Author: Iain M. Banks
Series: Culture, book 3
Genre: Science Fiction
Recommendation: Yes, read it. Really. It's worth it.
Summary: Cheradenine Zakalawe is an agent of the Culture who is sent to various planets to use his military genius to turn the tide of events on those planets in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. He wins his wars and escapes alive, but his past will not stop haunting him.
Reactions: This book's main character has been nominated as the most interesting SF hero in science fiction by Fantasy Book Critic. And I can't disagree with this; Cheradenine is unique in his experiences and in his problems, and there's a surprising depth to him that the whole book revolves around. The supporting cast is good too, but Cheradenine mostly outshines them in the novel.
The most difficult part of the book is it's structure. It's written in a very fragmented way where each chapter is part of Cheradenine's story, but not consecutive in time. The story telling weaves all over the place and Banks really makes the reader work to keep up with narrative. The way the story is structured is both irritating and brilliant at the same time. The style really works as a complement to Cheradenine's personality and story, but as a reader having to be plunged into completely different places and times without much of a timeline is exhausting. I still really enjoyed it though.
I had no trouble finishing this book, it kept me interested throughout and getting to the very end was absolutely worth it with a twist at the end of it that makes a lot of sense once you think about it, but I didn't consciously see coming earlier in the book.
Banks is a top notch writer and the fact that he was able to pull-off a book this complicated in structure is quite an achievement. His writing is excellent too and despite being a part of a series, the book can be read as a standalone. It's just part of the same universe as the previous books and I would say probably my favorite of his so far (even though I enjoyed The Player of Games quite a bit too). I definitely recommend it.