Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Source: My collection
The Cover: While neither of these covers seems to be the current cover art, they're roughly from the same period. I'm wondering what the American publisher was thinking. That art is just so bland. (Plus it has nothing to do with the content.)
Description: Count Sessine is about to die for the very last time...
Chief Scientist Gadfium to receive the mysterious message she has been waiting for from the Plain of Sliding Stones...
And Bascule the Teller, in search of an ant, is about to enter the chaos of the crypt...
And everything is about to change...
For this is the time of the Encroachment and, while the sun still shines on the vast, towering walls of the Serehfa Fastness, the end is close at hand. The King knows it, his closest advisors know it, yet still they prosecute the war against the clan Engineers with increasing savagery.
The crypt knows it too; so an emissary has been sent, an emissary who holds the key to all their futures. (From the back of the UK edition.)
Review: This had the potential to be a really good book. The world seems to be fully fleshed out, even though it doesn't stop to really explain things, trusting that the audience is actually smart enough to pick things up as it goes along. The story lines converge without seeming forced. The over arcing plot is a run-of-the-mill earth in peril plot, but doesn't really detract from the story since its more of a background detail. Overall, I found the characters and their situations interesting.
There are two things stopping this being a stronger book. The first is that the ending seems to be a deus ex machina. I say seems to be, because it literally isn't mentioned until the last few sentences of the book, and it really doesn't explain what is going on. The second, and really more egregious problem, is Bascule's sections of the story. These are written out in a strange phonetic spelling, that liberally uses numbers and symbols as parts of words. Once you get use to it, it's not really hard to read, but it's annoying to read and slowed me down considerably. Worse, it doesn't really add anything to the character that a more toned down version wouldn't have conveyed just as well.
If you aren't familiar with Iain Banks' work, this is a bad place to start. It's probably a bad introduction to his SF works, but having not read any of the others, I can't judge yet.