#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.

 

#SPFBO Feedback on the Third Batch of Books

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So, a little later than planned, again, this is my feedback post for the final three books from Batch No.3.  I already gave feedback at the halfway mark which can be found here.  I have very little wifi at the moment which is why my blogging is a little behind schedule and so this post will be a little bit shorter as a result. I will be posting my fourth batch of books (hopefully) on Wednesday.

The final three books and my comments on each can be found below. Apologies to those authors/books cut at this stage:

Earthcore by Grace Bridges

EarthcoreAs Earthcore got underway we meet Anira who is taking a vacation with her mother and brother at Rotorua in New Zealand.   As soon as Anira arrives she starts to experience strange sensations and it soon becomes obvious to her that having drank the local spring?/mineral water she is having a transformation of sorts – or at least she seems to need virtually no sleep and is also experiencing quite amazing mental abilities. Obviously Anira is a little dubious and also wondering whether this is purely a temporary phenomena but she then witnesses a local who seems to also have some unusual capabilities and upon further investigation it seems that there are at least another three such individuals apart from Anira (who quickly decides that they need to meet).

I found the first third of this book very easy to read, I enjoyed the setting and clearly this is going to become a superhero type story or at least a meeting of individuals with special abilities.  In terms of criticisms.  Well, I’ve not during the 30% read had a real opportunity to become attached to the main character Anira, in a way she feels a little lacking in emotional depth in that she is incredibly accepting of everything, or she lacks surprise.  Overall though this was quite a good read and would probably appeal to a YA audience – I foresee maybe a romance between Anira and one of the other characters although it’s early days and I could be wrong on that score.

I thought this was quite good to the point at which I broke off but although the pacing is quite fast I’ve not really got a feel at this stage for exactly where this one is heading in terms of plot.

Author Info:

 

SirThomas.jpgSir Thomas the Hesitant and the Table of the Less Valued Knights by Liam Perrin

Sir Thomas the Hesitant is so far really quite a fun read about a young man called Thomas Farmer who has dreams of becoming a knight.  I’m quite enjoying this one at the moment so intend to read further therefore will keep feedback on this book to a minimum at the moment and return to it at a later date.

Conclusion: roll forward

Author Info:

 

Twitter: LiamPerrin

 

Strings of.jpgStrings of Chance by Jeff Pryor

I think Strings of Chance could be a book that develops well but at the point at which I broke off it really hadn’t had a chance to work it’s charm on me and I think this is in part due to the main protagonist.  Edson Pye is a bard who has great confidence in his own abilities, even if he doesn’t seem to be succeeding as the story sets out, that is until he meets a mysterious person who decides to help him reach his goals.  Of course, there is always a price for such magic as Edson soon finds out.

Okay, I have to be honest,  I really didn’t get on with Edson at all in fact I very nearly put this down much earlier than my 30% cut off point, but, I decided to press on.  To be even more honest, Edson was still annoying but the story had opened out a little and was become quite intriguing.

I’m rather hopeful that Edson goes on a voyage of discovery during the rest of this story but unfortunately this is the stage at which I have decided to cut off and at this point Edson hasn’t won me over.  Like I say, this could change as the story progresses but I have a cut off point in order to be fair so although I like that this is a small scale type fantasy as oppose to huge battles and epic quests I’m cutting it at this point.

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To date from my SPFBO books I have one book chosen as a semi finalist and two books that I’ve decided to read further.

Semi finalist: The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King

Two books to read further :

From the Shadows of the Owl Queen’s Court (Yarnsworld #4) by Benedict Patrick

Sir Thomas the Hesitant and the Table of Less Valued Knights (Less Valued Knights #1) by Liam Perrin

 

 

#SPFBO Orconomics (The Dark Profit Saga #1) by J. Zachary Pike

OrconomicsOrconomics is my final review for this year’s SPFBO competition and it seems purely by chance I’ve saved what turned out to be my best for last.  Upfront and the TL:DR version is 9.5 out of 10 for this book.  A very enjoyable read that surpassed my expectations.

To be totally frank, when I started Orconomics I really didn’t think it was going to work out for me at all.  Satires can be hit and miss after all, particularly if you’re not quite in the right sort of mood when you pick the book up, and I would say that I was in the wrong sort of mood when I started this so it certainly had its work cut out.  And yet, here I am about to sing its praises.  In short this is a book that takes a sharp look at conflict – who benefits from war and how to make a business out of it whilst at the same time taking a good look at prejudice and the deliberate ‘turning of a blind eye’ to things that are blatantly and grossly unfair.  Okay, I’ve probably made that sound quite serious when in actual fact this is a highly entertaining story that takes your typical swords and sorcery quest and gives it a different spin.

I’m not going to say too much about the plot to be honest but instead speak about the world, the characters and my overall feelings.

Orconomics brings to us the world of Arth.  This is a world where being a hero doesn’t involve spontaneously rushing into the fray to do what is right but taking on actual jobs as a professional.  The Heroes’ Guild is responsible for all aspects of hero work, awarding work, classifying heros, etc.  Basically this is a world with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and very little grey in between.  Shadowkin are ‘bad’ – so think of orcs, trolls, dragons, etc – they’re all bad.  On the opposite side we have the ‘good’ – the heroes and elves, halflings, humans, etc.  The heroes are responsible for eliminating Shadowkin – however, this is usually based on how much profit can be made from the endeavour and in fact the whole economy of the city revolves around these money making quests with people bidding on the amount of profit to be made in a sort of mock up version of the stock market.  So, being a hero has very little to do with saving or rescuing and all to do with money making, in fact the heroes themselves are little more than a commodity.  Now, this doesn’t allow any in between for those trolls or ogres who might just be trying to get on with life does it – basically, if you’re Shadowkin, and you have a stash of cash – you’re doomed.  Smaug would have been a prime target with his horde.  Now, if that sounds a little convoluted lets just say that’s my fault and not the books.  I would say this is a very easy book to understand and the reason I know this is because I understood it!  I wanted to raise this more to point out that questing has become first and foremost a money making business.

So, with that in mind we have our characters.

Gorm is a disgraced dwarf.  Formerly a member of the Heroes’ Guild with a fearsome reputation as a berserker he was cast out after running away from a battle and years later is little more than a thief trying to stay alive.  As the story begins Gorm saves the life of a Goblin, mistakenly known at Gleebek for the first part of the story but whose actual name is Tib’rin – one of the many ways in which language can be a barrier  – Gorm is basically a good person, he takes Tib’rin on as his squire ensuring that he has the correct papers that allow him to work and from therein the two become involved in an impossible quest with a bunch of similarly disgraced heroes – all of them keen to use the opportunity to redeem themselves.

The rest of the crew include a she-elf ranger with an addiction problem.  A bard who is really a reformed thief who can’t hold a tune, a former warrior, now weapons master who seems to have a deathwish, two mages who have a hate/hate relationship and the leader of the expedition, Niles, a scribe and prophesied Seventh Hero (although he himself came up with the prophecy so it doesn’t hold too much weight!).  I don’t think I’ve missed anyone off the list although there is a secret addition to the group later on in the book. You’ll just have to read it to find out more.  My lips are sealed.  So, if you include the secret member and the Goblin squire – nine members, almost like the Fellowship.

In fact there are lots of references throughout the book which I really enjoyed picking up although I’m sure I missed plenty along the way – for example Bolbi Baggs (Bilbo?) one half of the money making finance endeavour Goldson and Baggs (Goldman Sachs). Anyway, I won’t inundate you with more of these references as they’re best discovered whilst reading – although I probably skipped over many as I raced through the pages.

In terms of criticisms – and probably the only reason why this isn’t a perfect score – is that the beginning took a little time to get things moving to a point where I really wanted the quest to just start and, on top of that, the characters felt a little flat at first – thankfully I became attached to them as the story really kicked in which did make certain elements at the end a little bitter sweet – but there again lies the path of spoilers so my lips are twice sealed.

Small issues aside this was a very entertaining read.  It won me over quite easily after my initial reservations and feels like a really unique way of looking at topical issues in a fantasy setting.  The other thing that occurred to me is that this would probably be suitable for YA readers – I’d maybe have to go back and check but I don’t recall there being any profanity or sex and the battle scenes are not visceral or bloody – somebody chuck me a bone here and tell me if I’m wrong or not??   I will definitely read more from this series, particularly as this book is such a perfect set up for what promises to be an excellent second instalment.

I rate this 9.5 out of 10 for the purposes of the SPFBO competition and 4.5 out of 5 for Goodreads.

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

 

 

#SPFBO An Empire of Tears (Tales of a Prodigy #1) by Tim Marquitz

EmpireOfTearsAn Empire of Tears is one of the nine books that I chose to roll forward and read completely as part of the first stage of the SPFBO competition.

This is without doubt a story for readers of grimdark that can be quite brutal in parts involving an unusual character, a man bred to kill who finds a chance of redemption when he least expected.

Gryl was a slave of Avantr.  Magic lies beneath his skin and his memories are all unkind usually involving insights into the pain inflicted upon him in order to increase his endurance.  He’s a man of war, shaped to feel no remorse and to fight to the bitter end.  As the story sets out Gryl, and the rest of the prodigies created for war, are sailing across the sea to make war on the Shytan Empire.  Unfortunately the invasion fails and Gryl finds himself a survivor in enemy territory.  Under the circumstances he turns to the only way of life likely to ensure his survival.  He becomes a sellsword, taking work where he can, although it’s not always easy with a price on his head and bounty hunters keen to collect.

This is a story that, for me, improved as the chapters went by.  The start was undoubtedly bloody and in fact I was almost reaching a threshold in terms of the fighting and violence – I will also mention at this point that there are potential triggers contained within in terms of the brutality and scenes of rape/molestation – to be honest, I didn’t feel that these were dwelled on but be aware this can be a most unpleasant world.

What I enjoyed about this is that each chapter is told almost like a small story in itself which makes Gryl’s tale move forward at a fairly fast clip, without all the filler in-between. The writing is definitely a strong point, there’s enough detail to give you an idea of the place and I think Marquitz does a good job in turning Gryl’s character around.  He’s definitely got a dark past and as the story begins his lack of emotion can be grating, particularly when he makes a number of mistakes that lead to deaths that could have been avoided, but he finds a cause and it helps to bring out some redeeming qualities that gave his character a chance to grow.

There were a number of other characters involved along the way, most notably the Priest who sees something more to Gryl than simply a killer, and the young children in the priest’s care who became a cause for Gryl to fight for.  Gryl undoubtedly plays the main role though.

In terms of criticisms.  I think the first thing I would mention falls more into the realms of personal taste.  This is dark fantasy, it’s bloody and the world created is a nasty place to say the least.  It won’t be for everyone to be frank and I did have a moment where I was starting to feel like it was too much, as it happened the author changed tack and I found myself pulled in – although, to be clear, this is still dark reading, it morphs into something different than simply a bloodfest but it’s still a long shot from a Disney extravaganza.  I found Gryl’s attitude a little annoying at the beginning, he made a number of mistakes that felt like they occured due to his over-confidence and, well, he had very little remorse when such things happened – that being said, he’s been tortured and manipulated to leave him an almost emotion-free zone so I guess that’s to be expected.  The only other thing I would mention is that I think an injection of some humour might have lessened the dark feel – I realise that humour probably isn’t appropriate for a lot of the content here but I just feel like the inclusion of something to relieve the tension every now and again would have been welcome, snarkdark if you will – perhaps that’s one of the drawbacks of the episodic chapter style – we were moving forward with such haste that there was very little time for moments of light relief.

Overall, I thought this was a good read.  It definitely had a decent pace and I read it relatively quickly.  The writing was self-assured and the ending left me wanting to read more.

I would rate this 3.4/3.5 on Goodreads.

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

 

 

 

#SPFBO The Purple Haze (The Western Lands and All That Really Matters, #1) by Andrew Einspruch

purplehazeThe Purple Haze was one of the nine books that I rolled forward and read completely as part of the first stage of the SPFBO competition.  This is a YA read that is fun, quirky and quite charming.

As the story begins we meet Eloise, Eloise is heir to the throne of the Western Lands and All That Really Matters and she finds herself with the unusual predicament of being offered the hand in marriage of her childhood friend Jerome, the Chipmunk. Not wanting to upset Jerome’s mother, a powerful seer, but at the same time not really thinking a marriage between a chipmunk and a human is truly viable, Eloise comes up with an alternative suggestion, to appoint Jerome as her Champion (not to be confused with champignon!)  I would say that this opening sequence pretty much sets out the stall for the tone of the book which involves a good deal of fun and a crazy adventure.

The main thrust of the story revolves around the kidnapping of Eloise’s twin sister, the spare to the heir.  But for a few minutes and random chance Johanna would be the future heir, the rivalry between the two acts as a barrier between the two forming a friendship, that is until Johanna is taken by her uncle who has hatched a nefarious plot to marry his niece in a bid to have more power and Eloise realises she’s closer to her sister than she realised and steps up to rescue her.  From here there are plenty of  unusual capers that seem to lead down one false trail after another.

The title of the book refers to a strange purple haze that covers part of the country providing a division between the different realms.  Very little is known about the whys and wherefores of this strange and rather dense like fog – people who go into the haze never return to tell tales and in fact it is used in some places as a punishment for criminals!

I liked Eloise, she has a good personality and is a snowball character in that she seems to gather others to her plight ensuring that we have an entertaining group to read about along the way.  She’s also resourceful and doesn’t panic in an emergency.  She can be terribly proper but also kind and thoughtful.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t have anything major.  I think the style of this might not work for everyone, it meanders and ducks and dithers somewhat and it involves a lot of humour and puns along the way.  I like the style and actually think it takes a lot of skill to write a novel of this nature but at the same time I recognise that this particular brand of crazy might not be for everyone.   I’m also not sure how viable it is to send off the heir to the throne in search of her sister – I mean effectively this means both children are now out there in the wilds with the potential to not return should all go awry. So, no heir and no spare!

Think Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz.  An unusual world with oddball characters, magic and all sorts of talking animals.  This is a lovely, charming read that ends on a note that makes me want to read more.  It’s a journey – not just a physical journey but a coming of age style story in which Eloise comes into her own.

My rating would be 3.5 of 5 stars.

 

 

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