274 pages | Self-published | Fantasy/Speculative Fiction/ Mythology/ Supernatural
I received an ARC of Never Die from the author (at my request) in return for an honest review.
The digest: Never Die is a much-needed break from your typically Wester fantasy fare. The novel is a tale of retribution and atonement, our characters led by the servant of a shinigami in order to fight the Dead God’s battles. Expect awesome weapons and magic-infused fighting techniques and you will not be disappointed. Fans of shonen manga/anime will absolutely love Never Die.
Since reading City of Kings by Hayes in 2018 as part of the TBRindr programme (and loving it), I have known that I needed to read more of his work. I’ve currently got a couple of his novels on my audiobook TBR (which I paid for with my own money) but jumped at the chance of reading Never Die before publication in return for an honest review.
From Never Die‘s Goodreads page:
“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.”
What did I like?
- The characters are a rag-tag bunch, each with their own nuances and clearly defined traits. We spend most of our time with Itami Cho a shintei with a bit of a questionable past, though we also spend a fair amount of time with each of Ein’s other recruits. I can’t tell you who my favourite hero is because that would be a spoiler – just know that not everyone here is 100% serious 100% of the time. Each of the main characters has a clearly differentiated fighting style (and perhaps a more magical style, too), and at no point was I confused about who was who.
- The Eastern setting is well done. We don’t have in-depth descriptions of the politics and economics of Ein’s homeland, but we are treated to a look into its mythology and religious system, as well as how these have changed under the rule of the Big Bad. I found this setting to be a refreshing break from your typical fantasy fare, but at no point did I feel at all alienated.
- Following on from the above point, I really enjoyed learning about the different aspects of magic in Never Die. This isn’t immediately obvious from the outset (beyond the resurrection mentioned in the Goodreads blurb), so I won’t give specific details. Just know that the combat is imbued with a sort of magic not entirely out of place in some more recent video games (and, in fairness, the oldest stories – think mythical techniques and such), and there are new reveals right until the last chapters.
- The action scenes are very clearly written & I never felt lost. In all honesty, I found these to be some of the best I have read in recent years. I’m very much a reader who likes to picture fights as if I were watching a movie and I found Hayes’ precise use of language and his clarity of style allowing me to do this easily.
- The pacing never lets up. In some books, this is a downside, but by moving quickly from one scene to another (and indeed skipping over what could be considered ‘boring’ journey time), Hayes ensures that the time-sensitive nature of the story never falters.
- A potential downside of this is that we don’t see much in the way of character arcs. We do learn a bit about the backstory of a few of our heroes, but none of them starts off entirely evil and ends up entirely good by the end of the story.
- Don’t think that an action-oriented story means there are no moment of levity, as there are certainly a couple of laughs here and there. Unusually for a novel, I did actually laugh out loud in a few spots, and if you read Never Die, I’m sure you’ll be able to guess which character(s) these involved.
- The ending was satisfying – there is an ending which doesn’t necessarily require any expansion, but Hayes leaves himself enough room to return to this storyworld should he want to. Sure, we don’t have all of the answers or an explanation of exactly what happens now, but do we really want one? I appreciated the fact that we were given enough so we could form our own conclusions, but don’t think for one second that there couldn’t be a sequel to Never Die one day (I really hope there is!).
What was I less keen on?
- The plot is formulaic. Decide who needs recruiting, fight them, kill them, revive them, convince them why they need to fight for you. Rinse and repeat. There is nothing wrong with this style per se, and if you are a fan of video games or shonen manga/anime you will most likely not be put off at all by this. A formulaic plot isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but don’t go into this thinking you are going to have a short-form epic because you aren’t.
- As was touched on above, we don’t get to spend as much time with the characters as I would have liked. It is no secret that I’m a fan of character-driven plots, so it should come as no surprise to know that Never Die, as fast-paced and action-oriented as it is, wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. This is a personal preference so I didn’t let this point influence the final score too much.
- That isn’t to say that we learn nothing of our cast (see above). Ein, for instance, can definitely be an intensely creepy bugger.
- I massively enjoyed reading about the different magic that the characters of this world could use, but I was disappointed that there was never really an explanation of how the magic worked. What is the limit of the magic? Are all the different varieties all part of the larger overall system (like in Harry Potter), or are they all somewhat separate from each other (like in Fullmetal Alchemist)?
- In addition to this, if we accept that shinigami and co. exist in the real world, is there a ‘good’ version, too? If so then where are they, and if not then why are the shinigami not our overlords? In fairness, this could be part of the folklore from which Hayes is drawing, but I think a novel shouldn’t require external knowledge in order to function.
In conclusion: 4/5. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Never Die once I got on-board with the formulaic plot structure. If you love shonen media and the gradual progression of fighting increasingly strong enemies then you will most likely love this novel. If you aren’t particularly a fan of shonen things, there is still more than enough quality content here to keep you interested, so I recommend it to fantasy lovers in general, too.