Special Circumstances agent Cheradenine Zakalwe is being sought out from hiding for one last job in the Culture’s unending quest to influence the galaxy to their own ends. Alternating timelines describe his idyllic childhood life on his home world, and the present-day race to find him and salvage the situation in a star system on the brink of chaos. Zakalwe’s clout with a prominent member of Voerenhutz society may be the only way to avert disaster without exposing the Culture’s interference. Both threads lead towards the same focal point: an event that emerges hazily and piecemeal from recollection as the defining moment in his life, the disaster that led him to leave everything behind and strike out into the unknown.— Melissa
The man known as Cheradenine Zakalwe was one of Special Circumstances' foremost agents, changing the destiny of planets to suit the Culture through intrigue, dirty tricks, and military action.
The woman known as Diziet Sma had plucked him from obscurity and pushed him towards his present eminence, but despite all their dealings she did not know him as well as she thought.
The drone known as Skaffen-Amtiskaw knew both of these people. It had once saved the woman's life by massacring her attackers in a particularly bloody manner. It believed the man to be a lost cause. But not even its machine could see the horrors in his past.