Another book that, despite a June 1998 UK hardcover and a May 1999 UK paperback, the US publishers somehow were unable to convey to Kirkus swiftly enough for a timely pre-publication review. (Publishers: For future reference, Kirkus reads English English and American English with equal facility, and understands other English variants too.) Here, Banks’s near-ubiquitous Culture (Excession, 1997, etc.), controlled by super-smart artificial Minds, figures only at great remove. On a planet with a late-medieval culture, Doctor Vosill attends ailing King Quience as his personal physician. As both an outlander and a woman, Vosill attracts enormous attention, much of it hostile, none of it trusting, from the king’s advisers and functionaries; indeed, Adlain, the king’s guard commander, has ordered Vosill’s assistant, narrator Oelph, to spy on her. The other narrative strand features bodyguard DeWar of distant Tassasen. By the nature of his task, DeWar trusts nobody in safeguarding Prime Protector UrLeyn, with the possible exception of UrLeyn’s chief concubine, the Lady Perrund. Though Vosill and DeWar never meet, it turns out the two are connected. Both claim an exotic origin (origins more mysterious than anyone on the planet suspects, but not difficult for readers acquainted with Banks’s previous yarns to figure out) and, more indirectly but more fatefully, through King Quience himself. Atmospheric, ironic, resourceful, and all the parts add up—yet something sets the teeth on edge.