Once a popular writer takes off, I think the editors take off too. So the books can get long winded. I feel that may hold here, but Banks was such a wonderful writer the time is well spent. I give this a four star only to differentiate it from my more favorite novels in the series, but frankly it's a 5 in many ways.
A theme often explored in Culture novels is the meeting of vastly different species from different worlds and the role of technical gaps. Here the military leaders of an advanced predatory culture seeks revenge on the far more advanced Culture. There are layers of indirection and surprises throughout, mixed with a fair amount of philosophizing, which might be more fascinating to some than others. The sarcastic yet witty dialogues of the key musical composer character are particularly enjoyable.