The Dervish House is the second book for me by Ian McDonald. I previously read and like A River of Gods. This one follows the same fundamental pattern of picking an exciting city in a non-Western country and an up-and-coming technology and then cooking up a wild story around these two.

Where River of Gods was about artificial intelligence and India, this book is about nanotech and Istanbul. It is the year 2027 and Turkey has joined the EU, and Istanbul is gripped by an intense heat wave.

It is less overwhelming in pace and style than River of Gods. It is also closer to us in time (set in 2027, twenty years before RoG), so its future is easier to relate to. All this makes the book noticeably more accessible than RoG.

It all starts with a terrorist bombing on a tram. For a handful of people (of whom only one was actually present at the bombing) the bombing sets in motion chains of events and adventures that culminate in life-changing events for all those involved.

The people are all tied together by an old dervish house (which gives the book its title) where they live or work. But despite the physical proximity they barely know each other. Their stories mostly run in parallel, only occasionally coming close and touching, but then running apart again.

Nanotech is the central technology that enables the plot, and terrorism is what sets it off. (Of course there’s other cool stuff, too: the search for a Mellified Man, self-assembling robots and so on.) But what the book really is about is business, economics, trading and dealing. Nanotech makes the world move forward, but money makes it go round.

The story takes place in a single city over just five days, and the cast of characters isn’t large. But at close to 500 pages it still felt a bit slow to me. The parallel story lines, following each of the key characters through events that take place at the same time, made it feel like I was living through every day not once but five or six times.

My feelings about the book are mixed. It is impressively well planned and researched; plot threads carefully tied up at the end. Intricate, with a lot of exciting ingredients. But a bit slow, and none of the characters really struck me as interesting. Still, I’m glad I read it.

Read the book for its atmosphere, not for the plot or the characters.

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