After reading a huge amount of fantasy by the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher, Robert Jordan and John Gwynne, I was yearning to sink my teeth into something different, something that would take my breathe away. After discovering some fantastic fantasy book bloggers, such as Benjamin from Literature and Lofi, and listening to Friends Talking Fantasy podcast, a book kept appearing on their recommendations, Never Die by Rob J. Hayes. I can see why it did.
Wow. Just wow. This book blew me away.
To begin with, I want to say it was a huge breath of fresh air to read a fantasy book that isn’t steeped in medieval western culture but instead deeply entrenched in Japanese lore and mythology, Wuxia and a huge dash of anime and Asian martial arts cinema action. As a huge lover and fan of the latter, this book was right in my ball park.
Cho, or Whispering Blade, wakes up in the aftermath of a battle to find a mysterious young boy next to her with a mission to assassinate the Emperor of the Ten Kings who rules by the sword. Along the way they will recruit other heroes to aid in this vital quest, but not all is at it seems.
This book moves like a freight train, it is brimming with energy! I really enjoyed the pacing, finding myself turning the pages eagerly, particularly in the battle scenes, which were written in concise and clear detail, emphasising the precision and deadliness of the characters skills and techniques. I found Rob’s prose fluid and at times poetic, particularly in the scenes between battles, where we learn more about our characters, their personalities, the codes they live by and their attitude towards the quest before them.
I found all the characters incredibly engaging and Rob does a fantastic job of drip feeding details of their past throughout the book, giving us more insight into their personality. We switch povs frequently and I love living in the heads of these heroes, discovering their hopes, fears and doubts. He really allows the characters to breathe, evolve and even though there are some companions we don’t meet until halfway through, each one is given a valid and exciting arc and the page time to shine. For instance a character called Zhihao, a bandit caught between two ideals, two worlds, is a riveting and delightful character to explore. I think he has the best character arc and his povs were among my favourite chapters. Iron Gut Chen was an absolute delight as well.
I can honestly say that the last few chapters of revelations and twists had me speechless, giving the ending of this book a riveting and satisfying conclusion. For me, Hayes never falters in his pacing, character engagement, prose and structure.
If you are wanting to try something new in the fantasy genre, a standalone novel that uses Eastern cultural and societal values as the backdrop to an exciting and often violent quest, than you would be remiss not to give Rob J Hayes’ Never Die a go.
A unequivocal 5/5 for me.