After a brief rest with K-ON! I was ready for something a bit darker. Enter my next TBRindr book, Never Die, which promised to be both grimdark and part of a cool looking Asian-inspired world. A bit of a mood whiplash, but I really liked the sound of it.
Never Die follows Ein, a small boy who is on a mission from a god of death to kill the Emperor of Ten Kings. Alone, he has no chance of reaching the Emperor, let alone killing him, so he decides to recruit legendary heroes that he read about growing up. The only problem is that to recruit them to his cause, they need to die first.
There’s a lot that I liked about Never Die, so I’ll start with that. The main strength of the book is the characters, in particular the heroes recruited to Ein’s cause. There’s Whispering Blade, a swordswoman of few words and a strict code of honour, wielding two blades but only ever drawing one of them. The second to join is the Emerald Wind, a selfish and cowardly bandit who can teleport and leave copies of himself behind. Iron Gut Chen is a braggart only concerned with glory and a good meal, his skin impervious to damage. And the Master of Sun Valley is an honourable Wushu master, unbeaten in battle but rarely venturing outside of the confines of his valley home. Tagging along is Death’s Echo, a mysterious assassin who is convinced that Ein has the power to cure his leprosy. It’s a good mix of characters, with a nice balance of honourable and selfish characters. Their varied battle styles are fun to watch interact, which is a good thing considering the regularity of the battles that occur.
The plot is pretty damn strong, managing to be both action-packed and yet filled with subtle details that end up being more important than initially expected. There was one aspect of the plot that didn’t quite work for me though, and that was the ending. While it was very subtly signposted in the narrative, the ending kind of left a bittersweet taste for me, because while it made sense from a plot point-of-view, it made a lot of the character interactions feel a bit futile and sad. Not enough to invalidate the high quality of what went before, but enough that it marred what could have been a higher score.
A really strong story with an interesting world that I would like to see explored further. The characters and their growing camaraderie is the best part of the story by far though. The only thing that bothered me was an ending that felt a bit too bleak for my tastes. I would definitely look into Hayes’ other works, should the chance arise. 4.5/5
Next review: Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett