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The newest novel of The Culture, set 800 years after Look to Windward (and far after the earlier novels in the series). It tells the story of Lededje Y'breq, an Intagliated slave (covered in tattoos, even on the level of DNA- hence the title) who after being murdered by her master Veppers, is resurrected by The Culture and begins to seek revenge. The story also deals with an online war whose outcome reflects reality that's being fought over the continued existence of a virtual reality Hell in which a copy of an unfortunate person's consciousness endures horrific punishment. The Culture is on the anti-Hell side, but not directly... at least at first...

Contains examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: Bettlescroy-Bisspe-Blispin, the GFCFian admiral.
  • Back From the Dead: Lededje Y'breq- not a spoiler- it's pretty much the starting point for the book. Zakalwe comes back from the dead over and over during the book, he loses count.
  • Battle Butler: Jasken for Veppers.
  • Badass Boast: From Demeisen/The Falling Outside the Usual Moral Constraints: "Conscience can be a terrible thing. So I hear. Not if you're something like me of course. I don't give a fuck."
  • Blood Knight: The Falling Outside the Usual Moral Constraints. As one character comments the only reason it doesn't employ a tactic which end a particular battle far more quickly is because it's enjoying itself so much.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Jasken is revealed to have been secretly in love with Lededje, but not enough to forsake his duty. Becomes a Bodyguard Betrayal however when Lededje informs him that the powerful alien race that Veppers double-crossed knows about this and will kill him — given that he's already disgusted over how his boss is saving his valuables at the expense of his employees, Jasken takes the flier to rescue them instead, leaving Veppers to Lededje's tender mercies.
  • Continuity Nod: the Sense Amid Madness, Wit Amidst Folly mentions the Sleeper Service at one point.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Veppers, who is kind of like a futuristic, evil(er?) version of your Murdoch or Gates type given an insane amount of power. And he wants more...
  • Curb Stomp Battle: the Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints against a GFCF flotilla. The GFCFian ship were annihilated without the FOtNMC even breaking a sweat.
  • Distant Finale not in the novel itself, but it is a Distant Finale/resolution to Use of Weapons
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell... IN VIRTUAL REALITY
  • Hope Spot: Ouch. Very much a plot point in the Fire and Brimstone Hell subplot.
  • Jerkass: Demeisen, the avatar of the Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints straddles the line between this and Jerk with a Heart of Gold. Often between sentences. Examples of his dickery include the outride sadistic usage of a donated body to generally being incredibly rude and foul mouthed to almost everyone. On the other hand, he is capable of acts of disproportionate altruism (which may or may not have ulterior motives attached) and generally treats Lededje well.
    • It's worth remembering that he is the avatar of the Culture's most powerful type of warship. Social skills are not a high priority.
  • The Mole: Vatueil/Zakalwe was hired by the pro-Hell side to infiltrate the anti-Hell side and make them lose. Along the way, his outlook changed he decided to genuinely help the anti-Hell side and screwed over his employers
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Jasken's attitude toward Veppers.
  • Robotic Psychopath: Like most Culture warships, Demeisen falls into this, and might be the most extreme example to date, in that while most of the previous ones expressed their sadism in a Pay Evil Unto Evil context, what Demeisen does to the poor sucker who signed up to be his "host" was just nasty. Also comes with elements of Heroic Comedic Sociopath.
  • The Stinger
  • Stock Phrases: The GFCFian admiral has to blow up a friendly ship to cover for a False-Flag Operation, so naturally choses one belonging to an officer he dislikes. Moments before his ship is obliterated, the admiral informs him of this fact saying, "This pleases me much more than it will hurt you."
  • Two Aliases One Character / Tomato Surprise: Vatueil, a high ranked soldier fighting on the anti-Hell side is revealed in The Stinger to be Zakalwe from Use of Weapons.
  • Wham! Line: The last word of the book. See Two Aliases One Character.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Sort of. In the virtual war, you don't die or get injured in reality if that happens online, but you do feel it. The Hell is the same way with the interesting twist that the person might be alive elsewhere while that copy of them is being horrifically tortured, and it doesn't affect the "real" person.