Book Review - NEVER DIE by Rob J. Hayes

(Title: Never Die / Author: Rob J. Hayes / Publisher: Self-Published / Publication Date: January 29, 2019)

Rob J. Hayes is an author who just seems to get better and better with each book that he puts out.  His 2017 book Where Loyalties Lie even won the 3rd Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off contest against some pretty stiff competition.  Rob has always been among my favorite authors so when I saw that he had a brand new title coming out in early 2019, I literally jumped (pretty high I might add) at the opportunity to pick up an advance copy.  Then when I dug a little further and saw that the theme of his new book NEVER DIE was steeped heavily in Asian culture/philosophy, I was even that much more eager to begin reading it.  I read this book over my entire holiday vacation and am so pleased to have it be my very first review of 2019.

The book surrounds the exploits of an enigmatic boy named Ein who was murdered years ago and is now on a mission from the god of death to kill the Emperor of Ten Kings.  We don't know any of the backstory of Ein or why the emperor is his target, but what we do know is that in order to achieve this murderous task, he must recruit four heroes or champions to assist him in defeating this seemingly unconquerable figure.  Recruiting these heroes does come with a big catch, you see they have to die first so that they can be bound to him.  

One by one Ein must create a scenario where each of the heroes he thinks can help him will die and then subsequently be brought back to life by him using the power he has been granted by the god of death.  Pretty original plot line for a fantasy story huh?  I thought so too.  Needless to say some of these heroes don't exactly cooperate when Ein attempts to bring them into the fold of his band of warriors. That whole dying thing kind of puts a huge damper on things it seems.  First there is Itami Cho, The Whispering Blade, who is among the quickest sword fighters of the realm and attacks with blinding speed and proficiency.  Next is Zhihao Cheng, The Emerald Wind, who can literally transmit images of himself in different locations so as to confuse his enemy and then close in with the fatal blow while his foe is still trying to decipher who the real one is.   Then we have Iron Gut Chen, who as his name suggests has impenetrable skin that can withstand virtually any sword thrust or physical attack without being hurt.  Bingwei Ma rounds out Ein's dream team and is a master of hand to hand combat, so much so that he has often defeated heavily-armed men with stunning ease just with his bare hands.

These are the warriors that Ein has selected and recruited to attempt the unenviable task of breaching the Emperor's military defenses and hopefully killing him.  Ein has a huge problem though because as with any group where there are various egos vying for supremacy, these legendary warriors do not like each other and don't mind saying so at every opportunity.  Throughout the journey to try to hunt down the emperor, there are constant skirmishes and quarrels as each believes that their role in the group is more important than the others, leading to some interesting confrontations.  Both Cheng and Chen are essentially legends in their own minds at times.  

That's not to say that they aren't powerful and skilled fighters, but there is definitely a sense that their reputations may be a bit overblown to say the least.  Cho and Bingwei Ma on the other hand are obviously not only the deadliest of the crew (at least in my opinion) but are also the level-headed half of the four who are often needed when things get a bit out of control.  The question remains however, can this carefully selected band of egotistical warriors meld themselves into the cohesive fighting force needed to take down a powerful emperor?  And will we ever know who Ein really is and why exactly he wants the emperor dead in the first place?  So many intriguing questions arise that do get answered for the most part, but not first without the heavy price of blood, battle, and death.

I would like to applaud Rob J. Hayes for delivering another brilliant book that is also very different in style from the usual fantasy offerings we see.  Here we have a truly unique fantasy world heavily influenced by the "warrior code" of Asian history and culture.  Yet even with a refreshingly unique style of voice and setting, I still felt that at its heart this was very much a fantasy book.  The fantastical elements were always present even though they were delivered in a non-conventional way.  

The originality of needing someone to die to recruit them into your team of warriors was so expertly handled and is something that I hadn't seen used before.  The whole time I was reading NEVER DIE I kept thinking, what is he going to throw at me next?   At no time while I was reading this book could I predict what might occur.  I also liked the fact that there were two major dilemmas within the plot.  The first was the actual mission to attempt to murder the emperor, but the brilliance comes when you put together four people who absolutely need to work together and who also REALLY can't stand one another.  So I was constantly guessing whether Ein could even keep the four of them from tearing each other apart long enough to even try to carry out their ultimate goal. Another aspect that I found enjoyable was the incredibly strong female character Cho.  She's obviously the brains of the crew and is also a wicked deadly fighter.  

I was continually blown away by how resilient and brave she was in the face of insurmountable odds.   For me this book was so fun to read and a wonderful blend of quest fantasy, ancient Asian folklore, adventure fiction, and a touch of grimdark for good measure.  Hayes has just solidified that he as an author who is constantly reinventing himself and writing fantasy that is wholly original while also damned entertaining.  NEVER DIE is a book that will take you on a full-throttle ride and then leave you wanting about 200 more pages to read when all is done.  It's simply that great and I loved every page.  The book is due to be released on January 29, 2019, so put in your preorders now because you are going to want to read it as soon as it becomes available, trust me.  This is a can't miss story filled with characters who leap off the page and grab you by the throat.

(My Rating: 9/10)


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