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.

Bakemonagatari, Vol. 01 by Oh!Great – Book Review

This manga is based on the original light novels by NISIOSIN.

Alright, I’m apparently branching out into manga — first time for everything. I was looking through NetGalley a few days ago, searching for something new and intriguing and what do I come across but the first Volume of a manga adaptation to something I’m familiar with? I saw the Bakemonogatari anime years ago, and was struck by how unique its visual style was — on par only with the eeriness, the sheer bloody strangeness, of its story.

The art is praise-worthy. Oh!Great’s art consists of clear lines, which was a relief since I often struggle with the visual overload so frequently present in a lot of manga art. It properly communicates the moods of characters and their intentions. The writer-artist is enormously talented with the pencil, that’s for sure, and I am looking forward to how this looks on paper as compared to digital. The few double-spreads in this first volume showcased the kind of art I’d put in a frame on the wall, and looking at them cut in half in a .pdf file felt very wrong indeed.

Onto the bad…or at least the mildly, wildly annoying bits. There’s a fair amount of fan-service here, which works great for my sixteen-year-old self but at twenty-four comes across as gratuitous and unnecessary. Pretty art, sure, but I could do without the panty-shots and several even more over-sexualized elements included inside.

It doesn’t quite capture the quirky nature of the story as presented in the anime. It doesn’t have to – they’re two different adaptations of the same core material but this operates in a different medium entirely and it’s a good way to reacquaint myself with a franchise I never got to explore in full.

The story, alas, lacks clarity. Some will find it difficult to comprehend, which is where my familiarity came in use. I had at least some knowledge about what was going on, and I’m not entirely sure the dialogue succeeded in recapturing the eery feel of the light novel as much as it was confusing. It gets clearer about midway through.

If you like manga, if you’ve heard about the Monogatari franchise but prefer this medium to anime — I’d say, go for it! The release is in October — my personal score is 3.25 stars out of 5, or a 6.5 out of 10. It lacks that extra something to give it a score of 3.5/5; as it is, the art pushes it to a level just above the utter averageness of most 3-stars.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a review copy.

God of Gnomes by Demi Harper is Released Today!

One of my favourite debuts in recent memory is now available for purchase over at Amazon! This isn’t an affiliate link or anything, I just really like the bookand think it deserves attention.

Now, if you want to know a little bit more about it, I put my review of it up over at booknest.eu last week. For an excerpt of the full review, you need only read on below:

God of Gnomes is special. A book that isn’t afraid to play with well-known fantasy tropes but nonetheless makes them feel fresh, God of Gnomes has a whole lot of heart, a solid portion of enjoyable, well-written action and a memorable protagonist with a huge personality and a tiny gem where a body ought to be.

Demi Harper’s debut at first borrows from and then further develops ideas that (if I’m not mistaken) were first introduced in Dungeon Keeper, the dungeon building video game series originally from the late 90’s. As someone who does a fair amount of gaming, I’m familiar with the gratification this subgenre offers – even if I wasn’t aware of the Dungeon Core subgenre in litRPGs before getting this review copy. Apparently, there’s a growing body of Dungeon Core books and while I can’t speak about any of the others, God of Gnomes captures the essence and gratification of the games.

Our protagonist’s name is Corey, and she’s a God Core. A newly discovered one too, exhumed from the depths of the earth by a tiny, ugly creature in the very first chapter of the novel. What the first quarter of the book deals with is much like the tutorial level to any strategy game – Corey has no clue what role she’s fallen into, how to take on her duties as a god to these disgusting, dumb creatures she’s supposed to care for, these gnomes. Thankfully, she’s got a helpful wisp by the name of Ket to show her the ropes! The interaction between Corey and Ket is fun and funny – the wisp is continuously enthusiastic, bright and eager to offer all the information Corey could ever need, and more; the God Core meanwhile is short-tempered and even frightened by this new responsibility she’s suddenly forced into taking on.

There’s a threat inherent to any opening that relies heavily on exposition, especially when that exposition takes on the form of explanation of a character’s abilities and limitations. Like a dungeon builder’s tutorial, there’s always the threat that it’ll drag on, even become tedious. How Demi Harper avoids this is not just through the interaction between Core and wisp; nor is it only because of the disgustingly adorable gnomes that fill these pages. It’s owed in largest part to the fact that Harper introduces a number of compelling mysteries. Our protagonist is entangled in mysteries: the mystery of who, of what Corey was before she awoke in the darkness – flashes of darkness, of cruelty, of a great subterranean city – all draw a fragmentary picture that fellow fantasy nerds might enjoy theorizing on as they read. I did, and I was proved correct! Another mystery has to do with a nasty antagonist lingering in the shadows, taunting our baby Core girl in an unholier-than-thou, third-person, garbage spewing manner. These are but a handful of the different plot threads that caught my attention and imagination both.

My score for God of Gnomes is a 9/10, or a 4.5/5 on Goodreads. There were a few moments – not many, just a few, that didn’t quite hold onto my attention as well as the vast majority of the novel did, which is why I’m not giving this a full 5/5 score. Nevertheless, this is a memorable read, a great debut and another solid entry into Portal Books’ growing catalogue of LitRPG/Dungeon Core publications. I’m looking forward to seeing what the publisher comes up with next…and I’m even more excited to find out where Corey’s story goes next!

A Different Time by Michael K. Hill – Book Review (Blog Tour Edition!)

I enjoyed this piece of time-displaced romance.

Keith falls in love with Lindsey, a girl thirty years in the past. It all begins when he picks up a VHS cassette at a flea market, while looking to expand his X-Men collection (which, by the way, definitely made him initially likable — true X-Men nerdhood is something to bond over!). The cassette is the video diary of a girl Keith’s age at the time of recording, back in 1989; what shocks Keith is that, as soon as he speaks aloud, the girl hears him…and responds. So begins this short back-and-forth through time, as Lindsey and Keith fall in love within the span of…15-30-45 minutes.

Lindsey is the star of the book — her dialogue in particular, had something special about it, a spark, something that would glisten under the sun. She’s a creative in a nasty situation, living with a mother who doesn’t understand her and a creep for a stepfather, far away from the Hawaiian home she’s known for most of her life, lost and terribly alone. But she’s well-read, and a talented artist – reading and drawing are two activities that are a haven from the trouble of the real world.

Keith’s behaviour is somewhat more troubling — this sudden connection with Lindsey has some pretty adverse effects on him as the novel goes on. He borders on the obsessive a little bit too much for my liking; don’t get me wrong, I had a good time hitching a ride in his noggin’. He’s a likable guy, he’s a nice kid, but he’s even more lost than Lindsey.

The prose is crisp, clear and serviceable. It could’ve benefitted from a few extra descriptions, I thought; there was an element of bareness to it that would’ve been well-served by Michael K. Hill adding a few lines here and there. That might be preference, though; ultimately, Hill offers an acceptable replica of our world as a backdrop to the story he chose to tell. The cover is lovely, too!

It didn’t surprise me, however — most of the small twists were foreshadowed without subtlety and and I wasn’t surprised to come across most of the ‘revelations’ by book’s end. Maybe there didn’t need to be — this is a romance, after all. But I’d have liked some little surprise to have gone past me.

My score? 6.5/10. 3 stars on Goodreads – I enjoyed it. But it lacked an extra little something to get it to the 3.5 I’d need to give it that half star extra and round it up to 4/5 on ye olde Goodreads site.

My recommendation? If you like an nonstandard love story that’s cute and has some interesting, well-realised ideas, this is something you might want to look at. It’s a very simple book, and I mean that in the best sense – clarity, straightforward plot, a pair of characters it’s easy to root for — these make for a quick, pleasant read.

The Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski – Book Review (Excerpt)

Hullo again! This weekend was nice and lazy and full of…actually, a lot of studying, one week into this new year of uni. I wanted to share my review of Sapkowski’s second Witcher novel, The Sword of Destiny before this first week of September is truly and forever gone!

The full review, as usual, you can find over at booknest.eu. Below, you’ll find the reviews of my two favourite stories in this latest anthology:

Eternal Flame

Hands down the funniest story of the lot. In a case of stolen identities, mimicked halflings and an economic boom, Geralt is so far out of his comfort zone, it’s ridiculous. He’s just an observer, a visitor in Novigrad, one of the biggest cities in the North. While reading this, I couldn’t help but think, time and again, Gods, it sure would suck to have your identity stolen by a doppler, to only see that doppler do better at all you’ve worked your life towards, in a matter of three days. And that’s much of what the plot is about. But in this case, it’s not about plot as much as interactions, dialogue and showing how being seen as an evil monster does not necessarily correspond to the reality of a creature’s nature.

Seeing Novigrad in written form for the first time was also pretty great, I won’t lie – I’d been looking forward to seeing how it would look outside of the Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. If there’s anything I can say for sure about Eternal Flame, it’s that this is my favourite Witcher feel-good story; with its light mood, and a sense of humour that keeps on giving, this was a great place to switch gears after two emotionally heavy stories, and as a result, it worked out quite well.

Oh, and Dandelion is here. Starving artist and whatnot, wot, wot.   5/5

A Little Sacrifice

This is it. This is The Story. The one that affected me the most, one of the emotionally heaviest tales I’ve read in recent memory, a heart-tearing, gut-wrenching punch in the teeth that left me wiping away a single, manly tear from my eye.

It started off funny – but oh, Andrzej, this is the last time you bamboozle me, I can promise you that. The funny bits have to do with riffing on The Little Mermaid, with a duke and a mermaid obviously in love with one another but neither of them willing to compromise, to make a little sacrifice in order to be with the one they love. It’s all played for laughs until the duke refuses to pay Geralt on grounds of expecting results; results which Geralt has failed to deliver. Penniless, Geralt and Dandelion are forced to move on, despite their empty stomachs. As luck would have it, a rich villager runs across them and recognizes Dandelion and invites him to a wedding. The invitation is accepted, of course, and our Witcher is all too happy to tag along, if it’ll mean a belly filled with food and a night’s rest spent in-doors. In the wedding, the pair of travellers come across Essi.

A newly introduced character, the troubadour Essi, also known as Little Eye, is the catalyst of this story. Her relationship with Geralt is fascinating and not only this but it also kicks open the doors for the witcher to reflect on his relationship with the sorceress Yennefer. To say anymore would be to take away from this excellent story, which hit especially close to home.

This one also shows the depth of Dandelion’s character. Dandelion, to you lot that do not remember wot’s wot, is Geralt’s closest friend and frequent travel companion. This one is the first story I’d recommend to anyone who doubts that the Witcher might not be packing a heavy enough emotional punch. A full 10/10, 5/5, and so on and so forth.

A Pair of Quick Mini Reviews

Hullo, followers! I’ve been meaning to get a pair of non-fantasy novel reviews out of the way, so here goes! But before I go all non-fantasy on y’all, I just finished a wonderful staple in early 20th century fantasy classic and I’m going to say a few words about it as well! #everythingiscontent

The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White

At last, I come across the work of famed English author, T. H. White! And this, the first book in his Arthurian tetralogy, was a delight. The Sword in the Stone sold me on White’s version of the Arthurian mythology due to two chief reasons – the humour and the characters.

The humour is anachronistic – thank Merlyn! Merlyn, who lives life backwards to everyone else, has such items in his hut such as a weapons rack brimming with modern weaponry, as well as degrees from all of Europe’s leading universities! He decries the state of the European education system in pre-Arthurian times quite a lot, he does, wot wot.

As for the characters, they are full of heart, good cheer, and no small amount of silliness, too! Take King Pellenor, for example, a ridiculous monarch with no land, no armies, not even a bed! He, however, has a task he unfailingly pursues, and that’s to search for the (terrible, question mark??? ) Questing beast. To our young protagonist, Arthur (affectionately called ‘The Wart’ by everyone in his foster father, sir Hector’s domain), King Pellenor is jolly good fun. The two become fast friends.

The Wart is wonderful, filled with that thirst for adventure that you just need to have in any proper Arthur! I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s like as a king in the next three novels!

I listened to this one as part of “The Past and Future King” audiobook, as narrated by Neville Jason. Wonderful, excellent work imbuing the characters with life!

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Spoilers for  “Of Mice and Men” below.

How do you talk about a classic novella such as this one?

This one is about the friendship between two men, George and Lennie, childhood friends. George takes care of Lennie, who, although a large and inhumanly strong man, has the innocence of a child, and a child’s understanding of any given situation he is in. Terrible strength is, in this case, a curse.

I’ll not retell what happens, and I won’t shy away from the plot points – “Of Mice and Men” is a tragic story that presents the world as it was (and too often still is), cold and uncaring towards those who are born different and lacking what society deems as normal. Lennie’s child-like fear and actions is the engine that propels the story forward,  forcing George and him to move from town to town, and ultimately forcing George to eutanise his friend. You understand why he does it, and whether you think the novella itself is good, great or not worth a damn… It’s heartbreaking. It’s tragic. And it’s an act of love.

Marx the Humanist by Muriel Seltman

I came across Muriel Seltman’s “Marx the Humanist” by accident while looking through the many, many different sections of NetGalley’s offerings. As an English Studies (Literature) bachelor’s, I’m interested in all sorts of different ideologies, anything that’ll give me a greater understanding of what moves human beings from a societal and ideological viewpoint. When it comes to Marxism, I know a fair lot more than about, say, libertarianism, because come from a family at least partially socialist. Or communist. Or Marxist. Honestly, it’s complicated.

Seltman’s novel gives an easy introduction to Marx’s ideas while also offering a thesis statement in the very title. “The Humanist” is broken down into four chapters, an appendix and an epilogue; the chapters first give a basic introduction to Marxism, through direct quotes from many of Marx’s works like “The Capital” and “The Communist Manifesto” co-authored with Engels. In addition to these passages, the author gives additional context or furthers certain arguments, to mixed effect.

It’s far from the most persuasive piece of historical (sociological, humanist) non-fiction I’ve read. Seltman too often abandons any attempts at convincing non-believers and nay-sayers, instead singing Marx’s praises into what, at worst, felt self-congratulatory. Some of the author’s arguments didn’t go far enough, either. It seems like Seltman couldn’t find a good enough balance between quoting passages and commenting on their own.

This is a good introduction to Marx’s ideas, thanks to well-chosen quotations, and a decent text by Muriel Seltman. Not quite 3 stars, not quite 4 — my score is 3.5/5 stars. Thanks to NetGalley and Troubador Publishing Ltd. for providing me with a review copy. Opinions are solely my own.

July in Review at the Grimoire Reliquary and Beyond

Welcome to my first month in review! I’ve been busy these last few weeks, both on the blog and over at BookNest.eu. I’ve been busy reading about Mice and Men, Demons and Warded Men and Healer Women, Inquisitor-y men in the 41st Millenium, Time-Travelling Men in love with Tall, Brilliant 60’s Women. Some dogs and time-displaced men were also involved. Most of the reviews below were originally posted over on booknest.eu — each title will lead you to the review in question.

Please feel free to look through the titles and only sample through what seems to be your cup of tea — I’m playing with the format of this “In Review” thing and if you don’t think it’s working, give me some feedback and I’ll change things around next month. Happy reading!

The Warded Man (Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett

Our “Demons and Warded Men and Healer Women” section is all about Peter V. Brett’s first Demon Cycle book. I enjoyed this one, more than I originally thought I would.

Entering a new fictional world that might take up dozens or even hundreds of hours of your time is no small thing; those first few hours are decisive as they can either mesmerize or let you down. The Warded Man hooked me, and it did so in several ways. First of all, the atmosphere of fear and constant danger that oozes across every page through the first half of the novel is nothing short of impressive. It’s owed to one of the most original renditions of demonic entities I’ve come across in recent memories – the demons. These appear as soon as the sun is down, every single night, filled with malice and hatred for humans. The only thing that keeps them at bay are the wards, magical symbols of protection etched into wood, stone and cement. Thanks to these and these alone does humanity survive, whether in great walled cities or in tiny villages, spread throughout the land, often cut off and isolated from one another. But wards are not failproof; the demons possess base cunning and test them time and again. If any of the wards are weakened or imperfect, the demons will find the weakness and break through.

The review can be found over on booknest.eu. I’m actually itching to get back to the Demon Cycle and am looking forward to unpacking the second book. I expect I’ll be going the audiobook route once more, the narration was excellent!

Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock 

Credit for the picture goes to: Robin Recht, Didier Poli and Jean Bastide who all worked together on the Elric: The Ruby Throne (2014) comic book adaptation!

I worked really, really hard on this one, and I think my efforts paid off. This isn’t the last time I’m going to mention this particular review on the Reliquary — I’m adapting a part of this review into a full-blown essay!

Finally we get to Elric of Melniboné! You know, I quite enjoyed my time with the 170 or so pages of this story. It finally does what I was pining for when I got this here novel – it gives me some actual prose about Elric of Melniboné! Shocker, I know. The verdict?

It’s good, it’s interesting, it’s uh, uh, uh, okay, are we talking about proper prose now, I can do this, I remember how to deconstruct prose. Elric of Melniboné deconstructs the sword&sorcery genre in a single sentence. See, sounds good, doesn’t it? Let’s take a look at the sentence: “The paradox was that Elric tolerated Yyrkoon’s treachery because he was strong, because he had the power to destroy Yyrkoon whenever he cared.” This is the sentence that shows Elric’s character in full – he is distinguished as much by his restraint as by his albino skin. In a genre full of characters who know nothing of restraint, Elric is the exception.

His cousin Yyrkoon, meanwhile, is an excellent example of your average sword&sorcery character with his unflinching militarism, the ‘might is right’ mindset that we all know and…love? Yyrkoon has his own defining sentence, following hot on the heels of that first one: “And Yyrkoon’s own character was such that he must constantly be testing that strength of Elric’s, for he knew instinctively that if Elric did weaken and order him slain, then he would have won.” And just like that, these two characters are diametrical opposites of one another. Reading about the conflict between them was fascinating. The way the two of them develop from beginning to end has a real consequence on the wider world, and that’s what fantasy, according to Moorcock is about:

The hero ranges the lands of his own psyche, encountering the various aspects of himself. When we read a good fantasy we are being admitted into the subterranean world of our own souls. … [fantasy] rarely produces a comforting end. Whether the hero wins through or not, the reader is left with the suspicion or knowledge that all is not quiet on the supernatural front. For supernatural also read subconscious and you’re still with me. (345)

Monstress Vol. 02 – The Blood by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

After this panel, what more can I even say?

For the Emperor (Ciaphas Cain #1) by Sandy Mitchell

For The Emperor is presented as the archived diary of the amusing Commissar Ciaphas Cain, with footnotes and editorial comments penned by an Inquisitor who plays no small role in the untangling story of an Imperial frontier world that has erred away from the Emperor’s light. If a lot of what I said doesn’t make much sense to you, let me explain – in the fortieth millennium of the grim future, a very xenophobic humanity is barely surviving thanks to the will of a god-like entity entombed alive in a golden throne, holding together thousands of worlds and trillions of human lives through strength of will alone. This doesn’t play a factor, really, but you might as well know it if you’re still with me so far. This book doesn’t exactly get into any of this ‘bigger picture’ stuff but it’ll expect you to know certain backdrop information like this, or a few species of xenos (aliens) that aren’t explained in-depth. Certainly a minus for newcomers, I have to note, much as I adore this book.

11/22/63 by Stephen King 

Stephen King is the rare kind of author who does not allow himself to be bound by the staples of any one genre. He’s been writing a book or two a year for so long that the tools he once borrowed for his early works have now become so seamlessly his that in combining conventions of different genres he weaves stories quite unlike anything else out there.

Take for example the victim of this review, 11/22/63. I could label it as sci-fi, of course, because the central plot point of this novel is time travel. I could label it a thriller twice over, because during two—three, even—parts of the novel, it certainly borrows from murder mysteries, spy-craft novels and the like. I could easily call it a great romance because…I  think you can figure that one out. Hell, it’s an excellent introduction to the history behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of Kennedy, with a number of artistic freedoms. It’s all this and beyond; an 850-page novel that’s more than the sum of its parts. This is one of those books that you owe to yourself to experience.

Thorn of the Night Blossoms (Scions of the Black Lotus #1) by J. C. Kang

J. C. Kang is a name I’ve seen circulating around. Fellow reviewers have mentioned The Dragon Songs Saga, praising the worldbuilding and characters, among other elements of that quadrilogy. It’s fair to say, I’ve been looking for the right time to pick up one of his works. When he contacted booknest.eu with the specific request that I review his latest in a series of novellas, the time seemed only right to carve out an hour and a half and get through what turned out to be a delightfully kinetic 93-page dive into a world reminiscent of medieval China…but with an exotic half-elf courtesan/spy taking the lead!

I do love those pointy-eared lads and lasses.

Thorn of the Night Blossoms is an excellent introduction to a world that’s beautiful and hideous in equal parts. This is best illustrated by “The Floating Wind”, the finest among many houses of pleasure both in its riches and in its finely trained girls. But the splendour and finery hide a cutthroat world of flesh peddling, information trade and manipulations both physical and magical in nature. The women of “The Floating Wind” are trained in the art of seduction from young girls but that’s far from the only skillset they learn; from a secret sign language to a myriad of abilities that would make a ninja blush, both in combat and outside it. 

Ch05en: Ivy by William Dickstein 

The single superhero novel I read this month was by newcoming author WIlliam Dickstein. The book left me with mixed feelings but the main character was a treat, as you can tell from the quote below:

Dickstein nails Ivy’s voice in the chapters from her perspective. She’s interesting, she’s likable and it wasn’t hard at all to be invested in her story and the mystery that surrounded her power. It’s a pity she spends most of the book in a training facility. Granted, several of the supporting characters in this Cape recruitment academy are interesting and add to the story, like Ivy’s estranged childhood friend Hilly who is also a fellow trainee, or Tristan, a Tinker who has an adorably awkward crush on Ivy. The instructors at the facility piqued my interest as well, in particular, Hunter. Hunter is a veteran Cape, retired from those pesky superheroics but more than ready to mold the next generation of Capes. He had several memorable quirks, like the fact that the AC in his quarters is always blasting a cold gust at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut 

Baby’s first Vonnegut!

I’ve been looking forward to getting to know Kurt Vonnegut’s works for a long time now, and when an Audible 2-for-1 deal offered The Sirens of Titan up along with Murakami’s Kafka on The Shore, I couldn’t very well keep away, could I?

Winston Niles Rumfoord is stuck inside a weird wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey thing that allows his conscience to penetrate time; however, there’s a catch – he can only manifest throughout different parts of the Solar System for very small windows of time. It’s very complicated but it doesn’t stop this man, this spacefaring millionaire from dictating the fate of humanity.

What is human life all about, anyway? That’s the question at the centre of this novel, the question that plagues Rumfoord, that pushes him to create his church of “God the Utterly Indifferent” through downright Machiavellian manipulations. How does Rumfoord do that? Through the creation of a militaristic Martian civilization, the funds for which are funnelled through Swiss banks by his ancient, loyal butler. Said Martian civilization is then used as a blunt object to batter all of Earthen humanity, but not in the way you would think.

Coming Up Next…

Plenty is coming in August — Sharp Ends by Abercrombie, Soul Music by Pratchett, The Humanist Karl Marx which I picked up purely through happenstance on Netgalley and of course, The Dragon Republic by Rebecca F. Kuang IS COMING OUT AND THIS WORLD WILL BUUUUUURN and I am looking forward to reading it, of course. Oh, and Thrawn: Treason, the latest novel by Timothy Zahn is brilliant! So many excellent books to talk about, dear reader — and in case you’ve read all the way down,

The Grimoire Digest, 15-22 July: 11/22/63, Thorn of the Night Blossom, Ch05en: Ivy

Hullo, dear reader! I’ve been blogging a lot this past week — unfortunately, none of it has been on my personal blog, The Grimoire Reliquary. I did put three new reviews out into the world, over at booknest.eu. I’ll toot my own horn here and share them with you, following the late, great axiom of #everythingiscontent!

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Thся was someting else, something special. A novel about an English teacher who goes back in time to stop Kennedy’s assassination should be challenge enough but King’s not about to deal with anything less than five different genres in this 850 page novel. For the full review, click here but if you’d like an excerpt, have at it:

Stephen King is the rare kind of author who does not allow himself to be bound by the staples of any one genre. He’s been writing a book or two a year for so long that the tools he once borrowed for his early works have now become so seamlessly his that in combining conventions of different genres he weaves stories quite unlike anything else out there.

Take for example the victim of this review, 11/22/63. I could label it as sci-fi, of course, because the central plot point of this novel is time travel. I could label it a thriller twice over, because during two—three, even—parts of the novel, it certainly borrows from murder mysteries, spy-craft novels and the like. I could easily call it a great romance because…I  think you can figure that one out. Hell, it’s an excellent introduction to the history behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of Kennedy, with a number of artistic freedoms. It’s all this and beyond; an 850-page novel that’s more than the sum of its parts. This is one of those books that you owe to yourself to experience.

Thorn of the Night Blossoms (Scions of the Black Lotus #1) by J. C. Kang

This was a really fun novella because of the action and the China-inspired setting…but it’s also got a half-elven ninja-spy protagonist! A lot is done in a mere 93 pages, and I’m looking forward to digging into the next novellas in the series. Lookit here:

horn of the Night Blossoms is an excellent introduction to a world that’s beautiful and hideous in equal parts. This is best illustrated by “The Floating Wind”, the finest among many houses of pleasure both in its riches and in its finely trained girls. But the splendour and finery hide a cutthroat world of flesh peddling, information trade and manipulations both physical and magical in nature. The women of “The Floating Wind” are trained in the art of seduction from young girls but that’s far from the only skillset they learn; from a secret sign language to a myriad of abilities that would make a ninja blush, both in combat and outside it. 

Our half-elven main character is Jie, the finest (or at least, most talented) operative produced by the Black Lotus clan in recent years. To the eyes of the uninitiated, however, she’s a Floret, a young woman who is still a virgin. But even then, Jie is special; because of her exotic blood and looks, hers is the most valuable “virgin price” not only in “The Floating Wind” but in all the province.

And the last review I penned over this last week is, drumroll, please…

Ch05en: Ivy by William Dickstein 

I love superhero stories. This wasn’t quite what I expected and although I didn’t love it, I did have a decent — even good — time reading it! The review is here:

What is strangest about this novel is that I felt it was a prequel to the novel I came to expect based on the blurb. Here is a portion of the blurb:

“Ivy and Lochlan’s worlds collide in the small town of Choudrant, Louisiana—where the residents have more secrets than shopping malls. The lead Cape in Choudrant has defected, and an android might be the only one who can find out why. If he’s going to succeed, Lochlan will have to look for help in unlikely places and unlikely genes.”

This collision between Ivy and Lochlan takes place only in the last chapter of the novel. A lot of what happens before feels like inflated filler. This holds particularly true about Lochlan’s (he’s an android agent of the World Government) sections, which go into minute detail about anything and everything to do with android functionality, agent politicking and more. Well thought out, and I admire the effort…but it’s true what they say about magicians – if they show you everything about how their trick works, it’s no longer magical. Too many of the descriptions, in particular those that involved the android agent Lochlan, suffered from that; they made me conscious of someone doing the writing. Often, descriptions didn’t flow, leaving me aware of the words on the screen instead of allowing me to immerse myself fully into the world. Some of the dialogue between agents Lochlan and Khard (who seemed about as important to the overall Lochlan arc but slightly more likeable) came across as stilted, as well.

There you have it! What I was up to over the last week over at booknest.eu. If you’d like to check the full reviews, the links are above; and if not, I hope these excerpts might’ve given you a semblance of an idea as to what you can expect.

This week, I hope to write my review of Monstress Vol 2, The Blood! An essay on Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan is also in the works. Stay tuned!

For the Emperor (Ciaphas Cain #1) by Sandy Mitchell – Book Review

This is an excerpt from my review over on booknest.eu.

I have so much fun with books in the Warhammer 40k setting. There are hundreds upon hundreds of them and they range from the utterly ridiculous to the downright tragic; from grimmer than grimdark to…uh, kids’ books narrated by David Tennant and Billie Piper *squints*. All sorts of brilliant writers have contributed to the colossal body of works that is the lore of this universe – my absolute favourite so far has been Dan Abnett – and through its sheer amount, there is something for everyone. Granted, this is licensed tie-in fiction and I don’t think I’ll be doing anyone a disservice when I say that a lot of it isn’t particularly good. I’m not pointing any fingers!

That said, like with Abnett’s Eisenhorn series, every once in a while I come across something exciting and really, really good! In this particular case, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to the one, the only, Commissar Ciaphas Cain! Say hello, Commissar, don’t be shy, I know how you love the spotlight. Who is Commissar Cain? If you ask any high-ranking officer in the Imperial Army, he is a man of undeniable moral fibre, unquestioning loyalty to the Emperor and bravery in the face of unspeakable horror.  If you ask Cain, he’ll gladly corroborate all these…while reflecting in the deep recesses of his mind that he is in fact an opportunist who has spent nearly two centuries surviving through quick thinking, exemplary bluffing and no small amount of luck.  

Read the rest over on booknest.eu!