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VINE VOICEon 9 September 2010
In line with other reviews so far, I thought this was an excellent book. Set in Istanbul in 2027 5 years after Turkey joins the EU, it covers multiple, linked story-strands covering subjects such as religion, politics, nano-tech, economics, terrorists and legends including the Mellified Man (don't bother looking it up, just enjoy it in the book).

There are numerous characters who are faily well sketched - the ousted academic, the child detective with a heart complaint, the stock market swindler and his religious-artefact selling wife, the disturbed fanatic and the nano-tech entrepeneurs. McDonald weaves their stories very skillfully and vividly paints a picture of near-future Istanbul and the integration of new technology into an ancient city.

I really enjoyed "River of Gods" but couldn't finish "Brasyl" for some reason. But this is by some way the best book I have read this year. McDonald successfully merges good story-lines with believable future-technology and writes it well. Any author who can come up with a line such as "Smell is the djinni of memory, all times are one to it" has my admiration.

If you want intelligent, well-written near-future science-fiction, you can't go wrong with this book. Highly recommended.
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on 9 August 2010
McDonald has set pretty high expectations with his last two books, but this one doesn't disappoint.

The Dervish House unfolds in a compelling near future Istanbul, a heady mix of history, cultures and ubiquitous nanotechnology. It tells the intertwined stories of six characters, spanning five days of an Istanbul heat wave: a gas options trader with a get rich quick plan, an antiquarian commissioned to find a fabulous mythical artefact; a retired Professor of Economics wounded by ethnic persecution and a love lost, a troubled mystic who sees djinn and talks with saints, a "Marketing Consultant" called in to save the family nanotechnology start-up, and a boy detective with the coolest nanotech toy ever.

With treasure hunts, terrorist plots, wheeling and dealing, and a high tech shoot out, the Dervish House is fast paced and a real page turner. True to style however, McDonald's characters are well rendered and believable, his ideas first class and his writing is complex and mature.

A wonderful book!
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on 28 August 2010
The novel is set in the Istanbul of 2027. Turkey is now part of the EU. It starts with a bang.

Necdet, who was disowned by his family, bar his brother, is on a tram to work when a smiling woman blows her own head off. Shocked by the event, he doesn't realize how badly he was affected until he starts seeing ghosts (djinn) everywhere. The traffic-jam aftermath makes Leyla miss her best chance of a job. She has to fall back on family connections to represent her cousins who want to get financing for a wacky nano-tech start-up. Ayse, an art dealer is offered a lot of money to find a legend, a "Mellified Man", an ancient corpse preserved in honey, and decides to take up the challenge, despite misgivings about her client because of his aftershave. Her husband is cooking up a massive deal of his own, using his skills as a gas market-trader and his special knowledge of a disused gas pipeline going back into embargoed Iran. Can Durukan, a young deaf boy, sends his shape-changing spy bots to the site of the bombing and tracks a mysterious bot that was recording the event. As a wannabe detective he never lets up his search for the truth.Finally, Georgios Ferentinou, an ex-University economics lecturer and erstwhile radical, gets an offer of a job with a think tank doing blue-sky research into possible terrorist attacks. He confronts an old enemy and seeks a lost love.

All the characters are residents of the Dervish House at Adem Dede Square. The Dervishes were a now-vanished sect. The house is a relic of Istanbul's past. The novel subtly weaves together historical and mythical views of the city and its peoples, while at the same time investigating the possible futures offered by nano-tech and EU membership. All the various characters and their story arcs converge by the end of the six days in which the action takes place. River of Gods and Brasyl are tough acts to follow, but this one is better than both, which is no mean feat. The writing, the creative vision and the near-future science fiction are flawless. It ought to win every award going. I wonder what can possibly come next?
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on 4 December 2013
This has got to be one of Ian McDonald's top five books, and it certainly sits alongside River of Gods as one of the two best of his group of unconnected books set in the futures of a range of fast developing countries.

I can see from one or two other reviewers that some Turkish readers feel that some of his attempts to employ Turkish language were perhaps a little too brave, and produced sufficient errors to annoy such readers. For that I knock a star off what otherwise would be a perfect score. My own shameful ignorance of the language shielded me from being distracted by such errors. What I was left with was, not only a great read, but something that stirred and built my interest in the place and its people, moving Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, far up the list of countries I really want to visit - preferably on or before 2025 really comes around. I really wasn't expecting my science fiction reading to also shape my future travel preferences...
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on 18 February 2013
I very much enjoyed this book, and I can see why it won a BSFA award.
Set in near future Istanbul, it covers a week in the lives of six characters who live/work in an old dervish house on the European side of the city. In many ways the main character is Istanbul itself, various parts and periods of the city are explored in detail, at times it is almost poetical. I have never been to Istanbul and my knowledge of its history is limited to back when it was Constantinople, but the sense of the city and it's history are so strong that I felt I had some understanding of it - this is almost certainly an illusion, but creating powerful illusions is a mark of good fiction.
The SF elements are mostly nanotechnology and advances in robotics. These allow for swarms of tiny robotic components that can reassemble into a variety of shapes for different uses. Nanotechnology lets people increase the performance of their brains and bodies, and one of the plotlines is about visionary technology that could see humanity altered entirely. There is also a strong vein of history in the book too, which is probably one of the reasons I enjoyed it. There is the recent (from our viewpoint, future) history of Turkey joining the EU. There are bittersweet memories of the 80s, when young love existed against political upheaval. There is the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, its decline and Turkey's liberation. There is plenty of Islamic history and mythology as one character searches for a lost artifact and another has mystical creatures enter their life - this sense of the fantastic is probably another reason I enjoyed the book so much, I do like a bit of Science Fantasy.
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on 16 November 2010
Having read much of Ian MacDonald's previous work, I was pleasantly surprised that he has raised the bar yet again. Reminiscent of Dickens in the layered plots and intertwined characters yet still managing to convincingly thread in copious historical and architectural detail within a low accented cyber punk backdrop, the book shows a deft touch in mapping out not only a modern Turkey but it's schizophrenic split between modern aspirations, European and Asian situation and heritage and a layered past not yet relinquished. The characters are widely dispersed in terms of occupation, education, wealth and age and the handling of their interactions is deft and believable. The technical advances of McDonald's world are seamlessly injected into the narrative including their limitations and disadvantages - which is rare. The book also avoids being dogmatic, allowing various potentially moralistic elements of the plot to remain 'unresolved', the reader not being steered towards any absolute conclusion but left to form a view for themselves.

I toyed with giving a five star rating but eventually settled on four stars for two reasons. (i) I thought the literary McGuffin of the returning Greek lady amour could have taken an additional twist and/or been resolved earlier in the absence of, said, twist (to be honest, for the first half of the book I thought there was a good chance she was dead) and (ii) I don't want the author to get too settled. I am waiting, Ian - what's next?
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on 19 April 2013
I found this book's interwoven story lines intriguing. Set in 2027, it is a plausible near future with many elements we would recognise from the present. It combines mysticism, terrorism, hi-tech, white collar crime and other ideas into a satisfying whole. However I found it a difficult book to read. One of those where you read a few pages then put it down for a bit. It took me two weeks to finish it. Another reviewer with a good knowledge of Turkey and Istanbul has pointed out that there are numerous mistakes in the setting, spelling, names and things that can and cannot be said in Turkish, so I agree it could just as easily been set in a city the author knew rather than one he didn't, with adjustments to the plot lines of course. My thoughts all along were "why are we ploughing through so many Turkish words and names with their 29 character alphabet when anglicised ones would have done for all but Turkish speaking readers, of whom there appears to have been but one".
Nevertheless, despite being a "difficult" read, the complex story lines all come together in the end and make this a satisfying and enjoyable book.
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on 26 April 2012
The Dervish House was the second Ian McDonald book I read (the first being the also excellent Cyberabad Days). A friend recommended both books to me as he knew I was a massive fan of William Gibson, Jon Courtney Grimwood and Peter F Hamilton. While I was expecting this one to be good I didn't think it would be as good as Cyberabad Days however it actually surpassed it.

I've read various books that people describe as being as good as Gibson however normally they seem a pale reflection that simply try to copy his ideas, in the case of the Dervish House though I really believe the parallel is worth making.

Set in the Istanbul of the near future the plot is well conceived and features a large cast of diverse characters who I found very quickly I cared about whether I liked them or not.

Basically I can't recommend it enough.
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on 20 October 2014
Initially, I was entranced by this novel. The style is instantly elegant and imaginative, and promises a close acquaintance with the city of Istanbul which my deep reading in Roman and Byzantine history made to seem very promising. The best descriptions of fashionable living in the future give off pleasurable echoes of Ian M Banks. But I have struggled to get through it. It is certainly a good book, but it does in my view have problems.
First, the structural conceit, of the stories of half a dozen people who live in the Dervish House of the title, is flawed by the wide differences between them: otherwise than in, say, The Yacoubian Building, the situations and characters described here are extraordinarily diverse and there is insufficient link between them in the course of their stories for the reader to feel that the unexpected and seemingly arbitrary shifts from one point of view to another are worth his or her effort. It is hard to develop a real sympathy for the characters, and if one puts the book down for more than a couple of days it becomes laborious to pick up the threads of the plot again.
Second, the style rapidly cloys. The action and description is held up by too much, often repetitive, detail. The consistent use of the historic present satiates after a while and feels mannered. The trick of leaving many Turkish words untranslated (some of them, apparently, coinages of the author’s) starts as giving a feel of authenticity, but is over-indulged and soon starts to feel affected, obstructive and pretentious. The register used is British, but there are also for no reason glaring Americanisms, from the misleading “pants” for trousers, to the baffling “dumpster”.
Fundamentally, at 472 pages the book is far, far too long and too self-indulgent: a good editor should have been used, and should have reduced the work by a half to a third.
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on 8 March 2015
I loved this book. It is a rich mix of credible future, cultural exploration and elegantly worked thriller filled with interesting characters and flawed heroes that you can root for. It is not far in the future and its extension of nano-technology is cleverly thought out, a mix of exciting and scary possibilities. It is also filled with neat observations that you could easily miss and that I suspect in many more cases I did miss. I am not typically someone who finds time to reread a book. This one will be high on the list of possible exceptions.
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