3 out of 5 stars
One of Special Circumstances’ foremost agents, sometimes known as Cheradenine Zakalwe was known for doing the overt and covert Culture’s work. He had been plucked from relative obscurity by the woman that is often known as Diziet Sma. She thought that she knew him, but she had only been looking at a shadow of his character.
The drone known as Skaffen-Amtiskaw know both of these people and he has been asked to contact Zakalwe for another job that needs his expertise. He agrees to take on the work, however, his payment for doing so is to be told the location of an individual called Livueta. Livueta is also present in the other storyline that runs in reverse throughout the book which tells of Zakalwe’s other Culture-based jobs he was involved in all the way back to his pre-Culture childhood and where we learn of a boy called Elethiomel. It is the very personal battle between Zakalwe and Elethiomel that is the lynchpin of the plot of the book.
Apart from Excession, I have loved all of the Culture series that I have read so far. Banks is a magnificent science fiction writer who could weave complex plots in amongst the universe and populace that he created all of which is underlaid by his dark humour. This though I didn’t like as much sadly. It had lots of elements that make the other books so good, the character with a back story, galaxy-wide storyline and the ever-present ships that form the backbone of his books.
Even though it had all of that, there were some things that didn’t work for me, part of it was the ending that was supposed to be a shock and yet felt more of a letdown and part was the intertwined and reversed storylines. I prefer my books to take a more logical timeline and this very much didn’t. It is such a clever plot though and I think it could have been so much better laid out.