A novel by Iain Banks. Easily one of the most emotionally stunning stories I have ever read. I refuse to go heavily into the plot because it would ruin it, but a few details won't hurt. Cheradenine Zakalwe is one of Special Circumstances' best agents, but he's tired. Diziet Sma, his Culture contact, pushes him towards one more adventure, backed by the drone Skaffen-Amtiskaw. Both think they know him, but there's something in his past even he barely remembers... the great battleship Staberinde lurks.

The ending is like a literary punch in the face - it's got that much impact. I strongly suggest reading Consider Phlebas and Player of Games first to understand the Culture better before this - it should be a background to the story.

This book is included on the list of books that will induce a mindfuck, but I feel it deserves a category of it's own: books that leave you feeling physically ill. Fight Club (albiet in film form) came close, but this book is executed more smoothly, more horrifically.

The ending is worse than a punch in the face. It left me feeling I'd been betrayed by someone I trusted. I felt sick. I slept badly. I made all my friends read it. They responded much as I did.

Reading it a second time is worth doing, as the book is full of little cues for people who've already been through once.

Aside from Catch-22, this is the one book I'd recommend everyone read, to put things in a new light. (although reading Player Of Games first makes for a good warm up, as well as an excellent book in it's own right). I've brought POG and this to Uni, and I fully intend to inflict them on anyone who shows the faintest interest.

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