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Inversions    by Iain Banks order for
by Iain M. Banks
Order:  USA  Can
Pocket, 2001 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Inversions seems at first to be a fairly typical fantasy story set in a medieval period on a planet with two suns. The tale is told by the assistant to a foreign female Doctor, Vosill, who is personal physician to King Quience of Haspidus. The first scene is set in a torture chamber, where the Doctor shows her true colors and earns the enmity of the torturer through an act of compassion. She slips through knife-edged political encounters by adroit use of words and survives her enemies at court through the king's dependence on her. Her assistant spies on her and grows to love her.

In another part of the same world, a man called DeWar serves as principal bodyguard to a seemingly enlightened warlord, General UrLeyn, who has overthrown a corrupt Empire and continues to expand his new one. DeWar is obsessed with his role, but also has time to grow close to the Protector's small son Lattens and one of his senior concubines, Perrund. She lost the use of an arm while saving her master from a prior assassination attempt.

As the two tales slowly develop and the entire Court of Haspidus question the Doctor's origins, DeWar tells Lattens stories of two cousins. At first these seem to be just stories made up to entertain a sick child, but the reader starts to wonder whether DeWar and the Doctor (both close to powerful figures in this world) might share common origins as the two cousins used to share common ideals.

If Inversions were only the surface fantasy story that the reader sees at first, it would still be an excellent one with plenty of medieval politics, mystery and romance. The puzzle of who these two people might be, adds to the fascination. Though the author wisely only sketches in some clues, it begins to appear to be a case of intervention by members of a more advanced civilization. This is never stated and the reader is still left guessing at the ending.

This is the first book that I have read by Iain Banks and it left me anxious not only to immediately re-read this story to understand it at a deeper layer, but also to quickly lay my hands on more of his work.

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