Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Rob won the 3rd SPFBO that Mark Lawrence runs and though I’ve not yet read Where Loyalites Lie, the book that won him that prestigious accolade, Never Die has a cover that reached out to me and a story that demanded I read it as soon as I could. Let me start by saying Never Die is an incredibly fun and entertaining book. A small boy must kill four legendary heroes and then resurrect and bind them to him so they will kill a man who has brought death and violence to the lands. It’s pretty straightforward right? That’s one of the many things I loved about it.

It’s only 250 pages long and I know I know normally you might think if I loved it I’d want it to be longer but this is exactly as long as it needs to be to maintain the break neck speed it moves at. There is no romantic subplot, as there shouldn’t be in a book about a bunch of corpses and a child, there is just the mission, the fights, the awesome dialogue and a beautiful ending. Most of the fantasy books I read are between 400 or 500 pages so whilst this felt more like a treat than a banquet I was just as full and satisfied upon its conclusion with half the time invested. It’s like a fantasy protein bar. The only way I would have wanted this to be longer was if the kid had to resurrect twenty heroes instead of just four because the characters always put a huge child like grin on my face. I never realised what Wuxia was, let alone that there was an entire genre devoted to it, but I knew I watched the movie Ninja Scroll twenty to thirty times when I was in my teen years and it was the best of all things.

In Never Die we have Itami Cho Whispering Blade a Samurai whose sword and vocalisations are so sharp she can slice even spirits, Iron Gut Chen Lu who has impenetrable skin and is immune to poisons , Zhihao Emerald Wind who can step through the very planes of existence and Bingwei Ma the Master of the Sun Valley the most skilled unarmed martial arts practitioner of all time. It’s a very cool collection of heroes with fantastical powers and awe-inspiring kung fu skills and the sort of thing I love to read about. Hayes does not disappoint and skilfully weaves moments of self discovery, conflict and characterisation into the plot with an efficiency and skill that ensures everything is moving the story forward. Another thing Hayes did that was really interesting was fly between the living and the dead world with consummate ease. In true Princess Bride style we are often reminded that our heroes are only ‘mostly alive’, their food and drink don’t taste right and the world around them doesn’t seem quite right. However their mission gives them purpose and chance to right wrongs and that and the chance of a new lease on life allows them see the world with a vibrancy and sense of lust they had since lost. Combine this with the ancient Japanese setting and it’s just a gorgeous book.

Never Die is an absolute adventure. From the moment I saw the cover by Felix Ortiz I knew it was something I wanted to pick up and kudos to him as I think he captured the feeling and spirit of the book perfectly. It’s a brilliant escape from the real world and what a job Hayes has done in making it not only easy to read but impossible to put down.

5 Stars

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