Review: Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A few facts about Never Die:

  • Title: Never Die
  • Author: Rob J. Hayes
  • Series: The Mortal Techniques Series
  • Publisher: Self-published by Rob J. Hayes
  • Pages: 274

I read Never Die on my Kindle.

Synopsis:

Samurai, shinigami, vengeful spirits, and an impossible quest.

Itami Cho has earned the name Whispering Blade. She is a Shintei warrior, sworn to the path of oaths and honour. But keeping her oaths has always been more difficult than taking them. When Flaming Fist and his bandits attack the city of Kaishi, Itami swears one last oath: she will protect the city and its people at any cost.

Ein has spent his life dreaming of being a hero, and now the God of Death has given him a chance. The Reaper has set him an impossible quest: an eight-year-old boy sent to stop an immortal Emperor.

Never Die is a stand alone set in the world of Mortal Techniques. It’s a wuxia adventure filled with samurai, shinigami, heroes, and vengeful spirits. 

Review:

At the time of reading this I was going through an eastern-asian themed reading spree, so when I saw this and its damned cool cover it had me. Having read other Goodreads folks I follow and seeing them LOVE this book it wasn’t a chance I was going to miss, especially when like I said I had been reading a lot of books with an eastern-asian settings and loving them.

This book started off really strongly, it was filled with action and gave me real ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’ vibes with its famed warriors and quirky warrior titles. Knowing we were only going to meet more warriors I was really excited to get into the thick of this book.

Unfortunately, this feeling didn’t stick for me and despite its frequent fight scenes I lost interest. It felt slow, and like it wasn’t really getting anywhere. Yes, Ein was procuring a band of warriors to go and kill the emperor but it still felt stagnant to me. Which is a reason is DNF’d a previous book by this author, it just felt like nothing was happening despite what was actually a fairly fast paced book. 

The battles faced by each of these warriors seemed clunky, each new member was to be killed by those already bound to Ein, yet each battle seemed separate as if they were just wandering through the empire aimlessly. Then came the monsters they faced on their travels, again these encounters all felt singular. I think if the plot was slightly more complex and easy-flowing and the characters had more development this could have been amazing.

The world in which these warriors were travelling also bore little embellishment, I didn’t really know why there were on the mission they were and I didn’t really care. There was only one character I really liked and felt had the depth I was wanting and that was the Emerald Wind, or Green Breeze 😂😂 The rest all seemed distinguishable but not developed. That isn’t to say the characters were bad, we get some insight into their past and personality just not a lot.

I would have loved more tension and conflict. Bloody hell the first two heroes we meet fought against each other in a battle that killed both of them but they seem fine with each other. I would have thought these characters would have series clashes and issues with each other yet they didn’t really have more than bickering. 

I did guess the ending, I guessed Ein’s familial relationships pretty much at the start when there was only the Whispering Blade and the Emerald Wind. 

Despite this I did finish the book, and it was a pleasant read though you won’t hear me gushing over this one I’m afraid. I think, for me, there is just something about the writing style that I just don’t gel well with. I find it really drab, for lack of a better word, it just doesn’t keep me entertained. This is an incredible story and nothing I have come across, so I was super excited for it but I feel like it could have been better. 

If I was you I would read a few other reviews and see if there complaints/praises fall in line with your tastes and maybe give it ago. I mean it won its literary award for self-published books so it is doing something right!! I think a lot of fantasy readers will enjoy this book as many have already but alas it wasn’t for me.


Review: The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A few facts about the Grey Bastards:

  • Title: The Grey Bastards
  • Author: Jonathan French
  • Series: The Lot Lands (Book One)
  • Publisher: Originally self-published but later published by Ballymalis Press 
  • Pages: 529

I read The Grey Bastards on my Kindle and then proceed to buy it for my shelves!

Synopsis:

LIVE IN THE SADDLE. DIE ON THE HOG. 

Such is the creed of the half-orcs dwelling in the Lot Lands. Sworn to hardened brotherhoods known as hoofs, these former slaves patrol their unforgiving country astride massive swine bred for war. They are all that stand between the decadent heart of noble Hispartha and marauding bands of full-blood orcs. 

Such is the creed of the half-orcs dwelling in the Lot Lands. Sworn to hardened brotherhoods known as hoofs, these former slaves patrol their unforgiving country astride massive swine bred for war. They are all that stand between the decadent heart of noble Hispartha and marauding bands of full-blood orcs. 

Jackal rides with the Grey Bastards, one of eight hoofs that have survived the harsh embrace of the Lots. Young, cunning and ambitious, he schemes to unseat the increasingly tyrannical founder of the Bastards, a plague-ridden warlord called the Claymaster. Supporting Jackal’s dangerous bid for leadership are Oats, a hulking mongrel with more orc than human blood, and Fetching, the only female rider in all the hoofs. 

When the troubling appearance of a foreign sorcerer comes upon the heels of a faceless betrayal, Jackal’s plans are thrown into turmoil. He finds himself saddled with a captive elf girl whose very presence begins to unravel his alliances. With the anarchic blood rite of the Betrayer Moon close at hand, Jackal must decide where his loyalties truly lie, and carve out his place in a world that rewards only the vicious. 

(Goodreads)

Review:

I read this back in August 2019, and loved it so I am SUPER surprised I didn’t get around to reviewing it. So, here is my long overdue review of this fantastic book! And look at that cover, unfortunately that isn’t the cover anymore, but I LOVE it so thought to feature that one, the other is cool too.

Never did I think I would want a hog in place of my motorbike but Jonathan French has taken the Harley Davidsons nickname and brought it to life! As a motorbike lover and owner I can’t promise an unbiased account of this gem! 

“Live in the saddle. Die on the hog”.

The Grey Bastards is a unique and interesting story that will satisfy any fantasy fans needs, in my opinion. We have unforgiving lands that are patrolled by Hoofs, half-orcs brotherhoods, that protect the Lot Lands from full blooded orcs and more while riding warrior hogs!

Here, faith was better placed in a strong mount, a loaded stockbow, and a few solid companions.

This book hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. It is fun and exciting and at no point does it fall into a predictable rhythm. I was beyond impressed with this book.

It is no wonder French stood out with this novel in the SPFBO with his unique plot and brilliant writing. French’s writing is clean and elegant while remaining utterly believable and authentic with its epic fight scenes and great world-building. 

A little warning, this book is filled with hilariously filthy jokes, characters more foul mouthed than a seasoned sailor and unforgiving amounts of violence. Whats not to love?

Would this arrogant ass risk a feud just to save face in front of a gaggle of outcast nobility with new saddles and wet dreams of heroism?

On that note though, it is important to point out that the language in this book is wholly appropriate and authentic to the characters, the world building and the plot, both in the way the speak and the topics they discuss. These are burly, violence-loving, hog-riding orcs, what do you expect? 

The characters are easily the most entertaining aspect of this book, second to its amazing plot. French has created a cast of memorable characters each with great characterisations and overall development that capture you and keep you reading. 

I would recommend this!


Review: The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A few facts about The Sword of Kaigen:

  • Title: The Sword of Kaigen
  • Author: M.L. Wang
  • Series: Theonite
  • Publisher: Self published by M.L. Wang
  • Pages: 651

I read The Sword of Kaigen on my Kindle first but I enjoyed it so much I bought the paperback for my shelves.

Synopsis:

*Winner of the Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off, Hosted by Mark Lawrence*

A mother struggling to repress her violent past,
A son struggling to grasp his violent future,
A father blind to the danger that threatens them all.

When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?

High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’

Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.

Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.

Review:

This book is just, wow. I would say I have no words but that’s a lie! I could praise this book all year round. This is easily one of the best books I have read this year, I think it is maybe second 🤷‍♀️ quickly thinking what I have read so far this year. 

I found this book from stalking the judges of Mark Lawrences self-published SFF contest on Goodreads because lets be honest they find some diamonds!

I was bound to love this from the start, I have always loved Eastern Asian cultures, and the concept of warrior families holding such high regard for honour, something about it has always gripped me. So, this being a Japanese inspired military/warrior world with magic it ticked all my boxes. 

Mamoru, what a character! This boy, way beyond his years, is so incredible. He has such depth and so well written. By the first chapter I loved this boy, his energy and drive was infectious. He is so complex and so strong. He grew so much throughout the book, facing the realities of his world and understanding his place in his world. I think he is one of my favourite characters ever written. 

Misaki, again, wow. This woman made me feel strong yet beaten. I was pulled so far from myself and thrust into her sorrow and dislike of her life, it was truly remarkable. I longed for her to return to what she was and to take her sons, and understand the were hers too and not just her husbands. I was demanding she know she is more. This character was such an emotional roller coaster. Again, as with every character in this book, she was so well written. She was strong and flawed. Her growth was also incredible. It was truly something magic to experience her grow and accept the realities of her life. Her relationship with her husband was such a profound journey and one I love.

“A life of dangerous adventures might seem worth it now, when you are young and seemingly invincible, but one day, you will have children, and you will not want that life for them.”

Every character in this book was rich and well written. Her sister in law with her infectious personality. Hyori with her vulnerability. Gods, I could give an example of a character and identify something that was uniquely them for each character written.  

At one point, a secondary character is telling the tale of the Matsuda history and I swear I was so sucked in, I was sat in the house after a harrowing journey and was listening to a history I knew already but seeing it in a completely new light, and I felt the significance of it all. The way in which this book is written is phenomenal. It is so real, for lack if a better word, and is so rich in detail and history. This book is truly a worthy winner of the SPFBO. No doubt.

I loved the world that was created, it was so unique to have this village that was so set in the old ways, and traditional yet the rest of the empire was in such a technical age. The trials they faced because of it. This world held nothing back. 

I loved the plot, it was so well paced. Every single word gripped me and held me tight. It was such an intense book, and the magic system is one of my favourite. I really like elemental magic, and this gave the The Last Airbender vibes at times. I almost imagined the fights scenes as a dance sequence, much like a kata.

Overall, this is exceptional and a must read! It is exceptional read, rich in the smaller details such as clothing and decoration. Im not familiar with the honourifics but each one I checked was spot on.

PLEASE EVERYONE READ THIS BOOK!!


Review: Blood of Heirs by Alicia Wanstall-Burke

My Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A few facts about Blood Heirs:

  • Title: Blood Heirs
  • Author: Alicia Wanstall-Burke
  • Series: The Coraidic Sagas
  • Publisher: Self published by Alicia Wanstall-Burke
  • Pages: 335

I read Blood Heirs on my Kindle.

Synopsis:

Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive. 

Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.

Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?

Reviews:

Blood Heirs is a promising debut and sets itself up for a darkly entertaining second book. I enjoyed reading Blood Heirs due to the amazingly beautiful writing style that is Alicia Wanstall Burkes and the great characters, but I did find myself wondering where the story was going. 

The beasts, magic/curse, ghosts and monsters are all really enjoyable to read and bring the world to life. 

Both Lidan and Ranoth were great characters and I enjoyed their journeys so much, though both did fall flat at times for me. Thankfully, when I found myself wanting more or getting a little bored (for lack of a better word) the POV switched and the pacing shifted, balancing it out nicely. 

Wanstall Burke also did amazing to create complex and well developed secondary characters. Sellan and Erlon were great, as was Ran’s ghost friend and, although a small part, Brit. They fleshed out the word and added much appreciated detail to the characters journey and emotions.

At times I did feel like the two POVs were too separate, they felt worlds apart and totally disconnected. Having read the first installment I am still yet to see the bigger picture. To me this book felt more like a build-up to the second book as a lot, if not everything, is left unanswered. I will definitely read the second book as Wanstall Burkes makes it difficult not too. 

This is definitely a character-driven book, we see Lidan and Ranoth deal with their own problems and emotional turmoil. Both characters worlds are turned upside down and each is faced with a world-wind of emotions. The two need to decide who they are, what person they want to be, in a world filled with betrayal and deep family bonds, and what they want in the end. 

I did enjoy Blood Heir and I am intrigued to read the next book but I found the plot to be a little bland, which is silly because so much happened. I don’t know, it didn’t feel like it had a build up or a climax, and because of that I wasn’t able to rate it higher. Though, that is my only issue really, everything else about this book is brilliant. 


Review: The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids by Michael McClung

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A few facts about The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids:

  • Title: The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids
  • Author: Michael McClung
  • Series: Amra Thetys
  • Publisher: Self published by Mr McClung
  • Pages: 208

I read The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids on my Kindle first but I enjoyed it so much I bought the paperback and the next instalment for my shelves.

Synopsis:

*Winner of the Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off, Hosted by Mark Lawrence*

Amra Thetys lives by two simple rules—take care of business, and never let it get personal. Thieves don’t last long in Lucernis otherwise. But when a fellow rogue and good friend is butchered on the street in a deal gone wrong, she turns her back on burglary and goes after something more precious than treasure: Revenge.

Revenge, however, might be hard to come by. A nightmare assortment of enemies, including an immortal assassin and a mad sorcerer, believe Amra is in possession of The Blade That Whispers Hate—the legendary, powerful artifact her friend was murdered for—and they’ll do anything to take it from her. Trouble is, Amra hasn’t got the least clue where the Blade might be.

She needs to find the Blade, and soon, or she’ll be joining her colleague in a cold grave instead of avenging his death. Time is running out for the small, scarred thief.

Review:

“I think I know you well enough now to say that you’re wrong. It’s become fairly plain that you, Amra Thetys, given the choice between fighting and capitulating, will pick a fight every damned time.”

Mmm, this book guys! This book. It was just what I needed to read.

McClung does an incredible job of building Amra’s world, it is done so well and in a gradual way. Each interactions brings forth more of this amazing world without spending the first however many chapters dumping an enjoyable and excessive amount of information on you. A few times I came across terminology I didn’t know, and at first I wasn’t sure if it was a place or a race of people which was a little distracting. Though, more often than not they were later elaborated on it just sometimes threw me, more because I’d then sit there and wonder if I’d missed something that explained what it was and flick back a few paragraphs to check. Which inevitable pulls you from the story.

The intrigue and mystery that filled this brilliant plot was wonderful and kept me reading throughout. Despite the shorter length of this book none of it felt rushed or underdeveloped. The entire book kept a steady and exciting pace. The world McClung created meant that you were constantly wondering what would go wrong so none of it felt dull. 

I thoroughly enjoyed McClung’s writing style to, it was clean and crisp and enjoyable. At times it reminded me a little of Brian McClellan’s writing style but still remained uniquely it’s own. 

Paragraph length of this book was good, I like short chapters sometimes so I can stop if I need to, so it was good to see certain sections of the book having pauses…perfect for making tea 🙂

With a brilliant world McClung didn’t fail to fill it with great characters. Corbin only appeared shortly in this story and I thought he was great. Amra was fun to read as she was blunt and was stubborn as a mule but was brave, she was truly a great character filled with humour.

”He glanced up when I came in, then fixed his attention back on his carving. I think it was supposed to be a pheckla, but mostly it looked like a turd.”

McClung also filled the world with other characters all unique in some way, making Amra’s interactions with them great to experience. I’m especially liked her dealing with the High Priest. 

“Of course it’s real, you ignoramus. It’s real, extremely nasty, and very unhappy with its job. I shudder to think what would happen if it ever escaped the Necropolis. Gods willing, it would stumble across you first. Now piss off.”

I can not sing enough praises about this book, and fully understand why it won SPFBO. I would recommend this book to everyone, it is a series but can be read alone. I will definitely be reading the others! This is a fun read with a great female protagonist, a creative and gritty world and murder and intrigue. What’s not to love?