It struck me then that this was as much a heist as any tale of high adventure. Except we were conspiring to deposit money into the vaults of any bank that would take it. I love my job.
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The world presented in The Dragon’s Banker is one that fascinates, containing just enough information to set it apart, to spark curiosity, and make a reader desperate to learn more. Intricate, engaging world-building has always been a dear love of mine, and Warren more than satisfied on this front. He writes with a deft hand, with subtle mentions of wizard academies, alchemy, and dwarven vaults. However, what truly makes this book shine is the narrator and protagonist: a humble banker.
Sailor Kelstern, a merchant banker, has taken on a new client. His client, however, prefers to leave his affairs in the hands of his daughter, Lady Arkelai, who acts as an intermediary between the two. Sailor is tasked with a challenge that rivals the difficulty of any high adventure: to take an utterly obscene quantity of money and convert it all into the new fiat notes the country of Borreos is moving to… and all within two years. His client’s wealth could easily beggar queens and kings. Typically, a project like this would take many years, possibly decades, given that all of said wealth is in the form of precious metals and gems. Although dragons are all but immortal, his client has little patience. As Arkelai puts it, he very much “lives in the present.”
Perhaps the smoke made my tongue looser, or perhaps being in the presence of so much glimmering finery lightened my head. In either case, I suffered a brief moment of honesty that cracked the masks we all wear, even to ourselves.
As head of Kelstern Merchant Banking, Sailor Kelstern holds a dear (and possibly unhealthy) love of all things money. The sound of silver coins clicking together forms a symphony to his ears. He and his draconic client have quite a bit in common at the end of the day; their greed for gold knows no bounds. There is one key difference between Sailor and the dragon, however: Kelstern is kind.
I dropped the coin in his hand. A silver penny—not a full mark but more than he would have made in several days of running messages. His father was recovering from an injury sustained working dock freight, and that silver would go a long way.
This established early on in the novel, when he chooses to take on a risky client purely out of kindness. When an alchemist comes to him with a risky venture, Sailor sacrifices sleep to research the markets and ensure he can turn a profit. This is just the sort of man Sailor is. Whether his clients be merchants, humble farmers, or even elves… he’s there to help.
Unlike most elves in fantasy, the elves of The Dragon’s Banker are second class citizens who are often discriminated against. Jessum is just such an elf – but that doesn’t matter at all to Sailor, who ensures that Jessum is able to build and captain his own ship in order to fulfill a lifelong dream. One scene in particular stands out: when Jessum is challenged on his status as captain, Sailor immediately pulls out the legal documentation to support him. Although he is famous for this charcoal sketches as an artist, Jessum is still an elf. In this world, virtually no one would go to such great lengths for him. Although Sailor fully understands what it means to Jessum, he doesn’t consider his actions strange; he’s very matter of fact about the whole thing. Elves often refer to themselves as the wind, and rarely staying in one place for long. As such, it would have been easy for the author to use this as an excuse to remove an unreliable variable. Gratifyingly, this was not done. Instead, Jessum is used to further the plot and characterization.
Although this novel is on the shorter side, it nevertheless contains several highly-developed stand out characters. Although Dahli Frost is referred to as Sailor’s secretary, she takes on a much larger role. Due to the world’s omnipresent sexism, they must downplay her intelligence and abilities. She would make a fantastic subject for a stand-alone novel following her after The Dragon’s Banker, and I would have loved to get to know her even better.
Were it not for the old-fashioned ideas about women in banking that the moneyed interests of Borreos still clung to, Dahli would be a partner the same as the others. I had trained all three. And to pull this off, it would take all of our skill.
Warren places a heavy focus on drawing the reader in to Sailor’s perspective, making the challenges he faces seem much nearer and more present. His thoughts on markets and a debt-based economy become personal, such that each setback punches the reader in the gut. When he manages to twist a disaster into a profit, the reader, too, feels his elation. As the various economic forces of Borreos move to box Sailor in at every turn, the writing creates a sense of claustrophobia and paranoia… particularly when it becomes apparent that the causes may well stem from his agreement with Lady Arkelai.
These conflicts are exacerbated by the difficulties in working with a client who is not human. Dragons don’t understand the intricacies of human culture, and thus the debt-based economy we’ve built also don’t translate well. The pressure to perform is greatly increased due to this, as the excuses or explanations Sailor might bring to his defense fall on deaf ears. Lady Arkelai’s father simply does not understand the challenges or difficulty of the task, and thus will not understand why Sailor can’t simply do it.
The tension this generates is incredible, nearly overwhelming. It reminded me of my personal experiences in IT and project management; so often, things wholly out of your control go wrong, leaving you to make the best of a bad situation. Sailor’s ability to turn these conflicts around to his own benefit is even more impressive due to this.
The Dragon’s Banker is a relatively light read, but one I would recommend to just about everyone. It’s fun, wholesome, and overall positive. When the pressure finally releases at the novel’s conclusion, it’s like a cozy cup of cocoa at the end of a long and stressful day.
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