In honor of its impending release, we wanted to remind everyone about Rob Hayes’ new standalone, Never Die. What better way to do that than reviewing it again?
Never Die is hands down the best book Rob Hayes has written to date, and this is coming from someone who has really enjoyed everything I’ve read from him. It’s been a while since a book was so addictive that it kept me up late into the night because I needed to read just one more chapter, and it was an experience I relished with this book. It’s undoubtedly one of the best Asian-inspired fantasies I’ve read, as well as one of the best self-published works I’ve come across. His title as winner of SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off) 2017 is well deserved.
“Sometimes peace is no more than oppression in disguise.”
Admittedly, I haven’t read loads of Asian-inspired fantasy, but some of those I have read felt a bit gangly, as though the author wanted a different setting from your run-of-the-mill medieval European fantasy, but failed to put in the research to make the story feel natural. That was so not the case with Never Die. I could tell as I was reading that Rob had spent so much time and put so much research into making this story a believable one within its setting. The dress, the mannerisms, the names, and the mythology were all lovingly rendered and (in my humble opinion) very credible.
One of the stand-out elements for me was the mythological aspect. I’ve always been fascinated by mythology, but have had little exposure to any ancient mythology outside of the commonly presented Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Norse, and Celtic mythologies. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Japanese mythology as I read this book. (Side note: How cool are electronic books? The ability to highlight a term and dig into its meaning without actually putting said book down to do so is so insanely convenient.) Not only did I get to experience a very enjoyable story, I actually came away from it knowing more about a particular topic. That’s an amazing bonus. One additional thing I’d like to recognize Hayes for is his utilization of short chapters. Again, this is something more noticeable when reading the book in electronic format, but there’s something about finishing a chapter and then seeing that the next is only a few minutes long that makes it almost impossible to stop reading. He takes the theory of “just one more chapter” and really runs with it.
While I really love Hayes’ Best Laid Plans pirate duology, and enjoyed his most recent standalone, City of Kings, set in the same world, all three of these books went to very dark places that made me a bit uncomfortable. Again, I very much enjoyed them, but I had to distance myself from them a bit in my mind because of their content. Not so with Never Die. While still very much in keeping with Hayes’ signature violent action scenes that I came to love in Where Loyalties Lie, this book was remarkably clean in other respects. There was no real romance, which resulted in no sex scenes. There was very little vulgarity as compared to the other work I’ve read from Hayes. And best of all, there was no rape! Yay!
“You saved yourself, woman. All I did was pass you a sword.”
Also, while I loved the pirate-riddled world I first visited in the Best Laid Plans duology, I found this new Japanese-inspired world of Never Die a refreshing change. As I stated above, it was impeccably researched. This mixed with Hayes’ laid back prose to create a world that I could see and hear and smell as if the book was a portal to an enticing foreign land. It’s a world I would love to revisit. Also, there was an important addition made to this world not present in Best Laid Plans: honor. There was this respectable vein of honor running through this motley group of characters, even those who don’t view themselves as heroes. It was a refreshing change.
“Immortality is subjective. Your stories will always be told. Your legend will never die. But your body can.”
Speaking of characters, Hayes did a phenomenal job crafting this ragtag crew. We introduced to these heroes one by one, as they are unwillingly drafted into a seemingly impossible quest. As they don’t really know each other, we learn about them as they reveal things to the group. Very rarely is a team assembled like this where there are no core relationships already developed that are brought to the table, so I thought it was an interesting decision. I enjoyed how varied these characters were, in personality and physicality and fighting style. And the names! I love the titles awarded to each character based on some tactical strength they had developed and were famous for harnessing. We have characters with names like The Whispering Blade and The Emerald Breeze and Iron Gut and Death’s Echo. They’re such rich, evocative titles, and say such deep things about those who carry them. While I found all of the characters enjoyable, my absolute favorite was Itami Cho, the Whispering Blade. She was stoic but caring, badass but kind, and you could tell that she knew or suspected far more than she let on about their mission, their physical state, and the boy who had drafted them for this endeavor. She’s an incredibly strong female character and in my opinion was the shining star of the story.
What starts with a whisper, must end with a roar.
In case you haven’t noticed by now, I have nothing negative to say about this book. Never Die is the most compelling, addictive blaze-of-glory story I have ever had the pleasure of reading. If you’re a fan of anime and/or manga, you’re going to love this story. If you want more Asian fantasy in your life, you definitely won’t be disappointed if you pick this one up. If you love motley crews and epic action scenes, you’ll find fantastic examples of both here. And if you’re just looking for something absorbing and hard to put down, you’ll enjoy Never Die until the very last page.
Release date: January 29, 2019
American readers can purchase either the Kindle edition or the paperback from Amazon here.
You can also purchase a copy of the book from Book Depository here, with free shipping worldwide!