Sunday, December 30, 2018

Review: Never Die

Never Die Never Die by Rob J. Hayes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an eARC of this book from the author.

Now, that’s what I’m talking about when I say I love the Grimdark subgenre. This is it exactly.

Many describe Grimdark fantasy as that which is bleak and full of misery, lacking in hope. But to me, that’s not what it is at all. It might have some of these things on the surface, but it’s much more than that. I see it more as the story of grey characters striding the line between being a hero and a villain. It’s a struggle within and the study of the internal conflict that the characters must deal with as they contemplate and live with their choices.

Never Die is full of blood and mayhem and poor odds of survival and success for our characters. But at the heart of that is hope, as each of them looks within and considers the balance between right and wrong.

Ein is a child “gifted” with the ability to bring fallen heroes back from the dead. In exchange, they are bound to him and his quest, with the promise of being returned to full life from their current status as “mostly alive”. We start with the heroic Itami Cho, also known as the Whispering Blade, as she is first killed and then brought back at the end of the battle she’d fallen in. She joins Ein in his quest, swearing an oath as Shintei, bound by her code of honor as much as by his power. Cho helps him find and “recruit” the rest of his team of heroes as they join him with varied amounts of reluctance with the goal of defeating the evil Emperor of Ten Kings.

What seems like a hero’s quest might not be, as the team is assembled. They really have a variety of motivations and intentions, only joined by the fact of being bound to their savior, Ein. This turns into a great character study though as we learn what makes each of them tick through Hayes’s brilliant writing and shifting of point of view from one to another. The reader can’t help but get on board as they learn to work together and interact.

Hayes has two things that really bring color to his dark fantasy: humor and an Asian influence. Much like Joe Abercrombie and Michael R. Fletcher, the grittiness of the violence in this story is offset by humorous interactions between the characters. I found myself laughing as the banter between The Emerald Wind and Iron Gut Chen, in particular. Also, the Asian flavor to the worldbuilding made this one stand out from the rest of the genre.

This book was a pleasure to read from cover to cover, and I offer a high recommendation to any that like the qualities in a story that I’ve pointed out here. It is all of that, and so much more. I strongly urge fans of dark fantasy to join Ein on his quest alongside the likes of Whispering Blade, The Emerald Wind, Iron Gut Chen, Death’s Echo, the Steel Prince, and the Master of Sun Valley.

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