Inversions is the 6th book in Iain M. Banks' (note the middle initial – this is by the SF writer. Apparently...) Culture series. And, of all the Culture books I've read (I'm one short of the full cycle as it stands today), this is the one I least enjoyed.
The structure of the book is quite simple – it follows two protagonists, Oelph (general helper for Vosill, the King's physician), and DeWar (bodyguard to General UrLeyn), in alternating chapters. These are purportedly diaries, and are framed by a Prologue and Epilogue, also by written by Oelph, and displaying some of the bigger picture the actual story is set in.
I'm not going to go into more detail on the story, which plays out in a medieval-style world, with all attendant trappings (Feudalism, Court Intrigue, Torture, extreme Patriarchism). What I missed here is the Science which usually comes with Science Fiction. This is, by all accounts, a work of Fantasy. There are hidden hints and pointers which indicate that both protagonists, just possibly, might be Special Circumstances agents, and thus the book an example of a covert intervention, but that's as far as we get with a Culture link – tenuous, to say the least. Yes, it might well be well-constructed, and clever, and well-written, and generally good fiction (although I have my doubts there, too).
Whichever way one looks at it, in the end it is not what I would expect from an Iain M. Banks novel, and I have to admit that I didn't enjoy it. The structure is reminiscent of Neal Asher's Hilldiggers (given the publication dates any influence would obviously be the other way round), which also wasn't a book which struck me a brilliant piece of work, which obviously doesn't help the matter.
I already suspected on reading Matter that Banks was, at least in part, a suppressed Fantasy writer, and this book here only confirms that impression; maybe he should start a parallel career in that genre, too? Iain F. Banks, anyone?
One for completists, lovers of medieval fiction, and people who feel that other Culture books like Excession or Surface Details contain too much technology and not enough human foibles and politics.
More Iain M. Banks
Series Number: 6
Author: Iain M. Banks
Reviewer: Markus Thierstein
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher URL: http://www.orbitbooks.co.uk
Publication Date: 1999
Review Date: 110416
Price: UKP 6.99