Book Review: “Never Die” by Rob J. Hayes

This is the sort of book I rarely read: a fantasy-quest type of story. But it came recommended by Peter Martuneac, so I figured I would give it a try.

Am I ever glad I did! This is a fantastic tale of adventure set in an ancient Eastern kingdom known as Hosa. The book begins with the death of the protagonist, a warrior named Itami Cho. But Cho is returned to life by an extremely creepy child called Ein.

Ein explains that he has been granted the power to restore the dead to life by a shinigami, a type of malevolent spirit. He is on a quest to kill the Emperor of Ten Kings, and to do so, he is recruiting various “heroes” by returning them to life and binding them to his will, forcing them to aid him. In exchange, he promises to restore them to true life when their mission is complete.

It’s a sort of “Dirty Dozen” scenario, as Ein and Cho assemble a team of strong, though not always honorable, fighters. Together they journey across the land of Hosa, fighting all sorts of enemies, from common thieves to demonic entities known as “yokai”; monstrous perversions of living forms into hideous abominations.

What really makes the book great are the characters. Besides the humble and valorous Itami Cho, you’ve got the skilled-but-untrustworthy bandit Emerald Wind, the powerful, hard-drinking “Iron Gut” Chen, and the wise Master, Bingwei Ma.  In addition to these “heroes” (which is what Ein calls them, though some are less heroic than others), there are a host of other supporting characters, including a leprous sharpshooter who joins the party despite still being mortal.

Late in the book, we also meet a military leader called the Steel Prince, and his strategist, Art of War, a mysterious woman whose features are hidden behind a robe and a mask. They’re not in the story much, but I really liked the dynamic between them. The Prince is a brave and charismatic leader who unites his army, and Art of War is the brains behind the scenes, planning strategic maneuvers. Both are essential to the functioning of the entire force.

Ultimately, the book is a story about heroism. Not just about the heroes per se, but also about what it takes to be heroic. In different ways, all the main characters perform great feats of courage and sacrifice, while still coming across as very relatable and human.

It’s a dark and violent tale right from the get-go, with plenty of extremely well-written and bloody battle scenes. The story moves at a brisk pace, and the dialogue and character development are balanced perfectly with the action scenes.

Simply put, this is a marvelous book. I generally don’t bother writing reviews for books that already have hundreds of reviews on Amazon, but this one was so good, I just had to. Even if you’re not big on Epic Fantasy, you should still give this one a try. It’s one of those books that grabs you at the start and never lets go. I’m very grateful to Peter for bringing it to my attention, and I unreservedly recommend it to anyone who likes a good story.

[Audio version of this review available below.]

6 Comments

  1. In reading your reviews, and the descriptions of SF & Fantasy books entered into the two self-published book blog-offs, it almost seems that dark, graphic violent laced stories are the table stakes for books in these genre these days. While I have nothing against graphic violence — in books — on a moral basis, a lot of graphic violence in not to my tastes. Stories require conflict, but the reliance on graphic descriptions of violence seems to me to be a cheap and easy way to pad out a story and shock people (who are probably numb to it from all the books they ‘ve read). But I’m probably in a minority on this issue.

    1. You’re right. I think a lot of this is probably due to the success of the “Game of Thrones” books, which (as I understand it, although I’ve not actually read it) was unusually violent, and since it was a hit, a lot of people have tried to copy the formula.

      In general, I’m with you; I don’t really care for lots of violence and darkness. That said, in this particular book, it “fits”. That is, it doesn’t feel like it was tacked on for cheap shock value, but is an integral part of the story.

  2. A little undecided about this – on the one hand, the basic premise sounds interesting as do the characters, but then there’s the “dark and violent” bit. Must be my age, but lately I find I struggle with reading and watching stuff ilke that. Having said that, I might still give this a go as your review has piqued my interest 😊

    1. I’m the same way. I have less and less tolerance for dark and violent fiction the older I get. Frankly, I wouldn’t have expected to enjoy this one as much as I did, but I guess it just seemed to be “right” for the story and setting, so I could accept it.

      If you do read it, I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

  3. Glad you liked it! I always get nervous making enthusiastic recommendations because I know my tastes tend to skew towards the minority lol. I might have to re-read this one if it’s still in my Kindle library, it was so good. Iron Gut Chen was probably my favorite character.

    1. Thanks again for recommending it. I learned this weekend that there’s a sequel called “Pawn’s Gambit” about Art of War. I’ve downloaded it and am looking forward to reading it.

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