Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks – Review [Bane of Kings]


Bane of Kings reviews the first novel in the phenomenal Culture novels by Iain M. Banks, Consider Phlebas, with this edition being published by Orbit Books.

“Space Opera at its best. George Lucas, watch out. Essential reading for all Space Opera fans. Banks is a fantastic author.  ” ~The Founding Fields

Well, what can I say, other than Consider Phlebas was fantastic. I really, really enjoyed the novel, and it is possibly a contender for one of my favourite sci-fi books yet. I loved it, so this review may be a little biased. Just be wary of that before you read this. Of course, most of you could just turn away now and go back to whatever you were doing beforehand, but I’m going to have to give you with what will hopefully be a better review than just stating the opinions above.

Consider Phlebas, is despite the large amount of Culture novels released so far, can effectively be read as a standalone and doesn’t set anything up for future sequels aside from the Universe that it’s set in. That’s what I like about these sorts of novels, no matter what book in the series you pick up, you should be able to enjoy it and not come out of it wondering what the hell was going on.

Anyway, Consider Phlebas introduces us to the fantastic universe that Banks has created for us, and throws us into a intergalactic war between the Culture, and the Idirans, a group of religious-crazed alien fanatics. About 99% of the story is told from the Point of View of Bora Horza Gobuchol, a Changer who can take on the guise of a anyone. Horza’s working for the Idirans, despite the fact that the rest of his kind haven’t really taken a side in the war.

When a Culture spaceship is tailed to Schar’s World – Horza is ordered by the Idirans to salvage the ship’s ‘Mind’, which is basically some sort of AI. However, Schar’s World is a Planet of the Dead, forbidden to be set foot on by both sides, and there’s another problem as well – Horza finds himself on the Clear Air Turbulence, (The CAT) a mercenary/pirate manned ship who have rescued him from being stranded amongst the stars.

Consider Phlebas, despite sounding at first similar to the countless other novels found in the genre that is Space Opera, is more original than you’d expect, and is truly a thrilling read, with the plot moving along at a pace that doesn’t allow anything to slow it down. Believe it or not, the characters develop throughout the novel, and you actually begin to care about them.

I haven’t read any of the other Culture novels but Consider Phlebas has defiantly got me hooked on reading more Iain M. Banks. I may have found the science part to be a bit too science-y, but the other aspects of the novel allowed me to enjoy it without getting confused.

Banks proves that he has a fantastic imagination with Consider Phlebas, and has clearly put lots of thought into creating this universe. Indeed, if you want to find out more about the history of the Idiran-Culture war, then Banks includes a brief history as well as reasons why both sides went to war towards the end of the novel.

I also can’t avoid mentioning the cover-art for this novel, which you can see on your left. Although somewhat simple at first, the more you look at it, the more awesome you’ll find it, as with the whole of the Culture novels that Banks has written so far. Simple, but awesome, and I don’t think I’ve disliked a single one that I’ve seen.

The writing style is good, pretty detailed but it doesn’t really drag down the pace that much. Although the ending was a bit disappointing, the journey that I undertook to get there was superb, including some fantastic escape-from-destruction scenes that I found really enjoyable.

If there’s another thing which I didn’t like about Consider Phlebas and one of the few things that keeps it from getting 5 stars is the fact that the POV changes, when there are some, it isn’t very clear to spot, so you are often left wondering when the hell that character started taking centre stage causing you to skim back a bit, thus disrupting the pace a bit. But, other than that, Consider Phlebas was defiantly one of the best books that I’ve had the pleasure of reading science-fiction wise in a long time.

Verdict: 4.5/5

 More Culture Novels: Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, Use of Weapons, The State of the Art, Excession, Inversions, Look to Windward, Matter, Surface Detail

 More Iain M. Banks: The Algebraist, Feersum Endjin, Against a Dark Background. 

Bane of Kings is one our most senior book reviewers here at The Founding Fields, based in England. He’s a prolific reviewer that has contributed to many things here and around the internet.


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