Never Dieby Published 29 Jan 2019
|Publisher||Rob J. Hayes|
Never Die Ebook Description
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Ein is on a mission from God. A God of Death.
Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight year old boy to render the judgement of a God. Ein knows he can't do it alone, but the empire is rife with heroes. The only problem; in order to serve, they must first die.
Ein has four legendary heroes in mind, names from story books read to him by his father. Now he must find them and kill them, so he can bring them back to fight the Reaper's war.
Never Die Reviews
I received an uncorrected proof copy of Never Die in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Rob J. Hayes for the opportunity. Contains minor spoilers.
The tale begins with an assault on Kaishi City. The notorious bandit Flaming Fist is searching for his missing daughter and will literally burn, and his accompanying rebel army will destroy anyone in his path until he has found her. On the opposite side of this deadly and bloody ruckus, we are introduced to Whispering Blade (Itami Cho) who has taken an oath amongst her comrades to protect the city. She is one of the finest warriors in Hosa, and she carries two swords, one of which she is forbidden to draw. After certain complications, the character who seems like she will be the book's main protagonist from the beginning is brutally murdered in typical Hayes fashion. Nothing but darkness remains for her now... Unless there happened to be a creepy ten-year-old, scarf-wearing, dark-eyed child around who is somehow able to return heroes from death. As long as they agree to help him on an assassination mission that has been assigned to him by a God of Death, of course.
Never Die was an interesting read and is unique in the dark fantasy scene. Hayes, a British author, has created an expansive, impressive and engrossing fantasy world which is inspired by Japanese/ Oriental history and folklore. It features a whole plethora of creatures and otherworldly beings such as yokai, jikininki, oni, etc... The descriptions of these monstrosities are colourful and heightened by Hayes' prose but I did take to Google occasionally to review what they were recorded as originally in Oriental mythology and it did add layers to my experience. This mid-length novel features some elements of Hayes' tinged grimdark but it is closer to the wire-fu movies (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) oriental history cinema (Red Cliff, Once Upon a Time in China) in tone, mixed with an almost perfect mix of humour, likeable main characters and camaraderie. These players include a bandit, a leper, a wushu master, and a gentleman who would never lose at sumo-wrestling.
I had a genuinely positive time throughout the majority of this book, however, for about 20% I was worried if it was going to be too formulaic with the team walking, fighting a demon, meeting someone to have a dual with, repeat - which did happen a couple of times. A few of the set-pieces are as if they've been taken from a level of Mortal Kombat, an end of act fight from Streets of Rage, a boss fight from The Legend of Zelda, and colourful fight scenes straight out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It is an interesting mix. Although all of the above are frequent throughout, Hayes doesn't forget how to write battles, sieges, and final confrontations.
Hayes writes stunning culminations when all the weaved threads combine and the final piece is presented. I do not believe that anything written in his books is by coincidence. The ending was intense and great. The pinnacles of the showdowns were presented during this period. The characters were deep for a book of sub 300 pages and the relationships they created and their banter was marvellous. Hayes often has twists in his tales and in Never Die there were two big reveals. I guessed the first one at about 60% - the second I had no idea about and it staggered me like a punch from the Master of the Sun Valley's would. Hayes is releasing books at a remarkable rate and I've yet to find a book of his that I haven't enjoyed. Keep it up, Sir.
ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
This review is quite long but the short version is this: Never Die is currently one of the three best self-published books I’ve ever read. If you still need more convincing, read further.
Joining The Mirror’s Truth by Michael R. Fletcher and We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson, Never Die is the third self-published book that currently holds a full 5-star rating from me. If you’re familiar with Hayes’s Where Loyalties Lie, which I assume is where most of you know about Rob Hayes, the first thing you should know about Never Die is that it’s completely a different kind of book from his Best Laid Plans duology. There was far less swearing, there was no romance, no rape, no sex scenes, no pirates, and no naval battles; other than the action sequences being bloody, there’s little similarity between the two works. Never Die is more like Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold infused with Samurai, Shinigami, Japanese lore and mythology, Wuxia, and anime-inspired battles in an ancient Japanese setting. It’s a book heavily influenced by anime like Sword of the Stranger, Japanese manga that involved yokai, and Eastern martial arts movies. Honestly speaking, Hayes has been talking about this book to me for almost a year now. My expectations were high because this sounded like a book that would definitely work for me and even then, Never Die was still able to fulfill that high level of expectation; the last 20% of the book even exceeded my hopes, but I’ll talk more about that later in the review. Suffice it to say that it was almost as if Never Die was written specifically for me so that I could embrace my love for SFF novels and Japanese manga/anime at once. Just like The Fifth Empire of Man, this book ended up becoming another book written by Hayes that I finished in a day, specifically in two sittings; it was that thoroughly captivating.
“Some fight for honour, and some for reward.
Some for glory, and others for a cause.
Some fight for freedom, from tyranny and hate.
And some fight for love, not for a person but a name.
With death as their guide, their companion and goal.
They cross all Hosa, spirit, flesh, and soul.
Hounded by demons, from the pages of lore.
What starts with a whisper, must end with a roar.”
Ein is on a quest given by a shinigami. He’s tasked with killing the Emperor of Ten Kings, the ruler of Hosa. In order to do that, he has to find and bind four legendary heroes; the problem with this is that the four legendary heroes have to be dead first so that Ein can revive them and bind them to his will. From the blurb alone, I think you should be able to guess that Never Die is a quest-oriented story. I honestly thought the plot was going to be predictable, a simple recruitment and assassination kind of story. Although this was mostly true, I was still blindsided by how well-crafted the last 20% of the book was which, again, I’ll get into later. However, even though most of the plot progression was simple, there was so much more meaning and depth to the narrative. Never Die wonderfully tells a story that encompasses justice, friendship, retribution, honor, and oaths; there were plenty of meaningful and hopeful moments in a story about life and death that’s supposed to be dark, and I personally couldn’t be more pleased with it.
“The difference between the rich and the powerful was always made so much clearer by walls. The rich hid behind them, the powerful tore them down.”
The strong execution of the plot was only possible because the main characters were so distinctive from each other and each POV was compelling to read. Itami Cho, Ein, Zhihao, Chen Lu, Bingwei Ma, and Roi Astara were a group of misfits and unlikely heroes that shouldn’t even be able to work together but somehow, in these characters, I found heartwarming friendship and inspiring heroism. It didn’t take long for me to warm up to them. Each character's personality really came to life and every new character’s introduction immediately made me care about them and curious to learn more about them. Seeing the gradual bonding of the main characters was unexpected and quite wholesome to read. I also loved how the relationship between Cho and Ein reminded me of Nanashi and Kotaro from Sword of the Stranger. Plus, same as Nanashi, Cho has also vowed to never unsheathe her other katana—War—and in my opinion, her conviction greatly enhanced the compelling narrative of her character. My personal favorite characters from the book were definitely Itami Cho and Zhihao. Cho’s determination to uphold her Oath was so honorable; she really tried her best to do what’s right even though she has regrets regarding her unfulfilled oath in her past. As for Zhihao, out of all the characters, he fits the unlikely and reluctant hero bill the best. Out of every character he created, Hayes developed these two characters the most and he did a spectacular job with it.
“It takes a lifetime of evil to be a villain, and only one moment of good to be a hero.”
As far as I know, Hayes is not an Asian but I, as an Asian reader and a self-proclaimed anime/manga enthusiast, genuinely think that Hayes captured the essence of Japanese anime and Eastern martial arts with swift justice. The Japanese and anime inspirations in this book are abundant and they filled me with so much joy. I loved the portrayal of scenery in the book: the deep orange color of sunset evoked to paint the characters’ surroundings; the bamboo forest that reminded me of Arashiyama in Kyoto; a world full of spirits and yokai like Hone-onna, mokumokuren, Jikininki, or even Oni; the usage of weaponry and techniques, such as Kanata and Eastern martial arts like Wushu that Hayes chose to implement. Gratification is the only word I can use to describe my feelings towards the world-building of this novel. Never Die is a standalone book that really concluded brilliantly, but should Hayes ever decide to revisit this setting there is a lot of room for another story in the same world, as readers will see hinted at in the world-building. Also, there were a few nice nods to Chinese history, such as The Romance of the Three Ages (obviously inspired by The Romance of the Three Kingdoms) and a genius tactician that goes by the name Art of War (Inspired by Sun Tzu’s Art of War.) to name a few.
Hayes’s prose has always flowed smoothly; it’s simple, engaging, vivid, and immensely accessible. Never Die was no exception, but it was even better, clearly showing that Hayes’s prose has improved even further. Surprisingly, the book was also philosophical and sometimes even poetic, something I didn’t get at all from reading his Best Laid Plans duology. I barely highlighted any passages in Best Laid Plans, but here? There were a lot of well-written sentences that spoke volumes with few words so that even the mere act of unsheathing a katana held incredible weight. Although Hayes’s prose may not be beautiful like that of Brian Staveley or Patrick Rothfuss, it was still written effectively with brutal efficiency, and the words in Never Die disintegrated into imagery with ease. The settings and situations both frantic and calm were vividly described so that every scene was completely immersive. To me, that is a sign of a great storytelling.
“One can either let their losses define them, or define those losses by what is left to them.”
Even after all these praises, I still must say that the one way in which Hayes has clearly improved is in his writing of action scenes. Never Die displayed a different sort of combat than Hayes’s previous works; most of the battles in this book feature close-quarter combat, and there was also plenty of incredible magic/yokai on savage display. Personally, I think these scenes were superbly written and even better than the battles in The Fifth Empire of Man, which were already great. Up until the 80% mark of the book, his story was a 4-star read for me; however, the last 20% instantaneously catapulted it to a 5-star rating with ease. Hayes unsheathed his blade to unleash fatal Battōjutsu in all the action sequences in this book; the results were swift, precise, and deadly. But the climax sequences in this book was the section that really put Rob Hayes’s skill as an author into the spotlight. By invoking elation in the thrill of the final battles, Hayes orchestrated an Ougi that delivered a crimson requiem to conclude the Reaper’s war with finesse. The buildup of the cinematic set pieces was felt, the roar of battles was seen, and the clashing of steel was heard. In less than 300 pages, Hayes was able to include plenty of engaging duel scenes, exhilarating big battles against yokai, and pulse-pounding large-scale war with a myriad of blood-spattered scenes; and he did it all without neglecting crucial characterizations. To sum it up quickly, the effectiveness of the devastation and destruction unleashed in the final 20% of the novel were like watching the type of breathtaking final battle scene found in my favorite kind of anime; truly a relentless barrage of palpable tension and emotions.
“For some, a sword is an extension of themselves, and thus any sword will do. For others the sword and wielder are one, two halves of one soul, and neither will ever be complete without the other.”
I don’t know what else I need to say to convince you to read this incredible book. Just pre-order this and be pleasantly surprised when it arrives at your doorstep or on your e-reader; I honestly can’t wait to hold and reread this book in its resplendent physical form. For a relatively short book, it’s unbelievable how much gravitas is packed within it; almost everything about this novel just worked for me. Glorious, heroic, inspiring, brutal, at times hilarious, but most of all incredibly unforgettable; Never Die currently holds the crown for being one of the three best self-published novels I’ve ever read and I am grateful to have read it.
If you love wonderful artworks, please check out the talented and underrated Felix Ortiz’s portfolio (www.artstation.com/felixortiz). Not only he’s responsible for this gorgeous cover art, (as well as the current header image for my blog, Novel Notions) he’s also overall a really great dude. Lastly, I’d like to point out the awesome typography and cover design by Shawn T. King (www.stkkreations.com). Shinigami bless you for your great works and for not sticking to the all too common and overly used Cinzel font.
Official release date: January 29th, 2019
You can pre-order this book by clicking this link!
You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
Wuxia is violent and anti-Confucian. But also fun.
Hayes delivers a thrilling take on classic principles and conventions of wuxia while casting them in a new light (and in a secondary world based on east-Asian influences). Wandering warriors are mostly, but not fully, alive. Some follow a code of honour, others don’t care about such nonsense.
A mysterious murdered eight-year-old boy - Ein sets on a mission to kill Emperor of Ten Kings. He can’t do it alone. He needs the help of heroes, preferably legendary ones. To serve him, they must first die.
A plot summary barely conveys the extraordinary energy of this book. At first glance, it sounds like a simple story. Ein recruits the team and they confront the bad guy in an explosive final battle. Such a description, while sound, doesn’t do the justice to the characters and their dynamics. Never Die blends reversals, unexpected meetings, betrayals, cliffhangers and lovingly described combat.
Each character has a special skill (in some cases reflected by his/her name - Whispering Blade, Iron Gut) crucial to the success of the team. Each feels distinct and memorable. I especially liked Bingwei-Ma and Itami-Cho, probably two most honourable team members. That said, others were intriguing and likable as well. Iron Gut and Emerald Wind's banter brought life and humor to the pages, while Death's Echo behaviour rose many questions.
I will stop here because Never Die is so full of nail-biting twists and turns that I don’t want to spoil the experience. For me, it’s a fantastically entertaining piece of suspenseful action storytelling with a killer ending.
Do I need other reasons to read this book beyond the fact that the cover is pretty and rumor has it the story is heavily inspired by Japanese anime?
To quote Hamlet, act III, scene iii, line 92, “no”
The book surrounds the exploits of an enigmatic boy named Ein who was murdered years ago and is now on a mission from the god of death to kill the Emperor of Ten Kings. We don't know any of the backstory of Ein or why the emperor is his target, but what we do know is that in order to achieve this murderous task, he must recruit four heroes or champions to assist him in defeating this seemingly unconquerable figure. Recruiting these heroes does come with a big catch, you see they have to die first so that they can be bound to him. One by one Ein must create a scenario where each of the heroes he thinks can help him will die and then subsequently be brought back to life by him using the power he has been granted by the god of death. Pretty original plot line for a fantasy story huh? I thought so too. Needless to say some of these heroes don't exactly cooperate when Ein attempts to bring them into the fold of his band of warriors. That whole dying thing kind of puts a huge damper on things it seems. First there is Itami Cho, The Whispering Blade, who is among the quickest sword fighters of the realm and attacks with blinding speed and proficiency. Next is Zhihao Cheng, The Emerald Wind, who can literally transmit images of himself in different locations so as to confuse his enemy and then close in with the fatal blow while his foe is still trying to decipher who the real one is. Then we have Iron Gut Chen, who as his name suggests has impenetrable skin that can withstand virtually any sword thrust or physical attack without being hurt. Bingwei Ma rounds out Ein's dream team and is a master of hand to hand combat, so much so that he has often defeated heavily-armed men with stunning ease just with his bare hands.
These are the warriors that Ein has selected and recruited to attempt the unenviable task of breaching the Emperor's military defenses and hopefully killing him. Ein has a huge problem though because as with any group where there are various egos vying for supremacy, these legendary warriors do not like each other and don't mind saying so at every opportunity. Throughout the journey to try to hunt down the emperor, there are constant skirmishes and quarrels as each believes that their role in the group is more important than the others, leading to some interesting confrontations. Both Cheng and Chen are essentially legends in their own minds at times. That's not to say that they aren't powerful and skilled fighters, but there is definitely a sense that their reputations may be a bit overblown to say the least. Cho and Bingwei Ma on the other hand are obviously not only the deadliest of the crew (at least in my opinion) but are also the level-headed half of the four who are often needed when things get a bit out of control. The question remains however, can this carefully selected band of egotistical warriors meld themselves into the cohesive fighting force needed to take down a powerful emperor? And will we ever know who Ein really is and why exactly he wants the emperor dead in the first place? So many intriguing questions arise that do get answered for the most part, but not first without the heavy price of blood, battle, and death.
I would like to applaud Rob J. Hayes for delivering another brilliant book that is also very different in style from the usual fantasy offerings we see. Here we have a truly unique fantasy world heavily influenced by the "warrior code" of Asian history and culture. Yet even with a refreshingly unique style of voice and setting, I still felt that at its heart this was very much a fantasy book. The fantastical elements were always present even though they were delivered in a non-conventional way. The originality of needing someone to die to recruit them into your team of warriors was so expertly handled and is something that I hadn't seen used before. The whole time I was reading NEVER DIE I kept thinking, what is he going to throw at me next? At no time while I was reading this book could I predict what might occur. I also liked the fact that there were two major dilemmas within the plot. The first was the actual mission to attempt to murder the emperor, but the brilliance comes when you put together four people who absolutely need to work together and who REALLY can't stand one another. So I was constantly guessing whether Ein could even keep the four of them from tearing each other apart long enough to even try to carry out their ultimate goal. Another aspect that I found enjoyable was the incredibly strong female character Cho. She's obviously the brains of the crew and is also a wicked deadly fighter. I was continually blown away by how resilient and brave she was in the face of insurmountable odds. For me this book was so fun to read and a wonderful blend of quest fantasy, ancient Asian folklore, adventure fiction, and a touch of grimdark for good measure. Hayes has just solidified that he as an author who is constantly reinventing himself and writing fantasy that is wholly original while also damned entertaining. NEVER DIE is a book that will take you on a full-throttle ride and then leave you wanting about 200 more pages to read when all is done. It's simply that great and I loved every page. The book is due to be released on January 29, 2019, so put in your preorders now because you are going to want to read it as soon as it becomes available, trust me. This is a can't miss story filled with characters who leap off the page and grab you by the throat.