#SPFBO Review of Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Posted On 22 November 2019

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NeverDieNever Die is one of the titles on my list of books for the SPFBO competition and was one of the books that I decided to roll forward after having read the first 30% with the idea of reading and reviewing fully.  In this respect I have 4 more reviews to follow which I’m hoping will be in fairly quick succession followed by a post to reveal my semi finalists and the book I will be taking to stage two of the competition.  So, straight to my review of Never Die

Okay, Never Die is a story of revenge, but it’s one of the most unusual and unique revenge stories that I’ve ever encountered.  This is a story of heroes and honour, it’s packed to the rafters with action, steeped in Asian culture and folklore and delivers a fast paced tale that ends on a, well, I’m lost for words exactly how to best describe the ending, ‘it’s a little jaw dropping’ is the first thing that springs to mind.

Here we meet a young boy on a mission to bring down an Emperor.  Of course he can’t do this by himself.  He’s a young boy of eight or nine years maybe, he doesn’t have the strength, he isn’t a fighter, he doesn’t really have a plan for that matter, come to think of it he has very little, not a pot to piss in or even a pair of shoes.  But he knows his heroes and embarks on a hero recruitment drive if you will – the only slight deterrent for anybody wanting to take up a position, they have to be dead in order to do so. It’s not the best incentive to apply for the role.  As it happens the heroes have very little say in the matter, they need to die and so die they must.

Now, first things first.  I am not going to be discussing the plot at all other than the above paragraph.  This is a story that delivers a number of twists and I’d sooner leave further elaboration well alone in order to avoid spoilers.  Strangely enough, and although I obviously now know the final reveals this is a book that I would very much like to revisit.  I think it would be really interesting to see how, or if, the knowledge of the ending affects the rest of the story for me.

So, what really shone for me with Never Die.

I have to applaud Hayes’ ability to come up with such an action packed novel that plowed forward relentlessly and intensely yet at the same time invited me to get to know the characters.  How many times do you read a book where the characters suffer from the intensity of world building, or the furious nature of the adventure takes centre stage and you can’t get a feel for the place.  This really is an incredibly well rounded novel which is even more impressive when you consider it’s just shy of 300 pages.  The action is delivered at breakneck speed.  The story, in fact, opens with a battle sequence where the fighting is portrayed so well that I could see the characters playing out their deadly dances.  The characters are introduced one at a time which gives you the chance to get a feel for them without becoming overwhelmed.  And the world building – well, it’s taking place in every sentence really.  Names, places, clothing, food, back stories, they’re all related with an effortless grace that really belies the skill that it must take.

The characters are all so very different.  And they start out with no small degree of hatred for each other not to mention a good deal of competitive swaggering and banter.  Eventually though, they begin to develop bonds which I suppose gives weight to the idea that there’s nothing like a shared goal to bring people together.  They’re all masters in their own way, whether with the sword or with fighting without the use of weapons.  I’m not going to try to describe all the different techniques, frankly I’d just make an absolute mess of it.  Just lets say they’re all masters in their given fields and leave well enough alone.  They all have some pretty cool names and some of their abilities make for great reading during the throes of battle – I’m definitely looking at Emerald Wind right now!

In terms of criticisms.  Well, this is a conundrum because I did have a couple of little issues as the story progressed, but, the ending kind of answered my qualms and it’s really difficult to discuss what they were because, obviously I’m being all secretive. I will say that I did guess one of the twists part way through the story.  I actually have no idea how because I wasn’t reading the book at the time, in fact I was doing something a bit brain numbingly mundane when suddenly a light bulb went on in my head in a most unexpected and comic book style fashion.  I wasn’t aware I’d even be thinking of the book but there you go.  So, yes, I had my little ‘ah-ha’ moment and of course I was feeling quite smug and also not a little bit disappointed (like, if this is what the ending is all about then really….) but, of course there’s a but, yes, I had guessed what I will call one third of the twists – but (again with the buts) it was only the smallest element of the twist in the tale and the other two revelations – well, hot damn – and that’s why I need to do a reread.

I guess this leaves me with only one downside, or maybe two.  This was shorter than I would have liked (even though it does have a certain epicyness to it – that is a word, I’ve seen it on the internet so it must be true) and it’s a standalone.  In a world where series of books can sometimes reach double digits I guess I should be applauding a standalone – but, please sir, I would like more.

Oh, and I suppose I forgot to mention all the fantasy elements, ghosts, and monsters and the like, but – go and pick up a copy and discover them for yourself.

I received a copy courtesy of the author, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

 

Where Loyalties Lie (Best Laid Plans #1) by Rob J. Hayes

whereloyalties lieWhere Loyalties Lie is a winning combination of pirates and grimdark that isn’t for the faint hearted.  No Disney style pirates here but plenty of raucous banter and bloodshed on the open seas.

As the story begins we make the acquaintance of Captain Drake Morass.  He’s just made port at one of a number of pirate islands and he has a dark tale.  It seems like the Five Kingdoms and Sarth are joining together in a bid to clean up the waters and they’re not taking prisoners.  They’re destroying pirate townships, literally killing everyone and burning the place to the ground – and these are the good guys – so that might help to shed a little light on what you can expect from the rest of this book.

Basically, if the pirates are going to survive they need to wise up, pool resources and stand united under one leader and Captain Morass figures himself to be just the man for the job.  Of course, being a lying, cheating, murdering, swindler and double crossing no good son of a so and so (characteristics which I might add are running amok amongst most of the pirates) most of his fellow pirates are reluctant to believe his story and smell a rat.  What Captain Morass needs is an ally and he has the very fellow in mind, in fact he’s been told unequivocally that Kellin Stillwater is just the man to get the ball rolling. Now, there’s more to the plot than I’m outlining here – there are twists aplenty, what with pirates trying to outdo each other and all but I think that probably gives a fairly good flavour to whet your appetite.

So, lets get to the world building.  To be clear from the start this story takes place very much on the high seas.  Yes, I hear you – it’s a pirate story – but, really, seriously, the majority of the action takes place off terra firma so if you don’t have your sea legs you might like to take that into account.  I just loved it to be honest.  There’s such a lot of creativity going on here ranging from tempestuous sea Gods that might just kill a whole bunch of superstitious pirates on a whim, Islands with monsters living beneath the sand and tropical forests that just might lull you to sleep so that insects can slowly eat you.  On top of that there’s magic, wielded by Arbiters and the like who hunt witches and burn them at the stake.  There’s plenty going on here and no shortage of things to entertain.

The characters are up for scrutiny next.  What to say really.  They’re not a nice bunch in fact I spent a good part of the build up really puzzled about whether or not to like any of them – until they began to work their magic and win me over, some of them at least.  The main characters are Keelin, Drake, Tanner Black, his daughter Elaina Black and an arbiter named Beck.  For the most part the POVs switch between the occupants of the different ships which is a great way of varying the landscape and giving us a different perspective on things as they develop.  I admit I’m impressed with the way the characters are built up.  They slowly reveal little bits about themselves and there are a good deal of skeletons in closets.  The whole lot of them are firmly in the area of grey – apart from Tanner Black who is literally a downright nasty piece of work and deserves his terrible reputation.  But, two things that are worthy of mention.  Firstly, grimdark really lends itself to the area of pirating.  Let’s be honest now, these are people who, no matter how charismatic or charming they might appear, kill and rob on the high seas.  The majority of them have little compunction about murdering a crew or torturing someone for information, they’re not nice people.  That being said there is a certain camaraderie that eventually makes you view them slightly differently..  They begin to understand the predicament they’re in and just how desperate things are and they begin to pull together in real underdog style.

The writing here is really good, the dialogue is sharp, the pacing is fast, there is never a lull in momentum and the writing manages to show the restraint necessary to keep a good balance between action and intrigue.  However, I can’t stress enough that this is downright dark and brutal and I feel that I must point out that there is rape and torture amongst the bloodshed.  Now, I didn’t feel like any of the content was gratuitous, in fact I felt like it was relevant in really highlighting that these pirates are nasty and in fact some of them are downright evil.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t really have any.  I think there was maybe a slightly slowish start but nothing that really stopped me from wanting to read on and I definitely had  moments where I felt like I might struggle to like any of the characters and I worried that might be an issue.  That didn’t turn out to be the case though.

I thoroughly enjoyed Where Loyalties Lie.  It’s dark and twisted.  It’s brutal and bloody.  It’s entertaining and creative.  It kept me hooked to the page with the intriguing plot and creative landscape.  I loved this nautical adventure and look forward to reading the next instalment.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy for review.  The above is my own opinion.

 

My rating for Where Loyalties Lie is 9/10 which equates to 4.5 out of 5