Review | Never Die – Rob J. Hayes

About the Book

Samurai, shinigami, vengeful spirits, and an impossible quest.

The Emperor of Ten Kings has plunged Hosa into war, and the gods are angry.

When the god of death gives Ein a mission to kill the immortal emperor, he knows he can’t do it alone. He needs allies, heroes who will fight for him. How else can an eight-year-old boy hope to do the impossible?

Whispering Blade, Iron Gut Chen, the Century Blade, and Flaming Fist. These are all names of legend. And the god of death has given Ein a way to bind them to his cause. There is only one catch. In order to serve him, they must first die.

274 pages (kindle)
Published on January 29, 2019
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A while ago, Rob hired me to edit one of his series. Not this one, but his The War Eternal series. I tend to think I learn a lot about writing from the authors I edit for. Each of them have different strengths and they all go about telling a story in their own unique way. What really captivated me about Rob’s series, was just how well he balanced everything. There were quiet moments balanced with a lot of action. The world both felt familiar at times, yet there were unique elements to it that made it completely unique. The plot was breakneck, with never a word or moment wasted. 

Everything mattered. 

But more than that, the worldbuilding was just phenomenal. Hayes really shines with his worlds, and then crafting characters and a plot that fit the scene so well. It’s never closed off, either. There are always hints that the world is larger than we, the reader, see, and that we are just getting a glimpse of one part of it in this particular story. 

So when I edited that series, I realized Rob is one of those authors who was born to be an author, and we are lucky enough to get to enjoy the books he produces. Yet, there was also this part of me that was (… is. Is a part of me. Let’s be honest here, I’m a bit intimidated by the guy, present tense.) a bit afraid to read his other books. They’re wildly popular, and there’s always this pressure to like them because everyone else does and what if I’m the one who doesn’t? And also, I’ve edited some of his other stuff, and I’d like to do that again, so what if I hate a book he writes and then like… somehow he knows because he has psychic powers or something? Not cool. 

With great trepidation, I decided to try Never Die. I figured I’d keep it super secret, and if I hated the book, no one needed to know. He’s in England, and even if he does have superpowers, there is an entire ocean and over half a continent as a buffer between us. It’ll be okay. 

Never Die is vastly different than the series I edited for him. I mean, night and day. There are similarities, but it’s not with the story itself, but rather the author’s style with how he crafts a world, and his pacing specifically. Just subtle things I recognize now as Rob Hayes’s signature. Aside from that, Never Die is really its own creature. It’s been wildly popular, and I can see why. It’s one of those books that is so relentlessly paced, with characters that seem so real they fly off the page, and a story that wraps its hand around your neck and refuses to let go. 

Never Die is unlike any other book I’ve read. Set in an Asian-esque fantasy world, it draws on elements of myth and lore, like yokai and samurai, which readers will likely associate with Japan. The setting is fantastic, truly vivid and well crafted, with elements of mythology and culture woven throughout which show real world influences and give the reader a very real sense of place. However, as with most things, Hayes uses these inspirations as a jumping off point, rather than anything else. You’ll get a feel for place, but this world is all Hayes’s own creation, from the ground up.

Never Die is the perfect book to read if you want an example of how to use words to their fullest power. It didn’t take long at all for me to feel like I knew Ein. Perhaps I didn’t know his back story (I also really enjoyed that bit of mystery about him, to be honest.) but I knew him. His character. I knew what mattered to him. It was probably the shortest character introduction I’ve ever read, where I went from “Who is this guy?” to “Oh, I know him!” in about a blink. Due to the relentless pacing of this book, the fast-moving plot, and everything that’s covered, the introductions to his characters need to be short, or the book would slow down and we don’t want that. So Hayes had to do a bit of a calculation here. He had to figure out how to introduce his characters and his world in the fewest possible words, with the greatest possible impact, and he manages it with flying colors. In fact, I saw this throughout the book. Not just with his characters, but with the world itself, with situations, with battles… the whole thing. Short, gripping, punchy moments that are written in such a way to make them fundamentally matter to the reader. It was pure artistry. 

Again, Hayes was born to be a writer. 

Never Die has a sort of superheroes vibe set in an alternative Asian world, with plenty of high stakes action and breakneck pacing. It’s a lot of fun, and readers who enjoy action packed books will surely love this one. What I enjoyed, however, was not just all that, but the deeper themes that underpin all this surface level excitement. This is a fun book, yes, but at its heart it’s a story about vengeance and honor, and the price required for both, both physically and spiritually. I found these themes to be very skillfully woven in. I was never hit over the head with any of this, and yet I left the book feeling like I didn’t just have fun reading an incredible story, but I had some things I needed to think about as well. I felt like Hayes maybe had something to say here, and I really enjoyed that aspect. I could tell he was having fun writing this, but I could also see the nut at the core of this book that he was dancing around, trying to crack it just the right way to best impact readers. 

At its most distilled level, Never Die is a pretty simple book. A quest fantasy (though with a very unique spin), the first half of the story is spent collecting the group, and the second part of the book is spent driving toward that ultimate end goal. It felt a lot like a snowball rolling downhill. It starts with this one person, with this one goal (although it’s a hefty goal), and then as it gets going, the snowball gets bigger and bigger up to that surprise, punch-in-the-throat ending. The action follows this more than anything else. the stakes as the book progresses get higher and higher, and the action, and tense moments become increasingly dangerous as the book progresses. Reader, I spent a good chunk of this novel on the edge of my seat.

And that balance I mention at the start of the review is present here as well. Not just in the worldbuilding and character development but in the plot itself. He plays these characters off each other well, strong personalities that can’t stand each other on a fundamental level, and our protagonist Ein somehow has to keep them all together and working toward a common goal. And then there is that common goal Ein is tasked with: to kill the emperor. That’s no small thing. Hayes uses these two elements to not only keep the book moving and interesting, but they also keep the book unpredictable. I was never really sure where he was going to take me next. I wasn’t sure how any of this would work out in the end. I couldn’t predict anything. For someone who reads as much as I do, I cannot tell you how valuable that unpredictability is. 

Never Die really blew me away. It’s fun and thought provoking, a spin on the fantasy quest/adventure story I’ve never seen before. Superbly written with fascinating characters, a larger-than-life plot, relentless action, and generally one of the most unique stories I’ve come across in a while. Never Die was unforgettable. Rob Hayes is one of those authors who is constantly trying new things, telling fresh stories in unforgettable ways, boldly daring to go where no author has gone before. The guy blazes his own trail, and I will never stop admiring him for that. 

Read this book. 

5/5 stars