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“The Dervish House” by Ian McDonald


The setting of this novel is Istanbul in the middle of the 21st Century and it follows half a dozen disparate characters. A young boy with ambitions to be a detective, an ambitious trader with a plan to get very rich very quickly, an art dealer with a lead on a priceless ancient treasure, the newly-hired marketing director for a start-up technology company, a young man struggling to find his place in the world and a retired economist from the beleaguered Greek community will all find that their lives will be changed by the events that occur over the course of a few days

Having been very impressed with McDonald's previous two books, "River and Gods" and "Brasyl", I was looking forward to this and hoping that his portrayal of a futuristic Istanbul would match up with his portrayals of a futuristic India and Brazil from the preceding books. One of the best features of the book is his evocative description of a mid-21st Century Istanbul, having never been to Turkey I can't tell how genuine his portrayal of a future Turkey is, but he certainly makes it feel authentic and although this is Science Fiction novel written by an author from Belfast I still feel I’ve learned a lot about Istanbul from reading this.

There is some excellent writing, from describing an obsessive young child's use of his toy robot to try to fight crime to the telling of the medieval legend of the Mellified Man. It is fast-paced and although it follows a number of different plots they all manage to be interesting. The characterisation is also very good, with a number of memorable characters in the large cast and some good character development as the novel goes on. I thought it was a very good book, but wouldn't rate it quite as highly as McDonald's previous two books, although the quality of the writing, world-building and characterisation is at a similarly high level the plot isn't quite as compelling and doesn't feel as momentous or ambitious as the plots in the other two books, although on the plus side it does have a more decisive and arguably more satisfying ending than Brasyl did.

Rating : 8.5 / 10

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