Banks is my favorite author, and this is his best work, the one I immediately admired and knew would be among my favorites of all time. Subsequent readings have further cemented its place at the very top. While this was my favorite Banks novel, I still think for grand action sequences the escape from the Orbital in Phlebas takes the cake. In nearly every other way Use of Weapons surpasses all of Banks’ other brilliant work.
The book is riveting. Its style takes a bit of getting used to, as alternating chapters take you from a present tense story that goes chronologically to flashbacks which by in large go in reverse order. It is in these reverse-order chapters that much of the depth is added to our protagonist, Cheradenine Zakalwe. The added knowledge of Zakalwe’s background and motives that you have by the end of the book invites you to scroll back and re-read certain parts. In the end, events that happened early on take on significantly more meaning once you fully understand everything going on.
If you are looking for great action scenes, an intriguing protagonist and a brilliantly tied-together story, Use of Weapons will certainly fit the bill. But this novel is so much more than that. It’s a study of grief and self-loathing. It makes you laugh, it’s a damn good time and then it surprises you in a climax that is perfectly earned. It’s simply the best. My favorite novel of all time.