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ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Cover art illustrated by: Felix Ortiz
Cover art designed by: STK.Kreations
Pawn’s Gambit by Rob J. Hayes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Mortal Techniques (Book #2)
Genre: Fantasy, High fantasy, Wuxia
Pages: 315 pages (Kindle edition)
Published: 26th January 2021 by Rob J. Hayes (Self-published)
A great Wuxia adventure with an empathizing redemption arc.
I’ll start this review by giving a shout out to Felix Ortiz and Shawn T. King for doing such another terrific job with the cover art and typography. Now, I’ll say it upfront that I’m a huge fan of Never Die by Rob J. Hayes; it’s one of my favorite books. When I heard that there would be a standalone not-sequel to Never Die, I was ecstatic but also terrified that it wouldn’t live up to the quality of Never Die; worst-case scenario, what if Pawn’s Gambit ends up ruining Never Die!? This situation happens quite often. A proposed standalone/series extended to something bigger but never as good as the previous books. Now that I’ve read it, I really shouldn’t have worried. Out of the three series by Hayes—Best Laid Plans duology, The War Eternal, and Mortal Techniques–that I’ve read so far, I can easily say Mortal Techniques is by far my favorite, and Pawn’s Gambit without a doubt just boost that notion.
“No war can take place without love. Be it love for a person, love for power, love for money, love for a nation.”
Once a century, the gods hold a contest to determine who will rule from the Jade Throne. Each god is allowed to choose a mortal champion, and the winner will decide the fate of heaven and Earth. The story in Pawn’s Gambit centers on Yuu, who was famously known as Art of War, and Yuu has been chosen by Natsuko—the goddess of missed opportunities—as her mortal champion to participate in the contest. The contest? A scavenger hunts to collect divine artifacts. The winner will be allowed to challenge Batu, the current God of War that rules the Jade Throne, as the new ruler. So yeah, in a way, Pawn’s Gambit utilized another quest-based concept at its key premise, and although the story takes place a few years after Never Die, this doesn’t mean that this is a repetition of Never Die. One thing that differs in this book compared to Never Die is that Pawn’s Gambit felt more Wuxia-inspired rather than anime-inspired; for example, only one memorable Yokai appeared here, and I wish there was more of them because it was one of the things that made Never Die so amazing to me.
“Knowledge without wisdom often leads to a misuse of power.”
I won’t lie, though, unlike the first book where I immediately felt compelled and invested with Itami Cho and her group of misfits in their impossible task, Pawn’s Gambit took me a while to warm up to the characters. Hayes keeps the story of Pawn’s Gambit going strong since the beginning with engaging—sometimes humorous—dialogues and characters. From the beginning of the book, we know that Yuu regretted her mistake that led to the death of the Steel Prince, and she felt guilty about it; she threw away the Art of War persona because of this. However, there’s more to this, I anticipated its revelation, and once it’s revealed, that was the moment where I became fully invested in Yuu, Natsuko, and their quest. In other words, this is me saying that the first half of the novel was good, but the second half was amazing, and the concluding final chapters were brilliant and incredibly satisfying.
“Failure was always due to a lack of focus. With enough attention and preparation, no outcome could not be predicted, and no situation could not be overcome.”
Pawn’s Gambit is a superb addition to the Mortal Techniques series. I loved Never Die more, but I honestly believe that Hayes should keep on writing standalone books within this world; the Mortal Techniques series is becoming something special. Not only do we get to learn more about the mortal techniques here, but Pawn’s Gambit also contains Hayes’s most philosophical and thought-provoking writing so far yet. I’m eagerly waiting for the release of the third installment that’s due out within 2021 as well, and it’s called the Spirit of Vengeance.
“A true hero acts not on impulse, but on rationale and consideration.”
P.S: I absolutely loved the chess elements within the narrative. I might have typed Queen’s Gambit plenty of times.
Official release date: 26th January 2021
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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