Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Review by: James Jakins

Some fantasy books are praised for their worldbuilding. The strange, but sometimes still familiar, settings that evoke wonder. 

Others for the quest. The heroic(or not-so-much) purpose of the hero and their allies to face and conquer unsurmountable odds.

And, while Never Die definitely has both of these, I would argue that where it really shines is with its cast of characters.

The premise of the story is brilliant. It’s one of those, “Damn, why didn’t I think of that?” ideas, and I love it. A young boy given a mission by a shinigami, a god of death, has to kill the emperor. To do that he has to gather a group of heroes to help. The catch is, he has to kill them and bring them back to life first.

And it’s these heroes that really made the book work for me. Each of them is beautifully realized and flawed in their own ways. 

The highlight of this book for me was watching these incredibly different characters interact with each other. One of my favorites was the relationship that develops between the two heroes known as the Emerald Wind and Iron Gut.

Every character gets a chance to shine, and a definitive end to their personal arcs.

I would like to say just a little about the story and the setting.

Both are great. The story isn’t that complicated, and is very straightforward. It’s a point A to point B type of narrative, but it works very well. There are a few twists, you’ll have to read to find those, but mostly it’s: Find new hero. Kill hero. Bring them back and continue on toward the end goal. Every step along the way is harried by bandits, angry spirits, and the heroes themselves. 

The obstacles usually arise in the form of violence. The book has no shortage of action. Whether it’s the heroes battling angry yokai, or the next hero on their list. Many chapters start with a heading declaring the fight. Like “Iron Gut Chen vs. The Master of Sun Valley.” Expectation set right there, and delivered in the story. It all works very well.

I’m also a fan of the setting. It feels real, but Hayes manages to keep it mysterious enough that I was constantly hoping for more. Every so often a character would drop just a little bit of lore about the world or another character. It really made the world feel lived in. Like a place with countless stories that still need to be told.

If Rob decides he has more stories to tell in this world, I will definitely come along for the ride.

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