Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review of the Dervish House by Ian McDonald

The Dervish HouseThe Dervish House by Ian McDonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Dervish House's big plus is its setting, a near future Instanbul, during a heatwave. Its author, Ian McDonald, took me somewhere different from most science fiction novels, he took me away from the west.

McDonald writes such a convincing description of Istanbul that I could believe he is Turkish. I originally bought the novel on the strength of his Hugo nominated “Vishnu in the Cat Circus" which had me convinced that he was Indian. But he is English.

The Dervish house was nominated for a number of science fiction awards in 2011. And I can see why. It is a very ambitious novel with many different story lines and characters. The threads of these stories merge at different stages, some right at the very end.

The characters include a boy who is confined indoors because any loud noise might cause his heart to fail. He explores the outside world with small robots and along the way witnesses an abduction.

There is an antiquities collector who is commissioned to find a coffin containing a honey drenched corpse. Its honeyed flesh is rumoured to have miraculous qualities.

The husband of the antiquities dealer is a hotshot share trader who, along with his buddies, hatches a get rich quick scheme. It involves illegally diverting gas down a disused pipeline and selling it during their artificially created gas price spike.

Another character participated in an unspeakable act against his sister. He seeks atonement, but then starts seeing visions of Gods.

Then there are two partners researching nanotechnology who are desperately trying to engage a venture capitalist so they can change the world with their latest invention. They engage a recent marketing graduate who is equally desperate to succeed and leave behind her rural upbringing.

Finally there is a elderly Greek, who feels that Instanbul is passing him by. He has dark secrets from a past when Greeks were persecuted in Turkey.

There stories take place during a long heatwave where terrorist acts regularly take place.

The Dervish House is a complex book, with the point of view changing every eight or so pages. The constant changing of character means that the story is always fresh, as you wait to find out what has happened to a character or what they will do next.

I very much enjoyed the novel.


Anthony J. Langford said...

Sounds like a dense, complex book.

Great review Graham.

Graham Clements said...

It's not the type of book you can skim through.