The Dragon’s Banker by Scott Warren – Book Review

Originally posted over at booknest.eu! The review below is an annotated version.

Published by: Scott Warren (Self-Published)
Genre: Fantasy (Economic Adventure!)
Pages: 255
Format: e-book
Review/Purchased Copy: Provided through NetGalley, in return for an honest review.

Sailor Kestern is a fine banker in an unenviable position. His former client, a nobleman by the name of Brackwaldt, has it out for him and that’s made business difficult. So difficult in fact, Sailor’s prospects in the capital of Borreos are looking increasingly forlorn. Gates are shut in his face, trade routes are blocked for him, human shipmasters refuse to work with businesses that so much as associate themselves with the Kestern banking house.

Even with this one major issue at hand, it’s an exciting time to be a financier and Sailor isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. The Royal Mint is driving a major initiative on behalf of the Crown, introducing paper currency and hammering it into the economy with all the strength an institution has in wielding hardcore monetary policy. Adam Smith’s invisible hand?  Pfft, please, Borreos has one Darrez Issa, financier extraordinaire, who looks over the interests of the Crown with an eye sharp enough to make even an eagle jealous. A man like Sailor has a healthy dose of awe for the queen’s financial advisor, and the good sense to stay away from him after the last time the two crossed paths.

As a reader with a bachelor’s degree in economics, I was the perfect audience for The Dragon’s Banker. The economics made sense and Warren seems to have a good grasp of how demand and supply work; he’s thought through all sorts of issues that the reader could’ve picked up on and works them in the story seamlessly and just at the right time. Some of Sailor’s most minor actions, at first, see great pay-off by the end of this 255-page read and in ways I didn’t necessarily expect.

One aspect of this novel won me over, and it’s a specific reading of the novel that I will now expand on:

At one level of The Dragon’s Banker, there’s a critique of capitalism’s ceaseless chase of profit maximization. Though avaricious, Sailor never has the amassing of riches as his personal goal. For him, money is most valuable for what it can do for people. In that way, what could’ve been a cynical take on banking is instead a subversive work of fantasy well worth the read for that angle alone.

Sailor Kestern is a humanist – and that, I think, is the greatest triumph of The Dragon’s Banker. This banker, the only one worthy of representing the interests of the most avaricious creature of all, the dragon, ultimately differs from his cold-blooded patron in the following way – money isn’t an end goal for him. It is merely a tool.

To me, The Dragon’s Banker is a 4.5/5 star read. I enjoyed it immensely, partially because of my background, partially because of my reading of it as a critique on some of the woes of capitalism. It’s my firm belief that you’ll find plenty to love within these pages.

As for me, I am curious to see what else Scott Warren is capable of.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

I’m happy with the progress I’ve made with Haruki Murakami’s books over these last few months. Kafka on the Shore in May, Norwegian Wood in September and just this last week, What I Talk About when I talk About Running. The last is freshest in my mind but I’ll contain myself and instead turn to Norwegian Wood, the title inspired by the Beatles song of the same name. It also happens to be the work that really shot Haruki Murakami to fame first in Japan and later internationally.

Norwegian Wood is a love story and it’s about overcoming grief, and it’s about those first coming of age years after you leave home, quite uncertain about what comes next, the direction you’re supposed to take as the world begins to mold and pressure you in ways outside of your control. It’s easy to lose yourself — something that main character Watanabe manages at one point in this novel.

Let’s look at it as a love story first, shall we? It’s sweet and sexy and tragic enough that you might just tear up by the end of it. Bittersweet but hopeful – that’s how I’d describe it in three words, were I forced to do so.

As a side-note, I would ride on the bus, listening to the audiobook more than once, when a ridiculous, steamy sex scene started up. You know, these are the moments when you’re not quite certain whether you should be grinning or blushing or pressing ‘Pause’. Say one thing about that, say it was funny.

What about dealing with grief?

Toru Watanabe, the protagonist from whose PoV the novel is told, loses his best friend Kizuki. Kizuki kills himself on his 17th birthday and this marks Watanabe for life — as it would most of us. Another, Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko, is as affected by his suicide as Watanabe; perhaps more. Years later, Naoko and Watanabe reconnect and fall for each other but Kizuki’s shadow never fully clears between the two. Unable to cope, Naoko eventually ends up in a sanatorium, doing her finest to piece herself back together.

Some of the characters are unforgettable. Maybe not their names – I forget names easy enough – but the personalities will stay with me. Nagasawa is Watanabe’s exact opposite — driven and ambitious, and far more cynical than our protagonist, Nagasawa is in many ways Toru’s foil. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, the two become close friends…although Watanabe never allows Nagasawa into his heart the way he let Kizuki in.

I was partial to Midori, an older woman in the same sanatorium as Naoko. As Nagasawa is to Watanabe, Midori is a foil to Naoko — though burdened by her own demons (her story is perhaps the highlight of Norwegian Wood for me) Midori has strength, the presence of character necessary to survive and perhaps overcome all that placed her in the sanatorium. Midori’s a guitar player, a concert pianist and totally the coolest, yo! Very flirty, too, which gives rise to some hilarious exchanges between her, Watanabe and Naoko, who also happens to be her roommate and dear friend.

This isn’t the best Murakami book I’ve read, nor is it my favourite. I’d live these honours to Kafka on the Shore and Dance, Dance, Dance, respectively. But it has a certain appeal to those who know a little of loss and pain and love, and I am certain some of you will be well-served by reading it.

I straightened up and looked out the plane window at the dark clouds hanging over the North Sea, thinking of what I had lost in the course of my life: times gone forever, friends who had died or disappeared, feelings I would never know again.

The opening paragraph of Norwegian Wood.

My score for this novel is 4 stars. There’s plenty you can get out of it — but it’s not a book for everyone. Stay away if you can’t handle suicide and depression in your fiction – leave me a comment down below with your preferences, and I’ll point you to another one of Murakami’s novels, instead. If you’ve read any of his previous novels, there’s a chance this one’ll surprise you — it lacks many of the eery, magical realism and even surrealism that’s typical for most of his other works.

The audiobook narration by John Chancer was enjoyable – no complaints there, he distinguished between the characters and delivered an excellent performance.

The Enemy by Lee Child – Book Review (Jack Reacher #08)

Child rarely goes back all the way to Reacher’s military career but this one tackles a pair of decisive moments for everyone’s favourite army policeman, one personal and the other one professional, both coinciding and intertwining in ways that change Reacher forever.

The Enemy sees Major Jack Reacher of the US Army welcoming the New Year posted in a military point in the middle of some rural state in the vastness of the States. A call comes through notifying him of the death of a two-star general at a motel nearby. Reacher has never seen a dead two-star before, he’s curious. Besides, you got a general dead thirty minutes away from a military base, you want to make sure nothing’s rotten.

But it’s a Jack Reacher novel, isn’t it, which means of course something isn’t right. Two-star looks like he had himself a bit of fun before the old ticker blew up. Seems a likely enough explanation – a general is as virtuous as the next soldier and often enough he’s plenty worse. Only, this general was heading to a conference and his briefcase is missing. In that briefcase? The agenda of the conference. Only, none of the other would-be attendants admit to this document’s existence. That’s when Reacher knows something is fishy…because if there’s one thing the army loves, it’s tightly-planned agendas.

What follows is an investigation that disillusions Reacher and changes his views on the one organisation that’s always been home to him – the U.S. army. The way this case develops, I’d be disillusioned too in his place – and I ain’t nowhere near as tough as that tall bastard.

On the personal front, we’ve got Reacher and his brother facing down a life without their mother, one hell of a tough French lady dying from late-stage cancer that’s eating I loved everything about this part of the plot – some fantastic revelations which shake the character of Reacher to the core at the worst possible time. Makes for great drama.

Lee Child’s unique brand of noir prose, solid supporting characters, fine antagonists and one hell of a mistery — what more can you want from a Reacher novel?

And do I even have to get into the narrator? When I read Reacher, I hear Jeff Harding’s voice in my head – his voice embodies the tough as nails military cop, if that makes any sense. He is brilliant! 5/5! 10/10! A hundred percent badassery!

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Hunted (Legacy of the First Blade Episode 01)

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s first DLC, Legacy of the First Blade, is broken down into three episodes and I decided I’d talk about the first of them, Hunted. Hunted is…not bad. A memorable antagonist makes his debut at the same time as the wielder of the first blade is introduced – Darius, an elderly Persian who has been doing this whole assassination thing for awhile. Darius is a nice enough guy if we forget the whole stabbing Persian monarchs business. The weird thing is, the animation and cutscenes sure took a dive in quality. As for the writing? Well, we haven’t hit the bottom yet, Reader. But before all is said and done…we will. Oh, we most certainly will.

French Revolutions for Beginners

Has another event in European history affected the age we live in as much as the French Revolution? Hasn’t every political debate, every crisis of our time been directly shaped by blood spilled and lines drawn in the sand throughout the events that unfolded in those first months, years and decades following 1789? Left and right, republicans and traditionalists, radicals and radicals and a thousand more shades of radicals, each more extreme than the other, killing ripping each other to bloody bits, some for political expediency; others out of loyalty to egalitarian beliefs; yet others, like the members of the lower aristocracy and the bourgeois with whom the tide began, wished for more incremental reform — say, a liberal democracy! Little did they know the beast they were unleashing.

The French Revolution is a snake that eats its own tail, and this excellent introductory novel shows just how events pushed Paris ever deeper under the mud and blood of revolution. There’s plenty to enthrall and horrify — the lithany of beheadings, the crushing debt and superinflation France goes under as result of its financing America’s war for independence, the startling turn in fortunes for some of France’s best and worst.

I must sound slightly insane, proclaiming such events ‘enthralling.’ Oh, well.

As you might’ve guessed by the title, this novel covers more than just the first revolution – fixating on Napoleon’s exploits for a sizable chunk, it eventually goes past the 1850s, in fact, covering even the Paris commune in 1871.

Excellent illustrations by Tom Motley, both poignant and funny. Motley’s pen captures many of the paradoxes of different revolutionary idealogues, pierces through the hypocrisies of the time and challenges the reader to reevaluate certain events through a different angle entirely.

This is a great starting point that leaves a lot unsaid — and it’s up to you to find out which events to dig deeper about. Me, I think I’ll get better acquainted with Georges Danton, a lawyer and revolutionary plagued by scandals about the misappropriation of revolutionary funds. The Napoleonic era is also one I’m itching to start with, and there’s plenty I want to learn about the inner workings of the Paris Commune, short as that lasted. Soon, very soon!

Oh, and help yourselves to my absolutely favourite passage:

Georges Danton must’ve been a lark to be around with.

Just in case you needed a…heh…taste.

Battle for the Abyss by Ben Counter – Mini Book Review

Occasionally, you come across a fantastic Warhammer 40k novel that puts every other book in the shared universe to shame. Battle for the Abyss isn’t one of those occasions.

What it is, is a spacemarine story through and through. It fills out all the checkboxes: honour, brotherhood, sacrifice (and sacrifice, and some more sacrifice for good measure), internal conflict eventually resolved for the greater good of the Imperium.

I listened to this book for ten hours and can barely remember three character names out of the dozens within. Let’s see — Mhotep (whose name I almost turned to Mahtock, a week after finishing the book; only my notes saved me here); Admiral Lady and evil Zealot Space Marine Admiral from the Word Bearers. I’m not sure if that last name is hyphenated but it correctly corresponds to the character’s role in the book. Mhotep was actually interesting due to the fact that he’s a Son of Magnus (the Thousand Sons Space Legion eventually turns traitor through no fault of their own, which sounds like it has all the makings of a tragedy) and we don’t get anywhere near enough of those in the first ten Horus Heresy novels.

Great narration, as always – Garreth Armstrong knows how to make even a mediocre novel entertaining. And make no mistake, I was entertained – the 2.5 stars But you know, maybe I don’t have to give this novel a three-star review on Goodreads. I think, this time, two stars will do.

What else is there to say about it? The action scenes were alright, I suppose. Standard Warhammer 40k thoroughfare. But ever so derivative. Unfortunately, that’s the second book by Ben Counter that leans towards this particular judgement — one more, and I’m

And what’s up with the zealous zealots, anyway?

The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon is now Available!

The latest novel by Benedict Patrick, an author I admire and consider a friend, was released yesterday! I, distracted lad that I am, messed up and didn’t post about it when I ought to have, so here’s to making amends! I recommend you grab this novel on Amazon, it’s well-worth it.

The Flight of the Darkstar Dragon is an excellent novel of adventure, exploration and self-discovery. I reviewed it on booknest.eu last week but in case you want the highlights, here they are:

Benedict Patrick takes a sojourn away from the folklore-infested Yarnsworld series and pens a short, remarkably enjoyable standalone in a world as imaginative as anything I’ve come to expect from him. Add to the mix a likable lead by the name of Min, an elderly Samuel L. Jackson as her mentor, and a petty villain who will make you want to strangle him time and again, and you’ve got a memorable journey ahead of you.

[…]

The world is endlessly interesting, not just because of the dragon, introduced in a spectacular fashion early on—really, what a great reveal!—but because it’s a gateway between uncountable other worlds, each one full of possibility for adventure. And indeed, what I enjoyed most in my time with Flight of the Darkstar Dragon is how well it channels the spirit of adventure, the joy of exploration. That’s perhaps what I liked most about Min and Brightest both, the hunger to see, to experience more of the great unknown that is just a step away in the Darkstar Dimension. Benedict recently described this novel as his way of capturing the feeling of the Fantastic Four comic books, and I can’t move past that comparison – that’s something he’s managed to succeed in with passing colours. Nothing captures the hunger that drives Reed Richards and his family, or Darkstar Dragon’s main characters, better than the following quote:

How could anyone live a full life in one world, when they’ve tasted so many, and know there are endless wonders out there to sample?

Plenty is left unanswered about the nature of this dimensional gateway but that never feels like a weakness of the storytelling; rather, it’s a conscious choice of the author. With an ending such as this, there’s no limit to what Min can get up to next – and I, for one, would be all too happy to find out. My score for this novel is 4.5/5, rounded up to 5 stars on Goodreads!

You might want to read this for:

·         The sense of exploration and adventure, of worlds unseen and within a hand’s reach;

·         The great mentor-mentee relationship between Min and Sam Ja—Brightest;

·         The dragon;

·         Thinking with Portals;

·         And More! Prob’ly.

Kassandra The Eagle Bearer – A Cannibal?

…Asks the newest investigative journalist of THE ATHENIAN CULTIST! The answer may shock you.

This is it, I’ve peaked with my YouTuber career…is what I’d say if I wasn’t just getting started with the bizarre, weird and damnably funny videos! Gods, I’m the worst.

Honest, this was so much fun to work on and even more fun to watch once it came together. The b-footage itself isn’t anything exceptional but I played with so many effects I’d never touched before, like typography in Adobe After Effects. I kept coming up with ideas that made me giggle throughout – I hope you’ll enjoy watching as much as I enjoyed making it.