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A SONG OF STONE by Iain M. Banks


by Iain M. Banks

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-85353-1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A grim, mordant portrait of the corrosive effects of moral corruption and a generalized atmosphere of violence, played out against the brutal background of a Bosnian-style war. Banks (Complicity, 1995, etc.) has always demonstrated an appetite for tackling such large questions as the origins of sin and the possibility of redemption, and he has demonstrated a willingness to take risks. Both qualities are on display here. In an unnamed European country, and in a day very like the present, an aristocrat and his lover flee the ancient family castle in a time of troubles. A civil war of swirling, uncertain outline is pitching bands of partisans against one another. The aristocrat is captured by one such band, ruled by a particularly lethal female officer (the Lieutenant, or “Loot”), and taken back to the castle, where the ragged but vicious group sets itself up in style and carries on a desultorily bloody campaign against other partisans. The gruesome climax is urged into motion by Loot’s infatuation with the nameless aristocrat’s lover; as it turns out, she’s not his wife but his sister. (The two have been conducting a violent affair since they were teenagers.) Much of the story, narrated by the erstwhile lord of the manor, shuttles between his recollections of a privileged—even if perverse—life and his reactions to present horrors (villages are burned, refugees randomly executed, and some children mysteriously crucified). When he stumbles on Loot and his sister in bed together, a showdown is inevitable. The metaphors here (the castle as a site of power and corruption; an enervated aristocracy) aren—t new. But Banks imbues them with fresh vigor; and finds in the reflections of his bright but twisted narrator a core of sorrow in the human heart, and an angry appetite for destruction. Not for the squeamish, but those looking for a confrontational work will find this a daring, deeply unsettling meditation on the very human face of evil.