Iain M. Banks
Orbit, Mar 2008, $25.99
Far from the affluent technologically advanced Culture buried deep underneath the surface of the artificial “Shellworld” Sursamen lays the backwater Kingdom of the Sarl ruled by King Hausk who has three offspring. His heir is Oramen while his spare is Ferbin; the third sibling and only female the discarded Djan vanished into exile a long time ago.
In a coup, the conspirators assassinate King Hausk and blame Ferbin, who escapes their attempts to kill him to cover their crimes. They place Oramen on the throne as an image of continuity, but the assassins are the true power and do not hide their control of power. Meanwhile Ferbin seeks the help of his sister to free Oramen, take back the throne and avenge their sire. However Djan is no longer the same person she once was since she became an operative of the Culture's Special Circumstances that intrudes on lesser civilizations for the better good of the galaxy.
The Kingdom of Sarl comes across as a genuine backward place surrounded by seemingly superior technology everywhere outside the monarchy. The three siblings are fully developed especially the “spare” and the “discarded” who must go home to save their people in spite of the fact that neither is wanted nor needed. The eighth “Culture” tale is a superb entry that merges political machinations that come across as Renaissance Era Machiavellian maneuvers with advanced space technology; the smooth blending showcases why Iain M. Banks is consistently one of the best science fiction authors.