SPFBO Finalist Review: Never Die by Rob J. Hayes


And now it’s down to the finalists! What better way to start out the finals round than with a book that is more or less a martial arts movie in literary form, amirite? Start things off with a real bang, so to speak!
Ein is on a mission from God. A God of Death.

Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight year old boy to render the judgement of a God. Ein knows he can’t do it alone, but the empire is rife with heroes. The only problem; in order to serve, they must first die.

Ein has four legendary heroes in mind, names from story books read to him by his father. Now he must find them and kill them, so he can bring them back to fight the Reaper’s war.

Kristen’s Review: This (with the exception of the finalist we chose) is the only book in this year’s finals that I had already read. Some of you may remember that I reviewed it, way back in February of this year (man, has it been that long?!). Of course, I did dive back into it before this review. It would hardly be fair not to. I rated it 4/5 stars – this time I’ll try and go into a little more depth about how I got there, and what that score means in the SPFBO.

Never Die is the story of Ein, who is an eight-year-old boy who is resurrected by a shinigami and tasked with killing the emperor. Having grown up on stories of legendary heroes, Ein, now bestowed with the power to bind someone to him if he raises them from the dead, hunts down legendary warriors (hopefully dead) to bind to him to help him with his mission.

Itami Cho, known as the Whispering Blade is a swordswoman who carries two katana, only one of which she ever draws. The Emerald Wind is a bandit who specializes in hooked swords. Iron Gut Chen has skin like iron that is impervious to cuts, and a gut that won’t be poisoned. Bingwei Ma is the undefeated master of unarmed combat. Finally, there is Death’s Echo, the only living member of the group, though he’s pretty close to death. He is a leper, and an assassin.

Once his gang of heroes (though, perhaps not all terribly heroic heroes) is gathered, they head to Wu, where the Emperor of the Ten Kings awaits.

I found Never Die to be an entertaining read. It read quite quickly, and was never boring, exactly, but it does get a bit repetitive until the actual quest starts. It is action-packed though. Never Die starts in on the action right from page one, which was a nice quick start. It wasn’t one of those books that I pick up and never put down again until finished, but it was certainly engaging enough that I read it in just a few days, even despite a) having read it before, b) being busy at work, and c) having 3 other books on the go.

Despite there being so many characters in the forefront, each character is unique and well crafted, with their own personalities and motivations. I really liked Bingwei Ma and Itami Cho, the Whispering Blade, who has a really cool backstory, and is rather mysterious at times. I also really ended up liking Zhihao Cheng, the Emerald Wind. Moreso in this second read, because while I remember not liking him so much on that first readthrough (and I do still understand why) until nearer to the end, knowing the end this time, I can understand him a little better in the beginning, if that makes sense.

Other characters weren’t my cup of tea. I often found Iron Gut Chen annoying, and Ein was mostly just sort of… there. Sort of unremarkable (even despite being able to raise the dead, lol). But, all told, I thought that this was an entertaining, character-driven tale. They do drive it pretty hard too, slicing and dicing a bunch of people, evil spirits, and so on and so forth along the way. There were plenty of twists and turns as well, which I obviously saw coming this time around, but I still appreciated how they were plotted. I still remember being surprised by the biggest twist.

On the whole, it felt like a literary mashup of Princess Mononoke, Seven Samurai, Inuyasha, and Mortal Kombat. Not in a bad way, just in a… recognizable way. It’s a unique presentation of tropes I have experienced before, if that makes sense. I should also note that my initial complaint in my first review of needing another pass of copy edits appears to have been addressed (or I just didn’t notice as much this time). So hooray for that! Still, my rating of 4/5 stars hasn’t deviated. But, I have a better idea of how a 4/5 translates into a score out of 10. I had 7.75/10 stars of fun with Never Die.

Esme’s Review: This book was on my TBR for a long time and I read it about a week or so before it was announced as a finalist.This isn’t a terribly long book, at under 300 pages I got through it in about a day or two, that, coupled with speedy and engaging prose, made for a very fast read. We get many different POV’s in this story, and they all revolve around a child named Ein. Ein is a creepy little fucker who has the ability to bring people back to life. He’s been assigned the task of killing the Emperor of Ten Kings… but in order to do that he will need to assemble a team of heroes… and in order to do that his heroes first have to die. Once Ein brings someone back to life they’re under his control. It’s a very unusual take on a band of heroes going on a quest together, but for me, it worked. The way the chapters are paced and structured also helped speed me me through. Never Die is a short book without a lot of wandering or seemingly directionless plot points, things are pretty tightly and evenly paced. If anything, I’d say that the plot was taking a backseat to other aspects of the book.
I liked that a bunch of the battles were one-on-one fight scenes between overly powered characters. Each character has their own unique power based around their chi making for very entertaining showdowns. One of the characters is known as “Iron Gut” and he’s unable to be cut by swords, there’s an amazing marksman with a rifle but he’s rotting away with leprosy, there’s also a wushu master who’s never killed in a fight to name a few of them. When they battle each other or their enemies it makes for some fun and entertaining sequences. This book ended with quite the fucking battle too. The whole novel was leading up to a particular scene and it made things fun from start to finish. Although I’d love to see more and the world is open enough for it, this can be read as a stand alone which is a plus for a lot of readers out there.
I found that Ein and The Whispering Blade resonated the most with me. That said, all of the main characters had their own backgrounds, voices, motivations, and lore based around their heroic deeds. It made them all feel very fleshed out, and although larger than life in many cases, also humanized enough so you could get behind them. Ein is the young boy who has to collect the heroes and he’s a very mysterious sort of character. You don’t know why he’s able to bring people back from the dead, where he came from, or why he’s picking these people in particular to be his heroes until much later on in the book. The Whispering Blade is the character who probably got the most page time, making her a primary character and the rest of the group secondary characters. She was easier to relate to since she’s passably honorable (especially when compared to some others in the group) she’s the only female character, and she gets the most amount of time spent on her arc.
This is fairly obviously influenced by anime and manga, and I was hesitant to pick this one up because of that. I don’t dislike anime or manga, but it’s never interested me much either so I wasn’t sure how I was going to click with it – but it went very smoothly for me. I wouldn’t describe this as a noblebright book, but his other series and duologies were much darker by comparison. It ends on a bittersweet note, but that’s not grimdark to me. That may actually be why I liked this one more than I thought I was going to, I went into it a bit burned out on darker books and needed something different. I’d describe the mood/tone as more of an action-adventure rather than dark and miserable. The world wasn’t quite as bleak and unyielding, and the characters were more of a light grey than a dark grey.
I really enjoyed this one and highly recommend it to audiophiles, anime fans, people who like shorter books, stand alones, and books with lots of fight scenes. I got this on audiobooks and I highly recommend it for those of you who enjoy or prefer audio versions – this is one of those books that benefits from having it read to you since it has such a narrative structure to it. It also helps that the narrator is extremely skilled and made for a very in depth listen.
Plot: 10/15
Characters: 12/15
World Building: 12/15
Writing: 13/15
Pacing: 13.5/15
Originality: 12.25/15
Personal Enjoyment: 8.5/10

Final Score: 81.25/100 or 8.1/10 for SPFBO

Finalist Score:

Kristen: 7.75
Esme: 8.1

Average: 7.925

SPFBO Final Score: 8.0/10

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