Review: The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

This may be my new favourite book. No, it IS my new favourite book.

I had previously read McDonald’s Luna: New Moon and enjoyed it, but there was something simplistic, almost juvenile about that book, especially when compared to the mature, meticulously researched masterpiece that is The Dervish House.

The novel is set in a near-future version of Istanbul where nano-technology and wearables reign supreme. And yet the city’s incredibly rich history oozes from each crumbling brick of every ancient street the reader passes through. There are multiple viewpoint characters in play here, but the novel’s true protagonist is Istanbul itself, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Convoluted but fascinating, the plot pauses to stretch its limbs before kicking into action – despite the entire narrative taking place over a single week. Turkey has recently been admitted into the European Union, and change is in the air. As is their wont, some people are less than enthused about this, which opens the door on the more traditional, thrilleresque threads of the multi-tenanted narrative.

There are entire plotlines, however, that make only coincidental contact with the main story arc. This would usually annoy the hell out of me, but not here. Whether we’re following a megababe antiquities hunter and her high stakes commodity trading husband, a marketing student clawing her way into the world of corporate nanotech, a mentally disturbed pothead who sees Djinn, an old Greek guy struggling with his past, or a 9-year old kid who can’t hear but isn’t deaf and owns some sweetass robots, they all feel 100% necessary to the story McDonald is telling.

What exactly that story is remains something of a mystery, but I have never finished a book and wanted to visit the city it was set in so much.

My only gripe is that due to the abundance of viewpoint characters, I worry that some readers might bounce off the book before things have a chance to get fully awesome. But any sci-fi enthusiast worth their salt should sense the brilliance in the air early on, and push on to glory.

And for those of you with high-brow, literary reader friends who look down their noses at science fiction, The Dervish House is as good a chance as you’ll ever get to change their minds. I’m not sure if this is literary fiction masquerading as sci-fi or the other way around, but whatever the case may be, there’s enough meaty high-mindedness here to satisfy even the most pretentious of readers.

So anyway, I really really like it.

Prose: A

Plot: A

Characterisation: B+

Originality: A+

Weird factor: A

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ODDNOVELS is a book review blog that I write just for the hell of it. If it's weird or wildly speculative, you will find it here.