I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Never Die is the story of heroes and anti-heroes given the chance to become heroes. It begs the question of what heroism truly means and what it takes to be a hero. Can an amoral bandit who cared for little save himself (and his boss’ daughter) become a hero? Can a warrior who struggled to keep her oaths be one? And yet, there are those for whom the question can be grayer. Heroes who may have to compromise their long-held principles and convictions such as the strategist who lead her prince to countless victories and the master warrior who strove never to kill.
The notion of life and death is a prominent one in this book. Here, heroes were raised from the dead by a little boy and given a quest: kill the Emperor of Ten Kings. Success meant that they will be fully restored to life while failure meant a permanent death. These are high stakes for each of the heroes and all of them wanted this mission to succeed. Of course, that didn’t mean adapting to their new half-lives was easy.
At its core, the best part about this book were the characters. There’s a good variety of them and while I wouldn’t say they come from all walks of life, they certainly carry quite different moral convictions and principles. To me, they are the heart of this novel. From the warrior Itami Cho, the warrior, to The Emerald Wind, and even Roi Astara, the leper, the characters shine through in this book. They all have their own goals to accomplish and in some cases, they conflict with one another.
I liked the world-building well enough. It’s set in a clearly East Asian-inspired world with all the trappings and terminologies of one. For each character, there are even nicknames which represent their style of fighting such as the Flaming Fist, Iron Gut, The Whispering Blade, The Emerald Wind, and even Death’s Echo. There’s also a bit of a sense of history with how the Emperor of Ten Kings was able to rise to power. It serves the story well enough and does not overshadow it.
It is a grimdark fantasy but it has the moments of hope, joy, and humanity that I most enjoy when I read grimdark. It has friendships, relationships, and a lot of character development. While it has yokai and gods, it remains fairly low-fantasy with regards to magic.
I also enjoyed the plot. It isn’t as straightforward as it originally seems to be. Yes, there’s a quest but there are also lies and secrets woven beneath it. Not everything is quite what it appears to be and the ending came as a shock to me. It does make sense in that there was foreshadowing in parts of the book but to learn the full scope of what was going on was incredible. In a sense, it is a stark reminder that heroes can be pawns to a game much bigger than themselves and what they might have thought it to be.
Overall, Never Die is a very enjoyable heroic fantasy which I can recommend to anyone who is a fan of the genre. I have enjoyed the author’s previous works before and I admire how different and fresh Never Die seemed from his previous books.