The Dervish House, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (3 ratings)


In the CHAGA novels Ian McDonald brought an Africa in the grip of a bizarre alien invasion to life, in RIVER OF GODS he painted a rich portrait of India in 2047, in BRASYL he looked at different Brazils, past present and future.

Ian McDonald has found renown at the cutting edge of a movement to take SF away from its British and American white roots and out into the rich cultures of the world.THE DERVISH HOUSE continues that journey and centres on Istanbul in 2025.

Turkey is part of Europe but sited on the edge, it is an Islamic country that looks to the West.

THE DERVISH HOUSE is the story of the families that live in and around its titular house, it is at once a rich mosaic of Islamic life in the new century and a telling novel of future possibilities.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Science fiction
  • ISBN: 9780575088627

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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

"A dark and perversely delicious fear gnaws Ayse, the intellectual intoxication she experiences from opening a new manuscript or unwrapping an unseen miniature and knowing that she stands on the edge of the incomprehensible, that she holds in her hands a world and a way of thinking alien to her in every way. The past is another universe: a long dead sect drew its truths across whole cities for generations it could not imagine."Ian McDonald's books have been touring the non-Western world for some time now. He seems to be on a mission to explore how various cultures might deal with near-future SF scenarios. This time, he fetches up in Turkey. McDonald doesn't just use the common trope of this nation's poised-between-Europe-and-Asia tension; he adds a tension between technology and faith, and another between progress and history. For much of the book the plot simmers away slowly, waiting until we've really gotten to know our cast of characters and how these tensions play out in each of them.It's the characters that make this book: Ayse Erkoç, power-dressing dealer in antiquities; Can Durukan, isolated boy with heart trouble and some very cool robots; Leyla Gültasli, desperate to prove herself in the big city; Georgios Ferentinou, retired and broken professor of economics; Adnan Sarioglu, master of the deal and lover of money; and Necdet Hasgüler, wastrel and psychopath. And dozens of others, each given care and time to breathe. Through them we also get a multi-faceted view of Istanbul. We learn about some of what this unique city has been through, and about how its people might respond to nanotechnology.The SF is almost incidental, really. This is a novel about Istanbul, written by a man with an impressive ability to inhabit a huge variety of voices.Take your time, listen to the voices, and enjoy.

Review by

Meh. slow and contrived co-incidence rules ok in future past Istanbul. Not really part of a series, but does contain at least one character from his other novels.Never really got into this. The first half at least is tediously slow and confusing. Eventually you get a grip on most of the major characters and all their orbits coincide, picking up the pace a little bit, before it all ends. Unfortunately this a) very predictable, and b) feels excessively contrived. The characters all centre on the Dervish House of the title. It's an old building in Istanbul that has survived to the near future 2025 or so. It's never quite properly described, but seems to be surround half of a courtyard, and be sub-divided up into various units. A bunch of old Greek economic philosophers sit around and drink tea; a child with health problems plays with nano-tech robots; an artist runs a gallery; a secretary looks for work; and in a disused corner a layabout enjoys a quiet spliff with his brother. We follow these people in a confused and disjointed way through intermingled snapshots of their lives over a period of a week. At least the chronology is mostly continuous, (apart form a few reminiscences of the old Greek) but for at least the first third of th book it's very difficult to remember what background goes with what character. In terms of plot there isn't really one per se, but a bunch of intermingles threads that vaguely resolve themselves. A suicide bomb causes the layabout to experience visions, the ill boy seems something unusual in the aftermath of the bomb, the old Greek takes this up with national security think tanks. The artist is commissioned to search for a legendary object and her husband attempts to run am economics scam with a bunch of his friends. Meanwhile the girl joins an nano-tech company looking for seed money to develop atomic scale nano. Even from this brief summary you can begin see how they all converge - except that there is no real reason for them to do so. None of the characters initially knows any of the others, and except for authorial influenced chance would have any reason to do so. The girl could have joined any number of start-ups, the economist was always an unlikely fit for a think tank, etc, etc.The science part of it is fairly well done - no explanations - but some interesting thoughts on the role nano-tech may play int he future and how society will and won't change to it's presence. It makes great toys, although I was very surprised they weren't more widespread. And has been rapidly exploited by the forces of law and order. Other than that it has had remarkably little impact, which I suspect would not be the case. Many of the devices remain unexplained - a ceptep for instance. Some sort of cross between a laptop a phone and a wearable computer. I never quite worked out what it stood for. Auto driven cars was a better example that was well thought through. The politics never really made any sense - and was a background at best. I'm not quite sure why lingering Greek resentment over the divides between Muslim and Christian influence in Istanbul was included. It didn't had anything except pages, murkied the already unclear plot lines, and is likely to be inaccurate anyway what with the increasing rise of secularism in Europe.Overall it was readable enough if you've the Patience to force through the first third, but ultimately whilst it was at times interesting, I was always ready to put it down and do something else - never the hallmark of a good book.

Review by

I've been wanting to read this book for a quite some time, having been hugely impressed by the two previous Ian McDonald's I've read. This book is a bit more of a slow burner, and the plot takes a while to kick into top gear. When it does, it's very good, plus there's lots more on offer here than simply a thrilling finale. McDonald builds in layers of meaning and symbolism just like the layers of meaning in the Islamic art featuring micro-text that resolves into bigger words and symbols, that is a recurring motif in the story. The story is set in a thrillingly well realised, near-future Istanbul, which is packed with vivid sights, sounds and smells. There are also a host of memorable, well rounded characters with backstories, personality traits and plans for the future, all described in expert style. All this is standard McDonald. Somehow though, the various quests and journeys these characters are on didn't grab me as much as those in River of Gods, but that may just be a subjective view. I took something of a dislike to one of the central characters - Adnan, a strutting broker at a gas company, who along with his fellow young alpha-male friends has some kind of complicated scam going to sell gas in a way that will net them loads of untraceable money. It probably says a lot about me that I found this plot strand far more incomprehensible than the one involving the scientists that have created a whole new kind of nanotechnology that can store data in human DNA, making each human on Earth their own walking supercomputer. These are only a few of the many intriguing stories that are expertly woven together with a whole raft of other brilliant aspects, from men miraculously preserved in honey for hundreds of years and the secret name of God written in the architecture of the city, to robots that can endlessly reform into different shapes as they run through the streets. All of these imaginative flourishes and near-future inventions are grafted seemlessly onto the fictional recreation of a city that feels brilliantly realised and creates images and storylines that will live long in the memory. Perhaps not the absolute perfection I've come to expect from McDonald, but still a very worthwhile read.

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