I am gradually working my way through all of Mr Banks' cannon (both with and without the m). This is the fourth of his Sci-fi books I have read and having thoroughly enjoyed the others I had high hopes for this.
First of all can I congratulate orbit on their presentation of the Banks SciFi books. I just love the covers, they immediately take you to the alternative space, that other universe. Whilst they often don't have much to do with the book, this one does and the whole presentation is a joy.
So to the story, or rather stories, as this is one of the most intricately plotted books I have read in a long time, perhaps too intricate. The plot swings back and forth through time and space following the career of Culture's Special Circumstances operative Cheradenine Zakalwe. From pastoral childhood to deep space warfare its all here, all beautifully described and lavishly detailed. At times it feels like a collection of short stories as the agent recollects key points in his life whilst following the strands of his current mission. Being a culture novel the familiar drones, bizarre ship names (sense of humour present and correct) and detailed political machinations are all there. The book reaches a fascinating and frightening climax with several key scenes described in the kind of detailed, memory burning fashion that Banks is so good at, you just know these scenes will stay with you for a long, long time.
So its perfect then, well not quite, as I said the plot is so detailed and interlinked that only a repeat reading would fully draw the story together, but its nearly perfect and certainly is up there with the best of Mr Banks' work.
Rating 4 out of 5