Now that I've cooled off a little bit, I am not so annoyed as I was when I first finished reading. There's a lot of great writing in this book, and it rewards repeat reading. Kind of wish we knew how things turn out, but maybe it's better this way; really, there's nowhere good it can go from here. I must say that I do think there was some authorial cheating involved, namely his inclusion of scenes from the POV of the actual Zakalwe, and two instances where he plays tricks with pronouns. I still think it would have been a perfectly fine story without the twist, but it's his book. Just for my own amusement, and in no particular order, here are the problems I had.
I blame Sma
I do, too. How do you say "background check" in Marain? If you're going to put the fate of entire civilizations into the hands of one guy with a gun fetish, perhaps you should put a tiny bit of effort into finding out what makes him tick over the course of the decades he's working for you. Particularly since there's already been one meeting with Livueta--why didn't the whole story come out at that point? How do they know she's so immensely important to him without even wondering why, especially after she tried to kill him?
While I'm on the subject, that was an incredibly shitty stunt they pulled on him on Balzeit. (You can tell I like a book when I get indignant on behalf of a character.)
Say you will forgive me
Let me think about this a second you made her sister into A FUCKING CHAIR. With a cushion. How does "no" sound? You seem like a reasonably smart guy; anyone with the fraction of emotional intelligence required to even pretend to relate normally to other people ought to be able to figure out that there isn't a miracle big enough. Especially after eighty years to think about it.
If he had just killed her, "sorry about this, but you need to know that I am not fucking around here" fashion, I might have been able to buy it; you take hostages, sometimes you have to follow through, war sucks, etc. Coming up with something that Hannibal Lecter would approve of is considerably harder to take.
I don't want to talk about it
I understand that, but since we only understand the story through you, we have a problem: When we finally come to the root events, we learn jack about the motivations behind any of it--we don't know what the civil war was about, or how these two came to be on opposite sides, and he's pretty coy on the topic of who won. In order to set up his gotcha, Banks has us follow the wrong character at the crucial point; we never find out what he was thinking. He does nothing remotely comparable elsewhere in the story, leaving us with this singularly grotesque, wildly disproportionate act, and no explanation.
Was that really his name?
I am also left unconvinced by the name change. It strikes me as a melodramatic thing to do, and there doesn't seem to be an ounce of melodrama in his character.
All of which said, I really like the book. Glad I finally got around to reading it. I will be taking a bit of a break from Banks, though--got lots of books for Christmas!