AUTHOR’S WEBSITE: https://www.robjhayes.co.uk/
SERIES: (Stand alone)
PUBLISHED: January 29, 2019 (Self-published)
GENRE: Dark fantasy, Epic fantasy
Ein is on a mission from God. A God of Death.
Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight year old boy to render the judgement of a God. Ein knows he can’t do it alone, but the empire is rife with heroes. The only problem; in order to serve, they must first die.
Ein has four legendary heroes in mind, names from story books read to him by his father. Now he must find them and kill them, so he can bring them back to fight the Reaper’s war.
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What starts with a whisper, must end with a roar.
Ein has been given a task by a god of death: gather heroes of legend to end the life of the Emperor of Ten Kings. However, in order to do so, he must kill his companions to bind them to his cause to carry out his will. As they venture across Hosa towards the city of Jieshu, the seat of the Emperor, these heroes not only have to battle each other’s egos, but also dangerous creatures of myth that bar their path. Gathering aid and allies along the way, will they be able to complete a task that has been deemed impossible?
Holy hell, was this a thrilling whirlwind of an adventure! With action that begins in chapter one, and literally does not abate until the final page, it became almost impossible for me to put this book down. At its core, Never Die is a story of life and death, vengeance and justice, and of the oaths, ideals, and morals we as mankind hold dear in our hearts. It’s a story of second chances, and choosing the legacy we decide to leave behind, shining light on the fact that villains can indeed become heroes. Friendship and camaraderie are some of the lighter aspects, added in just the right amounts at just the right times, that add an airy tone to the otherwise heavy content. With strong Japanese influence and use of different myths and folklore, I was completely consumed right from the start, and I can honestly say that I have yet to read anything quite like this.
There simply isn’t any other way to begin discussing Never Die without first introducing the amazingly diverse cast of characters Hayes has created, each so distinct and beautifully crafted. Ein, a mysterious boy and collector of heroes, who we really don’t know much about, other than he was set forth on a path of death by a shinigami. Itami Cho, The Whispering Blade, reserved and renowned Shintei swordswoman, oath taker and oath breaker. Zhihao Cheng (my favorite!), The Emerald Wind, bandit and self-proclaimed villain, who doesn’t believe one act of goodness can cleanse him of a lifetime of depravity. Chen Lu, Iron Gut, seeker of glory, and famous for skin as tough as steel with an ample belly that can withstand almost anything. Bingwei Ma, The Master of Sun Valley, undefeated unarmed wushu master who refuses to take a life. Roi Astara, Death’s Echo, leper and crackshot that fights from afar and kills for the greater good. With a relatively large cast for a standalone story, the author skillfully breathes life into each of these characters. Shifting focus per chapter, accompanied by a slightly different tone, we’re given insight into the characters’ personalities, wants, and needs without things being explicitly clarified. As each hero joins the team, it’s easy to sense the change in dynamics, and as time continues there’s a real sense of companionship that develops, despite their egos, paving the way for welcomed banter, humor, and profound loyalty.
In addition to tremendous characters, I thought it was brilliant how the environment plays a direct role in the action that is encountered throughout. This isn’t just a tale where the heroes are beset by bandits or soldiers along their journey, but instead are barraged by a whole variety of monstrous spirits that seem at home in the settings they’re happened upon, progressively becoming more dangerous: vengeful lesser yokai slithering through the bamboo forests in the dead of night, a horrifying mizuchi with its countless eel heads barreling its way downriver, mythical hulking oni stomping through the great forest of Qing. The lands of Hosa are larger-than-life, and the threats hidden within are nothing less. The nail biting action is intense and never ceases; the fights well-chronicled, visceral, and best described as hyper-violent, chock full of plumes of blood and dismemberment. Upon reaching the city of Jieshu, we learn of the greatest threat to the people of Hosa, and the final battle is nothing but epic and heroic.
There were monsters in the world, Cho knew that well enough, but none were nearly so monstrous as man.
I don’t think I can truly express how much I love this book without accidentally spewing spoilers, so I’ll just finish this off by saying the ending is exactly how it should be. The final chapters had me at the edge of my seat and the revelations that are finally revealed are done so with perfection. I had so much fun reading Never Die and was genuinely sorry I had to turn the final page, as I wouldn’t mind spending some more time in this mystical world Hayes has created. There is some room for more building, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed in hopes that I’m able to return here someday! If you’re looking for a brutal and entertaining adventure, look no further – this is the one you want. I highly recommend.