Review: The Dervish House

Book review
Written by Ian McDonald
Gollancz hardback / paperback
Release date Out now

Istanbul, 2025. Turkey has recently joined the EU; terror attacks are commonplace; the loosely regulated financial sector goes from strength to strength; and nano-technology plays an increasing part in daily life. Against this backdrop, the residents of the Dervish House muddle through their complex lives…

Ian McDonald has carved out a niche for himself with a series of novels that speculate on how countries (and their rapidly-developing economies) will have changed by the near future. After acclaimed books set in Brazil (Brasyl), Africa (Chaga) and India (River of Gods, Cyberabad Days), McDonald has now turned his eye to Turkey, or more specifically the mighty metropolis of Istanbul.

McDonald has always made his complex, serious-minded narratives involving by populating them with a cast of interesting personalities, and The Dervish House is no exception. This time the action is centred on the various inhabitants of the titular apartment building, including Georges Ferentinou, one of the few remaining Greeks in the city; ambitious young marketing graduate Leyla; nine-year-old Can, whose rare condition means he needs to be protected from sound; the djinn-plagued Necdet; commodities trader Adnan and his art expert wife Ayse.

The tangled lives of these characters are woven into a drama that involves everything from nano-bots, gas markets and an ancient mellified man; but the novel is as much a study of the evolving nature of Turkey as anything else. The book is set shortly after Turkey has joined the EU, and McDonald examines Turkey’s complex relationship with both Europe and the Middle East. He also touches upon the many other issues that affect the country, including Islamic extremism, the relationship with the Kurds, and how Turkey’s glorious past informs the present.

McDonald creates a convincing portrait of an Istanbul teeming with dolmuses, meyhanes and apple tea, and his writing reflects his in-depth research about the country; if Orhan Pahmuk suddenly decided to bring nano-technology into his stories, it might read a little like this. Matt McAllister

VERDICT: 8/10
Another epic, complex and intelligent offering from McDonald. Fans of realistic, character-driven SF will love it, and anyone with a familiarity of Istanbul will get an extra kick out of the novel.

Click here to buy The Dervish House in paperback from Amazon.co.uk

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