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.)