Review: Never Die by Rob J. Hayes - 8.75/10*
Review 1 - 8.5/10*
by Calvin Park.
Never Die is an exhilarating read. It’s excellently paced, keeping things moving from the very first pages. The novel is difficult to describe; a creepy boy named Ein brings warriors back from the dead to join him on a mission. Sometimes those warriors help him to kill other warriors so he can in turn bring them back and have them bound to him. It’s what we would get if Dynasty Warriors and Pokemon had a creepy book baby.
I’ve already mentioned the pacing, which is something that truly shines in this novel. Hayes starts the action early and never really lets up. There are certainly moments when you can catch your breath, but just the right amount before another battle begins or something about the plot deepens. It’s quite well done and it means the pages keep turning, making this already shorter book go by very quick. In the midst of this quick pacing, however, Hayes still manages to flesh out his characters well. Each of the main heroes feels real and alive, not a servant of the plot but someone whose story has intersected with the story that Hayes is telling. Again, it’s very well done and Hayes deserves praise for managing to keep the plot moving while simultaneously allowing for character depth. The setting, inspired by east Asian countries and folklore—particularly Japan—is very engaging. To have a fast-paced plot with excellent characters all in a unique setting makes this book an absolute stand out. I also need to give Hayes accolades for having well-developed voices for his characters. Each character felt different, whether we were seeing a scene from their perspective or observing them from another character’s perspective. I really appreciate that, and it can sometimes be difficult to achieve, especially in a shorter book that has a fairly large cast.
There were a couple things that I felt could have been improved. While I loved the uniqueness of the setting, I did feel like the worldbuilding was at times a little general. I would have liked to have seen a little more depth there. Honestly though, I can’t really complain as one does have to keep in mind that this is not a huge tome where pages and pages can be devoted to deep worldbuilding. A bigger issue, for me, was the ending. Without giving spoilers, the big reveal at the end left me with more questions than it answered. Don’t misunderstand, it was foreshadowed well and didn’t feel out of left field. It’s just that I still haven’t quite figured out some of the details of how it worked.
Rob Hayes’ stand-alone has wonderful characters in a unique setting. It’s a great introduction to Rob’s work if you haven’t read any of his other novels. A fast-paced page-turner that easily keeps one up at night. If you enjoy unique fantasy settings, fast-paced action, and fun characters, this one is for you.
Review 2 - 8.5/10*
by Caitlin G
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Itami Cho is a warrior for hire known as Whispering Blade. At least, she was, until she was finally killed in battle, cut down by a bandit army. But that's just the beginning of her story, because shortly after dying, Whispering Blade finds herself "mostly alive" again, thanks to the mysterious power of a young boy named Ein. Ein has been given an impossible task by a shinigami, a god of death: kill the despot Emperor of Ten Kings. To complete his mission, Ein is putting together a group of legendary warriors. But to make sure that they are committed to the task, Ein's team must be bound to him through his magic - which means that first, they must die. Whispering Blade agrees to Ein's quest, which means she must confront and defeat several of the world's most renowned fighters before they are ready to storm the capital city and defeat the Emperor himself.
Reading NEVER DIE felt like reading the book equivalent of a wire works martial arts film, and I mean that in the best possible way. This is a world of warriors, where people commonly go by monikers like Whispering Blade or Death's Echo. It has that heightened folktale kind of feel, where it's like "our" world but just a little bit more. Every warrior has their "technique," an ability that is theirs and theirs alone - one can make his skin impervious to harm while another can use her voice as a kind of sonic wave. All of these abilities are used to great effect in the fighting set pieces, which are the highlight of the book. The descriptions are incredibly cinematic, allowing you to see every cross of the blade, feel the tension in the standoff as master warriors evaluate their moves.
One of my few complaints is that after a bit, the narrative did begin to feel slightly repetitive. While I loved the individual set pieces, there are a number of them: every hero recruited has their own fight, not to mention fights with supernatural creatures on the journey to the final showdown in the capital city. At a certain point, I was ready to be off the road and at the finale. And while I knew and loved a lot about Whispering Blade and Emerald Wind, I wish I had gotten to know some of the later characters better, particularly the Master of Sun Valley, the last member to join the team.
All that being said, this is still a book I highly recommend. There was great camaraderie between the various members of the party, banter that started out disgruntled as each person came to terms with the fact that they were now "mostly alive" and traveling with people they didn't necessarily trust. Friendship born of battle soon begins to blossom, creating a team that will put their lives on the line to make sure that the mission succeeds. Fans of films in the vein of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON should definitely check this out, as well as those who like action-driven books in general.
This was originally posted on Realms of My Mind.
Review 3 - 9/10*
by Sean Barrs
To people that don’t read much self-published fiction, Rob J. Hayes is here to prove exactly why you should!
This is a great price of fantasy writing. It reminds me of Mortal Kombat, as the characters duel to prove who is the best warrior. And they are quite a memorable cast, pulled together to serve the whims of an undead boy. Cho, the Whispering Blade, is as quiet as she is deadly. Zhihao Cheng, the Emerald Wind, can project images of himself and sneak up behind his opponent to deadly effect. Iron Gut Chem has impenetrable skin, Death Echo is a fiercely accurate leprosy riddled sniper and Bingwei Ma is a master of unarmed combat. They are a motley band, but they are all great heroes forced to fight for a cause not their own.
As such, the characters really drove this story forward. It’s Asian inspired and captures a warrior culture based on honour and reputation against a backdrop of feuding warlords. And because of how much reputation these five have, they have been bound together to fight for the little boy’s desires. He wants to see the Emperor dead, and they must oblige. He has brought them all back from the dead with necromantic magic, and if they stray away from him, they will perish. The price of freedom, a new life, must be bought with the blood he desires. It’s quite an interestingly awkward dynamic, legendary heroes being ordered around by an eight-year-old undead boy.
There are many funny moments as characters that clearly don’t belong together in the same band, clash and bang heads together. At one point, I thought a big fight would erupt and they’d all just kill each other (again). But somehow, yes somehow, they manage to crush their differences and work together. And it’s quite compelling. They all have completely different motives, values and outlooks on life, but they were able to come together to get the job done. And considering how volatile a few of them are, that’s a real achievement. It was hilarious at times, but it was also very tense with a plot that explodes into a dramatic conclusion that delivers everything it promises.
I would even go as far as to say that the book had a certain cinematic quality to it. I would genuinely love to watch an anime movie about these characters and this plot; it would be fantastic because it’s such a slick piece of writing, with katanas flying everywhere and monsters making things difficult. It would work so well on the screen. The cover really captures the feel of it all. It’s a real strong piece of awesomeness that will appeal directly to your inner geek. There’s some brilliantly described combat scenes and the action is constant. There’s never a dull moment. The story was immediate and engaging, I read it in one sitting. Real good stuff, I can’t fault it whatsoever.
So, I really do recommend this one; it’s quite a quick read but it’s lots of fun!
Many thanks to the author for sending me an ARC. Never Die is out on January 29th and can be pre-ordered from Amazon here.