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Inversions Hardcover – February 1, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
First published in the U.K. in 1998, Banks's latest novel steps back from the usual grand scale and ultra high-tech of his well-known "Culture" SF series (Excession, etc.) to the intrigue-ridden courts of a politically fragmented world. In Haspidus, a woman named Vosill, a foreigner from the distant archipelago nation of Drezen, serves as personal physician to King Quience, in spite of social mores that treat women as little more than property. Vosill's servant--actually a spy reporting to one of Quience's trusted right-hand men--finds himself doubting his master's claims that Vosill is a danger to the king, even as he uncovers evidence that suggests that Vosill is much more than she seems. Meanwhile, across the mountains, the stern warrior DeWar serves as chief bodyguard to General UrLeyn, the Prime Protector of the Tassasen Protectorate. His close contact with UrLeyn earns him the distrust of UrLeyn's fellow generals; those loyal to UrLeyn fear DeWar himself could be the perfect spy and assassin, while others worry he will discover their own secret plots. As conspiracies unfold and loyalties shift dangerously in both lands, the story of Vosill and DeWar and their unspoken connection unfolds with masterful subtlety. Banks's new novel should further expand his reputation for creating challenging, intelligent stories full of notable characters trapped in complex situations that have no easy solutions. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
A doctor's devotion to her king and to her profession embroil her in a web of court intrigue and murder as she strives to preserve the health and well-being of the king she has come to love. On the other side of the world, a general's bodyguard risks his life to protect his master. Interweaving a pair of separate but linked tales of devotion and treachery set on a technologically backward world, Banks (The Player of Games) demonstrates his considerable talent for subtle storytelling. Recommended for most sf collections.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Here a couple of friends find out that life isn't as simple as they think it is when they're not really living it. I would love to see more of the good doctor; can you keep your sanity or at least find some balance after that big of a shift?
If you have read as far as this, you already know that there is something called "The Culture," and that is it a fantasically developed, ultra-powerful, galaxy wide entity which, in the name of Good, meddles in the affairs of other, more primitive societies, through its "Special Circumstances" arm. There are, shall we say, signs that "Special Circumstances" is at work on the multiply-sunned, multiply-mooned world on which this story takes place.
And this is a Culture novel, make no mistake, but this time we see Special Circumstances from the other side, most poignantly from the eyes of Oelph, the apprentice to and spy upon the co-protagonist, Dr. Vossil. Dr. Vossil is a woman and a foreigner in what is a deeply misogynistic, seriously provincial society. Through her surprising talents as a healer, she has become the personal physician to a king. Her co-protagonist is DeWar, the personal bodyguard to a regicide and usurper in another kingdom. Both "kingdoms" are fragments of a larger, even sicker culture that was destroyed not long before the events of this story when rocks fells from the sky. Hmm...
The stories of DeWar and Dr. Vossil are intertwined, but this is a Banks novel and you have to read carefuly to understand exactly how and why. The "Inversions" of the title are present at many levels, just as the story operates at many levels. Admire, if you will, the way the drawing of the dagger inverts at the start of each chapter. Listen carefully to the stories that DeWar tells Lattens, the child and heir of the man DeWar tries to protect. Watch as DeWar and Lattens play at war with catapaults and rocks. Try, if you can, to pick out who will betray whom, and when, and why. Try to decide who is the evil, scheming tyrant and who is Good. And try to decide whether, for once, Special Circumstances has actually done some good...
As always, Banks leaves us with a morally ambiguous ending, although in this case the ambiguity is at many levels.
An excellent, thought-provoking book. You don't have to know a thing about The Culture to enjoy it, but if you have read, say, "Use of Weapons," it will add some savor.
This is a very good book in lots of ways that other people have already pointed out. One that particularly strikes me, though, is that some lucky people can read it twice and get two different novels out of it. If you haven't read anything in Banks' "Culture" series, read this *first*. It'll be enjoyable and mysterious and engrossing, and satisfying despite the unresolve conundra.
Then read the other "Culture" books. You'll think "oh, is *that* what was going on in 'Inversions'!" and you'll be able to go back and read it again for another entirely good time.
This is one of those all too rare books that tantalize the reader with a deep and interesting mystery, and then when the mystery is finally revealed (in this case, by reading a different book entirely), the solution to the mystery is fully as rich and interesting as the mystery itself was.
Read it at once.