s a thrilling thing to watch unfold. If you enjoyed any part of Paolo Bacigalupi’s WINDUP GIRL then THE DERVISH HOUSE should be right up your alley, only much better. I didn’t find this one quite as good as I thought RIVER OF THE GODS was, but this would certainly be the best place to start if you wanted to give Ian McDonald a read.

Recommended Age: 18+ and only because, although this is McDonald’s most accessible, it’s still darn complicated and complex.
Language: Yes. I don’t remember there being a ton of foul language, but there is a bit.
Violence: A little, but not much.
Sex: One scene, and a bit of suggestion, but not much.


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