Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks
This third novel in the 'Culture' series continues the improvement seen in the second novel, but not quite enough to earn four stars.
The main story follows Culture agent Cheradenine Zakalwe, as he attempts to extract a politician from captivity in order to prevent an interplanetary war. In an unusual structure, this story alternates with chapters that flashback to traumatic events in Zakalwe's past — events which have contributed to his present-day character. These chapters are numbered using Roman numerals which run backwards, the two narratives intersecting at the end of the novel.
This flashback structure didn't quite work for me — it interrupted the flow of the main story on occasions. I would turn the page, eager to find out what happened next following a particularly exciting action scene, only to find a flashback chapter pulling me out of the story and into another, completely different one.
Other than this unusual structure, this was the best of the three Culture novels I've read so far. And the drones get the best lines again — their snarky comments and sarcastic personalities are the best thing about the Culture novels for me.
Definitely worth a read.