It's probably heresy, in some circles, to say so, but I don't think this is anywhere near Banks's best. Oh, it has all the ingredients: interesting (and interestingly flawed) characters, a long game of revenge, some spectacular battle-scenes, deus ex machinas [er, is that the right plural? probably not] and extravagantly-scaled set pieces, some horribly imaginative tortures and deaths, and a hearty seasoning of sfnal tropes (wormhole portals, failing portals, gas-giant ecologies, military tech that's indistinguishable from magic, robots, evil AIs, peculiar-looking aliens). It's a very enjoyable read.
But it's not, in my opinion, as good a book as Use of Weapons, or Against a Dark Background, or Excession. Perhaps I'm missing something: or perhaps it's over-full of digressions, repetitions -- difficult to tell if these are purposeful, but I can't see a good reason for them -- and pointless trailing around. This last is almost certainly deliberate, but I found it overly long-winded. And after all that, after hundreds of pages, two or three major plot threads are wrapped up far too quickly and not very effectively. (I don't mind the zero: that works very well.) The ending felt hurried: perhaps that was only in contrast to the chase sequence.
This book needed to be shorter: to be better-edited (I may be missing allusions, references, in-jokes: but, as example, 'here, here' rather than 'hear, hear'?): to be more balanced. Too much Fassin: not enough everyone else. Certainly not enough Taince, or Gardener, or Ko.
reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place