A bandit, a Shintei, an enigmatic young boy with an uncanny ability, and a leper.
Near the end of 2018, reviews began popping up in social media feeds. I could be mistaken, but I think it was Grimdark magazine’s Mike Myers’ review, that particularly blew me away. From start to finish, his words were beautiful and telling; strange and exotic. They were compelling in ways I never quite expected from a fantasy novel. Quite simply, I knew I had to read Never Die, the sooner the better. Moreover, I called it my most anticipated 2019 release, and it has good reason to live up to that.
I never imagined I’d be fortunate enough to receive an ARC, provided from the author in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own.
In the midst of war, Itami Cho, Zhihao Cheng, and Ein were brought together not by some decree of the king, but by something else entirely. Like many fictions, their union was less than ideal. Their journey was long, arduous; at times, improbable. Deemed with the quest of crossing the land, Hosa, in order to defeat an evil emperor, would take its toll on all involved, and not just our unlikely band of heroes, either. It would also require heart, valor, and bloodshed.
Most fantasy settings are based on, or set in, eastern European countries. So upon learning that SPFBO winner (Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off) Rob Hayes, had set his in a fictitious Asian locale, I was equally fascinated and proud. Engrossed by the premise, and proud because I love diversity. I love that non-European locales are becoming more common, and I believe that, in general, diversity will become more prevalent. That is the hope.
The characters were great, nicely developed from page one, and consistently throughout. Their personalities were interesting, even infectious, especially that of Cho and Iron Gut Chen Le. Over time, I even grew to adore the others. Their choices were rarely easy, they certainly weren’t condonable, but they were never contrived. The four were indelibly bound to each other, often with perilous implications.
Ein shook his head. “It takes a lifetime of evil to be a villain, and only a moment of good to be a hero.”
Hayes clearly put a lot of thought into this world, his characters, and everything he wanted to achieve with Never Die. In order to achieve the best possible story, he had a wealth of knowledge in his arsenal (research is inevitable, after all,) including Asian culture and lore. According to a recent interview, he took Japanese and Chinese mythology, and infused them with creativity and originality, and in my words, sheer awesomeness.
And as repulsive as some of their actions were, I couldn’t get enough of the characters. With every chapter, I longed to learn more and more about said characters, and of Hosa’s vast and enriched history. Hayes never disappointed; he surpassed every expectation.
His prose was very clean and professional. At times, I’d forget this was an ARC, and I had to remind myself. That’s the impression it left. Now typically, advanced copies shouldn’t be judged as a traditionally published product, and I’m not doing that here. But if I was, my rating wouldn’t change. In fact, I’ve read some books, both traditional and Indie, with less professionalism than this showed.
The premise itself was deceptively simple, which become exponentially more complex by individual idiosyncrasies and, more telling yet, by their evolving motivations.
The ending was a grand culmination of epic battles, a suffusion of duplicity, the supernatural, and further complexities, making the latter notion that much more real: deceptively simple, indeed. So much so, in fact, that days later I had to reread the last twenty or so pages. I’m glad I did, too, because it brought forth clarity.
The denouement made sense, and the creativity and originally involved blew my mind. I almost couldn’t process its intricacies. After the smoke cleared, though, I have the utmost respect for Rob Hayes. The work should be applauded…on multiple levels.
There was enough explanation to satisfy and to pique further interest in the mythologies and worldbuilding, while simultaneously leaving more questions than answers. I want to know more.
The highest possible recommendation