The language is intentionally ambiguous about who won the civil war, to accommodate the twist ending:

The besieged forces round the Staberinde broke out within the hour, while the surgeons were still fighting for his life.

It was a good battle, and they nearly won.

In retrospect, the last sentence is obviously about the surgeons. But it's not clear to me who actually won the civil war. We know the fortress was turned into a park, and that the main character left the planet on a sleeper ship, but these could both go either way. Was anything else stated more explicitly that I missed?

Here's a discussion about it with some disagreement.

1 Answer 1


I think that any answer to this question warrants protection from spoilers. I would urge any prospective editors to think carefully before removing.

There is no clear answer to this and it's understandable that there may be differences of opinion. This is my take:

Elethiomel lost the war. And of course by now we know who Elethiomel is.

Here's my justification. I realise that these points are open to interpretation.

  1. General Points

    He ran away. He gave up his hostage (which appeared to be the only thing stopping an attack on the battleship).

  2. Some quotes (from Orbit edition 2008, ISBN 978-1-85723-135-9).

Chapter VIII - p162

    He tried to tell himself that, mostly, he'd won. He knew he had, but it was only the moments of defeat, the instants of paralysis that made him really think, and try to join up the weave of his life into a whole. That was when his thoughts returned to the battleship Staberinde and what it represented; that was when he thought about the Chairmaker and the reverberating guilt behind that banal description...
    It was a better sort of defeat this time, it was more impersonal.

Chapter II - p359

    He ended up in another lo-tech war, learning to fly (because he knew now that aircraft would always win against a battleship), and flying the frosty vortices of air above the vast white islands that were the colliding tabular icebergs.


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