Never Die by Rob J. Hayes
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.
When I first read the premise for Never Die, I had my suspicions I was letting myself into something unique. Although I was entirely correct in this presumption, I wasn’t prepared for just how uniquely insane this novel would turn out to be.
Ein, a notoriously creepy eight year old boy, is on a quest to kill the emperor. Due to his lack of strength, stature, and the fact that he is eight, he recruits some of the most famous warriors in Hosa to help him with the violent bits. Trouble is, his recruitment strategy involves killing and resurrecting the warriors, effectively binding them to him and his cause. That was jaw drop number one in a vast array of jaw drops.
Hayes’ skill here is unparalleled. He builds his characters wonderfully, through memory, dialogue, and lore, exposing their flaws and temptations, and yet inexplicably binding them to his readers just as they are bound to Ein. They were legendary and wonderfully real; pain, grief, woe, and even hints of joy were weaved into their characterisation, each warrior gorgeous in his or her own way. With each different personality came a different fighting technique, making me long for the ability to step through space, or even just have a cool warrior name.
The mythology was glorious - Hayes has done his research here, and I learned a lot about Japanese folklore. What was particularly special was Hayes’ refusal to patronise and explain. The work I put in between chapters googling words like yokai made the novel far more real, and much more special.
I found the plot to be very reminiscent of video games I’d played as a kid. Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter did spring to mind, but most of all I got real Mystical Ninja feels (ten points if you know that one). Time to dig out my N64.
The finale was an utter triumph. I’ve read so many fantasy novels recently where the ending is easy to predict - everything is perfectly tied up in a little bow and we all go away satisfied. I don’t want to give too much away, but Hayes chose to forsake the little bow and tie everything up with barbed wire. It was completely unexpected, and a master stroke. I loved it.