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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

This is book #3 of 5 (no particular order) and the last of the Novel nominees I'll read for the 2011 Hugo Awards.  I have absolutely no interest in reading two of the nominations (Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis and A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms).

From  It begins with an explosion. Another day, another bus bomb. Everyone it seems is after a piece of Turkey. But the shockwaves from this random act of 21st century pandemic terrorism will ripple further and resonate louder than just Enginsoy Square.

Welcome to the world of The Dervish House; the great, ancient, paradoxical city of Istanbul, divided like a human brain, in the great, ancient, equally paradoxical nation of Turkey. The year is 2027 and Turkey is about to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its accession to the European Union; a Europe that now runs from the Arran Islands to Ararat. Population pushing one hundred million, Istanbul swollen to fifteen million; Turkey is the largest, most populous and most diverse nation in the EU, but also one of the poorest and most socially divided. It's a boom economy, the sweatshop of Europe, the bazaar of central Asia, the key to the immense gas wealth of Russia and Central Asia.

Gas is power. But it's power at a price, and that price is emissions permits. This is the age of carbon consciousness: every individual in the EU has a card stipulating individual carbon allowance that must be produced at every CO2 generating transaction. For those who can master the game, who can make the trades between gas price and carbon trading permits, who can play the power factions against each other, there are fortunes to be made. The old Byzantine politics are back. They never went away.

The ancient power struggled between Sunni and Shia threatens like a storm: Ankara has watched the Middle East emerge from twenty-five years of sectarian conflict. So far it has stayed aloof. A populist Prime Minister has called a referendum on EU membership. Tensions run high. The army watches, hand on holster. And a Galatasary Champions' League football game against Arsenal stokes passions even higher.

The Dervish House is seven days, six characters, three interconnected story strands, one central common core--the eponymous dervish house, a character in itself--that pins all these players together in a weave of intrigue, conflict, drama and a ticking clock of a thriller.

I don't know that I could call this one a 'thriller'.  It was was a bit of a slog up until about page 300, then the plot took off very nicely.  Of the six characters, I was really only interested in about three of them, so I would look forward to their next appearance, which was often farther along than I would like.  

What did grab my fancy was the different lives everyone was leading: a commodities trader, and antiquities dealer, an old retired professor, a sheltered nine year old boy, and a unemployed brother of a shaykah, and a young woman trying to get a marketing job.  Of course, there were more players than that, and names often became confusing - especially since I don't speak or read Greek or Turkish - but I managed to keep everyone relatively straight in my head.

What also grabbed my fancy was how well these six separate threads, these individual lives and groups of people became so interwoven at the end; I loved the Turkish setting -  the confluence of east meeting west; and I loved the subtle humor found throughout. 

So, if you have the patience for plot building (about 300 pages out of 400), you will be rewarded at the end with some delightful conclusions. 

And for a much more eloquent and well stated review of Dervish House, please pop over here to Andrew Wheeler's blog.

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