Review: Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

For me, this has been a year of trying new authors.  Since January I have read books by 38 authors that I had never previously read, and the latest is Rob J. Hayes.  For those unfamiliar with this author, his Where Loyalties Lie was the winner of last year’s SPFBO, an annual contest for self-published fantasy books.  I was given a chance to read the ARC for his latest book, Never Die, which releases in January 2019, and I jumped at the chance.  This book did not disappoint.


This story follows a mysterious and creepy eight-year-old boy named Ein who is on a mission to kill the Emperor and needs help.  The problem is, those who join him (willingly or otherwise) have a vital prerequisite: they have to die first and then he brings them back to life in a state of being “mostly alive”.  (Side note: every time this phrase was used in the book it pleasantly reminded me of The Princess Bride – possibly the best movie ever – where Wesley was described as “mostly dead” after being tortured on The Machine.)  As a condition of Ein’s “magic” that re-animates them, they must always remain in close proximity to him.


Those who Ein recruits all have their own special talents and their names reflect their skills and abilities.  For example, Whispering Blade has an enchanted sword and Emerald Wind can instantly disappear and then reappear nearby.  These recruits are each formidable and superior fighting specimens, but they also do not play well together.


On the path that Ein takes as he seeks out more members for his squad they encounter several creatures that must be defeated.  They often barely succeed and require increasing levels of teamwork.  The fighting is certainly featured throughout the book and it is done brilliantly.


If this book ONLY featured great fight scenes, it would never stand out for me, but the real treat in this book is the cast.  The characters are extremely diverse in their temperament (ranging from carefree and irreverent to honorable and focused), motivation (from glory to a reward to doing what is right) and much more.  Some characters are joking with nearly every comment while others say very little at all.  It is the clever ways that these characters are revealed and interact with each other that makes this book so much fun to read.


As a final comment, the final reveal in the book was not what I was expecting.  There were some hints dropped along the way, and they gave a portion of the ending, but the full scope of what was going on came out of nowhere and was completely satisfying.


A beautiful and diverse cast of wonderful characters.  Intense fighting with expert warriors and awesome monsters.  Beautifully captured in an Asian world.  The whole gamut from humor to deep emotions.  This has something for everyone.  Well done Rob.  I will definitely read more of your books and think others should too! 4.4 / 5 stars.


(I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  This is my unbiased opinion.)


Review: The Sangrook Saga by Steve Thomas

Earlier this year, I read Klondaeg The Monster Hunter, also by the same author (Steve Thomas).  I enjoyed that book which is clearly meant to be humor fantasy, and I described that story as “at times, ridiculous, implausible and bizarre” and I gave it a 4.2 / 5 stars.  I’ve had Sangrook Saga for just as long, but have been on a run of reading books for different and new-for-me authors.  I wanted to get back to this one because 1) I enjoyed Klondaeg, 2) It is short read at just over 200 pages, and 3) It has been entered into this year’s SPFBO contest.

I discovered quickly two things, that this book reads more like a collection of seven short stories, and that this book is about as un-like Klondaeg as I could have imagined.  Where Klondaeg is silly and light-hearted, Sangrook is ominous and mysterious.  Where Klondaeg is packed with action and fight scenes, Sangrook is more intense with the *threat* of violence.  Where Klondaeg features a litany of creative monsters that the main character must face, Sangrook’s monsters are *people* who do some very vile and despicable things.


I was very much unprepared for the vast difference in the two books, and it was quite the culture shock for the first 1/4 of the book, but once I adjusted, I saw just how very well done each of the short stories was written.  By the end, when I saw how well the author tied together all the shorter stories into a larger narrative, I actually ended up liking it MORE than I liked Klondaeg.


Briefly, this book tells of various members of the Sangrook family and the deeds they have done to secure and strengthen their power and control.  Tales of necromancy, dark magic, betrayal and lust for power abound.  And each story is told in a bite-size serving.  Honestly, saying much more would rob future readers of the thrill of plot twists, unexpected heroes and surprising villains.  It simply should be read.


Make no mistake, there is very little here that resembles the fun, silly tone of Klondaeg, but it works extremely well in this book.  With that in mind, if you can handle some grim tales, I would highly recommend this surprisingly good book!  Well done Steve, and thanks for sending a copy in exchange for my honest review. 4.4 / 5 stars.

Review: The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

Since December 2017, I have read seven books to my 13-year-old son (Josh), or to my wife and son.  For the first six books, we have had a string of very good ones with scores ranging from 4.3 to 4.6+ out of 5.  I was looking for another book and asked Esme from for a suggestion.  She recommended The Ventifact Colossus (TVC) by Dorian Hart.  I reached out to the author and he sent us a signed copy with the warning “Watch out for turtles!”

The first chapter introduces us to one of the more likeable characters, Dranko, who we learn is a quick tongued, snarky pickpocket that previously served *unsuccessfully* as a priest.  He is also remarkable in that he has tusks since he is part-goblin, he has numerous scars across his face and body, and he might possibly have the ability to heal by channeling power from the god of Delioch.  Dranko receives a notice that he has been summoned to the tower of Archmage Abernathy, but little more information than that is initially given.

After being instantly teleported inside Abernathy’s tower, Dranko learns that he is one of eight seemingly random, common people who have been magically selected to save the world.  Abernathy explains that he needs their help to prevent the escape of an extremely powerful and extremely evil being who is imprisoned and currently being guarded by a team of archmagi.  The group of eight also includes a cocky wizard’s apprentice, a grizzled and grumpy mercenary, a priestess whose religious beliefs prohibit exposure to daylight, a young nobleman who often quickly (and often foolishly) rushes into action, a stoneworker who is the “strong quiet type” that can speak with and manipulate rocks (my personal favorite character), a meek baker’s son who can cook, and an older farm woman.  They all agree to help and are relocated to a house that will be their base of operations during the mission.

This book takes us through a series of mini-adventures, forcing our “heroes” to work as a team, rely on each other, and use their own emerging strengths.  There is plenty of action scenes, and our team faces opposition from many unusual sources including the turtles that the author warned about.

The greatest strength of the book is the characters.  This story blends eight unlikely heroes, none of which seem like the best choice to save the world.  As the story unfolds and as they find themselves in dangerous (and even lethal) situations, we start to glimpse some of the deeper qualities that each of the members of the group can offer.

This is an optimistic book with a healthy sprinkling of fun moments (often thanks to Dranko).  But it also has a charming quality to it, again thanks to the characters.  As we discover the backstories of the main characters, mostly who have risen from difficult pasts, it becomes increasingly easier to cheer on these gang of misfits that strangely work quite well with each other.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a book that I have read with my son, and he wants to share some of his thoughts in his own words: “I loved this book, and I agree that this book has a wondrous cast of characters.  (My favorite is probably Dranko.)  The book ventures into many classic tried-and-true fantasy tropes (such as a group of people embarking on an adventure) to quite unique ones (like being able to be taught by a mentor within dreams), and TVC manages to pull them all off in an exciting and enjoyable way.  The book often added new topics as if Dorian was throwing his creative ideas at a wall to see what stuck, and I love this. The book is fast paced and exciting, with an unexpected ending.  As a testament to my enjoyment of this book, readers should note that I was in a school production of Pride and Prejudice, and even with my busy schedule, I still would often be chomping at the bit to continue in the adventures of Abernathy’s band of misfits.  I tend to like books in a series less since there are often annoying cliffhangers, but TVC resolves most of its plot points, but still maintains a sense of mystery.  This book has great pacing, plot, character development, comedy, resolution, and setting.   I definitely recommend this book.”

To further emphasize what he just said, we jumped right into the second book (The Crosser’s Maze) and are already 80 pages into that one.  I suspect we might like this one even more.

This book was a family-friendly book that was full of twists and turns, surprises and hours of enjoyment.  Highly recommended!  4.5 / 5 stars.

Thanks again, Dorian for sending the first two books through TBRindr.  We appreciate it very much!