The Dervish House – Ian McDonald

About the Book
It begins with an explosion. Another day, another bus bomb. Everyone it seems is after a piece of Turkey. But the shockwaves from this random act of 21st century pandemic terrorism will ripple further and resonate louder than just Enginsoy Square.

Welcome to the world of The Dervish House; the great, ancient, paradoxical city of Istanbul, divided like a human brain, in the great, ancient, equally paradoxical nation of Turkey. The year is 2027 and Turkey is about to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its accession to the European Union; a Europe that now runs from the Arran Islands to Ararat. Population pushing one hundred million, Istanbul swollen to fifteen million; Turkey is the largest, most populous and most diverse nation in the EU, but also one of the poorest and most socially divided. It’s a boom economy, the sweatshop of Europe, the bazaar of central Asia, the key to the immense gas wealth of Russia and Central Asia.

Gas is power. But it’s power at a price, and that price is emissions permits. This is the age of carbon consciousness: every individual in the EU has a card stipulating individual carbon allowance that must be produced at every CO2 generating transaction. For those who can master the game, who can make the trades between gas price and carbon trading permits, who can play the power factions against each other, there are fortunes to be made. The old Byzantine politics are back. They never went away.

The ancient power struggled between Sunni and Shia threatens like a storm: Ankara has watched the Middle East emerge from twenty-five years of sectarian conflict. So far it has stayed aloof. A populist Prime Minister has called a referendum on EU membership. Tensions run high. The army watches, hand on holster. And a Galatasary Champions’ League football game against Arsenal stokes passions even higher.

The Dervish House is seven days, six characters, three interconnected story strands, one central common core–the eponymous dervish house, a character in itself–that pins all these players together in a weave of intrigue, conflict, drama and a ticking clock of a thriller.

359 pages (Hardcover)
Published on: July 27, 2010
Published by: Pyr
Author’s webpage
I have mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again. I’m obsessed with learning about other cultures. I also often spend my time wondering what the future will bring us with these changing times. These two factors put together almost promise that I’ll be an Ian McDonald fan. His books seem to be geared toward exotic places in the world that most don’t focus on and take place slightly in the future, which show possibilities, in my mind.
The Dervish House is the second of McDonald’s books I’ve read, the first being River of Gods. Where River of Gods takes place in India in the near future, The Dervish House takes place in Turkey; Istanbul, to be exact, at a time when Turkey had just been admitted to the European Union, and is functioning as an incredibly busy and flourishing crossroads of commerce.
The Dervish House follows the stories of six different individuals during the span of seven days. At first the stories seem fairly independent of each other, though over time it slowly becomes apparent that they are subtly entwined. McDonald introduces his characters quickly, which might seem a bit confusing at first, but his ability to give each story and character and individual voice and perspective makes each storyline easy to keep track of.
As is often the case with books that involve multiple points of view, readers will probably find some perspectives to be more appealing than others. Despite this, all characters are incredibly well rounded. It isn’t until closer to the end that all the connections between the six different stories are apparent. Though I did enjoy some perspectives more than others, it’s important to read all parts of each individual’s adventures to fully appreciate the work, and the ending as a whole.
McDonald is a very talented writer, which becomes obvious in The Dervish House. He loses almost no time with wrapping the book around the reader with a stunning opening scene involving what seems to be a botched suicide-bombing job. From that aggressive start, the book keeps spinning, never losing that forceful, almost hurried tone. Due to this, McDonald packs quite a bit into The Dervish House. I do think McDonald’s writing is best summed up with the word aggressive. Though I’m not saying that he’s not a wonderful, almost poetic writer. McDonald’s descriptions make Istanbul come alive to the point where you can almost sense the traffic, and hear and smell the Grand Bazaar.
The Dervish House might take some time to get into, but despite some overzealous scientific elements that can bog down the flow of the work as a whole, the plot is fairly quickly moving with enough interesting and unique elements to keep almost anyone entertained. Furthermore, McDonald’s distinctive application of the technology of the time, on both a macro and micro scale is thought provoking. However, due to the fact that the book might take some effort for readers to get into, some may find it fairly off-putting at first.
McDonald seamlessly weaves together the unique politics of the time, as well as religious influences, cultural issues and technological advances, creating an incredible hodge-podge of future Istanbul, Turkey. The Dervish House is an aggressive, thought provoking work filled with the humanizing tales of six different, yet entwined individuals. The plot does take some effort to get into and some of the individual stories aren’t as appealing as others, but on the whole The Dervish House is a worthy read. The plot is engaging. McDonald’s writing is lyrical and descriptive and the issues covered will make people think about matters on a real-world, global scale. On the whole, The Dervish House is a worthy addition to McDonald’s collection of work and a book that any McDonald fan should be aware of.
4/5 stars

4 Responses

  • Bibliotropic

    I won a copy of this book ages ago but never did get around to reading it. It's been languishing on my bookshelf for months now. I'm going to have to change that; I've heard nothing but good reviews for this novel, really!

  • Sarah (Bookworm Blues)

    I hope you like it!

  • Marduk

    I loved this book. I haven't read "River of Gods" but I have read "Brasyl" and highly recommend it. Really makes you feel like you are in the slums of Rio and then in the jungles as well 🙂

  • Sarah (Bookworm Blues)

    I keep meaning to read Brasyl. I hear great things about it.

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