Never Die – Rob J. Hayes

Synopsis: 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.

“Cho was smiling, unable to keep the joy from her face. This was where her heart belonged – however much was left of it – in battle. The moments lived between blades were the sweetest of life. In combat every decision mattered, large or small. A slight turn of a foot and she could trip. A sweaty palm and the blade could slip. Feinting left instead of right could spell the end. It was in those moments, where everything mattered and every decision pushed towards life or death, that Cho felt most alive.”

Do I own multiple books by Rob J. Hayes that I have yet to read? Why yes, yes I do. And is Never Die his most recent release? It is! Did I start with his back catalogue of work? Well.. I mean.. it’s pretty obvious what I did because I’m posting this, no?

I will almost always read books by chronological order, unless otherwise stated by the author. However, when the author is prolific (Seanan McGuire), is beginning a new series (Sam Sykes), or maybe they have a novella along with a series (Devin Madson) I do tend to jump around through their work. In this instance, Never Die is a standalone & is my first time reading Hayes. It most certainly will not be my last! This just felt like a good place to start for me!

I first heard of him through the brilliant Mark Lawrence a few years ago. When I saw his series, Best Laid Plains, described as “Piratecrombie” I knew that this was my kind of writer!

Truthfully, the cover of Never Die stole my heart. If you read my reviews even a bit, you know that I am all about cover art & applauding the people who have worked hard to achieve the final product. This cover by Shawn King & Felix Ortiz (who also does some of the most incredible Kings of the Wyld/Bloody Rose fan art my eye balls have ever seen) is truly one of my favorites!

Never Die was a bloody fun adventure! With a focus on bloody, naturally. I was not, however, expecting it to be as cheeky as it was! The wry sense of humor was right up my street. GIVE ME ALL THE BANTER!! Hayes excels with the dialogue between this varied cast of characters. I especially loved the chemistry between the three main characters.

Itami Cho (Whispering Blade) is killed on the first page of the prologue. BUT WAIT!! She is then resurrected by a young boy named Ein. Ein has been given a quest by a shinigami (a God of Death). What does this mission entail? Oh, just murder the immortal Emperor of Ten Kings, that’s all. And to do this, he must recruit four champions to help him achieve this bonkers undertaking. The problem is, he needs the heroes to first be dead before he can revive them & bind them to him. The promise is that they will be granted their full lives again once the mission is completed. Cho swears an oath to Ein to assist him on his quest to track down the rest of the crew. To the Shintei, there is nothing more important than oaths. Along the way they meet many people, none of them more complex than Zhihao (The Emerald Wind), a bandit with a special ability to disappear & reappear from place to place. He also happened to be a part of the group that killed Cho. Zhihao is a morally grey character who I couldn’t help but adore! Because me.

There are a great deal of wonderful individuals in this that I haven’t even mentioned yet – Iron Gut Chen, Bingwei Ma, Roi Astara, Flaming Fist & Yanmei, among others. Zhihao & Itami may have been my overall favorites, but the secondary characters are just so damn good in their own right. Hayes didn’t throw in any unnecessary characters to fill a role. All of them felt like they fit in this grimdark adventure.

This is a nuanced story about revenge, honor & friendship all told within a relatively short page count. As I’ve touched on, the characters are what grabbed me by the throat, without a doubt. However, the worldbuilding was refreshing & completely tantalizing, as well. Needless to say, I want more!

Never Die was similar to Best Served Cold, with a mix of In Shadows We Fall & Broken Empire, sprinkled with some Guardians of the Galaxy vibes. I dug the shit out of this, which is evident by how quickly I downed it! I’m looking forward to diving into the rest of Hayes work soon!

-Holly

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