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The Dervish House (Gollancz) by Ian Mcdonald
Review by Liz de Jager
Gollancz Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780575080539
Date: 29 July 2010 List Price £12.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

Uncorrected Proof Copy: Ian McDonald's Brasyl (which I reviewed back in August 2008) was described by Jeff VanderMeer in his review in The Washington Post as "... as close to perfect as any novel in recent memory." - which is about as close to perfect as any review could possibly be! With the forthcoming publication of The Dervish House, McDonald has produced another masterpiece, this time turning his powerful imagination to a near-future Turkey, just as he did for Brazil in Brasyl and India in River of Gods. Highly recommended.

"In the CHAGA novels Ian McDonald brought an Africa in the grip of a bizarre alien invasion to life, in RIVER OF GODS he painted a rich portrait of India in 2047, in BRASYL he looked at different Brazils, past present and future. Ian McDonald has found renown at the cutting edge of a movement to take SF away from its British and American white roots and out into the rich cultures of the world. THE DERVISH HOUSE continues that journey and centres on Istanbul in 2025. Turkey is part of Europe but sited on the edge, it is an Islamic country that looks to the West. THE DERVISH HOUSE is the story of the families that live in and around its titular house, it is at once a rich mosaic of Islamic life in the new century and a telling novel of future possibilities. "

"It begins with an explosion. Another day, another bus bomb. Everyone it seems is after a piece of Turkey. But the shock waves from this random act of twenty-first-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. 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." -- Cover copy of the Pyr edition.

The Dervish House appealed because of its cover and its setting. Having never had the guts to pick up an Ian McDonald book before, the consensus was that yes, this is indeed a good place to start for a newbie reader of McDonald’s work. I can agree with this. As a first time reader, especially one who is learning her SF, I was genuinely surprised by how accessible this novel is.

Admittedly, there were a few things I had to Google and some terminology seemed unclear to me, but it in no way detracts from the pure luxurious enjoyment of the prose, the setting, the characters. And let's not forget about the lavish descriptions of Istanbul itself. We see all of Istanbul's faces – the once grand city at the crossroads between East and West, the still grand city that is now part of Europe. But we also see the poverty, we can feel the oppressive heat baking down on us, the dust of too many feet on old streets caught in our throats. The city is alive, vibrant, dangerous, beautiful and mysterious with many faces for its inhabitants. This Istanbul of the near future is a place I felt comfortable with. Both the culture and technology being new to me, Mcdonald's highly intelligent narrative unfolds both time and place brilliantly.

The eponymous Dervish House holds within its confines the lives of six people. We follow these individuals over a period of time, from the Monday to the Friday of a single week. It is easy to suppose such a structure might make for dull reading - it was my initial thought - but McDonald is a writer of the very highest calibre, imbuing each character with such vividness and purpose they they absolutely command your attention. You may not like all of them, but you can't deny the fact that they are deeply engaging and interesting creations that stay with you long after you've finished reading.

Mcdonald offers up the many contradictions that encapsulate modern and old Turkey. On one hand we have amazing futuristic technology and people living very fast lives; the threat of terrorism is ever-present, (the novel opens with a bomb blast) and we sense the instability that lies just under the surface of this world. On the other hand we have mysticism, religion and the existence of jinni and a variety of spirits that add a touch of the ancient and the supernatural. Modern and old, it all goes hand in hand and is reflected within the lives of the six people from The Dervish House.

This is wonderfully complex and intricate novel that deals as easily with human emotions and the press of humanity as it does with cybernetic implants and robot drones. As such it's not a piece that one can easily summarise in terms of plot - not least because having read it I find I'm still a bit star struck! And to try and unpick the layers of this story, to try and turn it into a synopsis, just won't work because it is so much more than a sum of its parts.

I've heard that The Dervish House will do for Istanbul what Brasyl did for Brasil. I wouldn't know as I've not read Brasyl (but from reading John Berlyne's SFRevu review here, I can see that I need to!) I may be an SF 'noob' but for sure I've utterly fallen for Ian McDonald's writing - others will too whether existing fans or not. This is a book you will lap up and then thirst for more.

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