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The Mortal Techniques novels are a series of stand-alone stories that can be read entirely independently, set in the award-winning Mortal Techniques universe. Merciless gods, vengeful spirits, immortal assassins, and empires at war collide. Five years ago, Yuu made a mistake that cost her everything. Once a renowned strategist and general, now she is on the run, royal bounty The Mortal Techniques novels are a series of stand-alone stories that can be read entirely independently, set in the award-winning Mortal Techniques universe. Merciless gods, vengeful spirits, immortal assassins, and empires at war collide. Five years ago, Yuu made a mistake that cost her everything. Once a renowned strategist and general, now she is on the run, royal bounty hunters snapping at her heels. But what if there was a way to get back what she lost, a way to bring back a murdered prince? Once a century, the gods hold a contest to choose who will rule from the Jade Throne. Each god chooses a mortal champion, and the fate of heaven and earth hangs in the balance. On a battlefield full of heroes, warriors, assassins, and thieves can Yuu survive long enough to learn the rules of the game, let alone master it? Pawn's Gambit is a stand alone story set in the award-winning Mortal Techniques universe. It's a wuxia adventure filled with heroes, gods, spirits, and magic.


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The Mortal Techniques novels are a series of stand-alone stories that can be read entirely independently, set in the award-winning Mortal Techniques universe. Merciless gods, vengeful spirits, immortal assassins, and empires at war collide. Five years ago, Yuu made a mistake that cost her everything. Once a renowned strategist and general, now she is on the run, royal bounty The Mortal Techniques novels are a series of stand-alone stories that can be read entirely independently, set in the award-winning Mortal Techniques universe. Merciless gods, vengeful spirits, immortal assassins, and empires at war collide. Five years ago, Yuu made a mistake that cost her everything. Once a renowned strategist and general, now she is on the run, royal bounty hunters snapping at her heels. But what if there was a way to get back what she lost, a way to bring back a murdered prince? Once a century, the gods hold a contest to choose who will rule from the Jade Throne. Each god chooses a mortal champion, and the fate of heaven and earth hangs in the balance. On a battlefield full of heroes, warriors, assassins, and thieves can Yuu survive long enough to learn the rules of the game, let alone master it? Pawn's Gambit is a stand alone story set in the award-winning Mortal Techniques universe. It's a wuxia adventure filled with heroes, gods, spirits, and magic.

30 review for Pawn's Gambit

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petrik

    I have a Booktube channel now! Subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/petrikleo ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. A great Wuxia adventure with an empathizing redemption arc. I’ll start this review by giving a shout out to Felix Ortiz and Shawn T. King for doing such another terrific job with the cover art and typography. Now, I’ll say it upfront that I’m a huge fan of Never Die by Rob J. Hayes; it’s one of my favorite books. When I heard that there would be a standalone I have a Booktube channel now! Subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/petrikleo ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. A great Wuxia adventure with an empathizing redemption arc. I’ll start this review by giving a shout out to Felix Ortiz and Shawn T. King for doing such another terrific job with the cover art and typography. Now, I’ll say it upfront that I’m a huge fan of Never Die by Rob J. Hayes; it’s one of my favorite books. When I heard that there would be a standalone not-sequel to Never Die, I was ecstatic but also terrified that it wouldn’t live up to the quality of Never Die; worst-case scenario, what if Pawn’s Gambit ends up ruining Never Die!? This situation happens quite often. A proposed standalone/series extended to something bigger but never as good as the previous books. Now that I’ve read it, I really shouldn’t have worried. Out of the three series by Hayes—Best Laid Plans duology, The War Eternal, and Mortal Techniques–that I’ve read so far, I can easily say Mortal Techniques is by far my favorite, and Pawn’s Gambit without a doubt just boost that notion. “No war can take place without love. Be it love for a person, love for power, love for money, love for a nation.” Once a century, the gods hold a contest to determine who will rule from the Jade Throne. Each god is allowed to choose a mortal champion, and the winner will decide the fate of heaven and Earth. The story in Pawn’s Gambit centers on Yuu, who was famously known as Art of War, and Yuu has been chosen by Natsuko—the goddess of missed opportunities—as her mortal champion to participate in the contest. The contest? A scavenger hunts to collect divine artifacts. The winner will be allowed to challenge Batu, the current God of War that rules the Jade Throne, as the new ruler. So yeah, in a way, Pawn’s Gambit utilized another quest-based concept at its key premise, and although the story takes place a few years after Never Die, this doesn’t mean that this is a repetition of Never Die. One thing that differs in this book compared to Never Die is that Pawn’s Gambit felt more Wuxia-inspired rather than anime-inspired; for example, only one memorable Yokai appeared here, and I wish there was more of them because it was one of the things that made Never Die so amazing to me. “Knowledge without wisdom often leads to a misuse of power.” I won’t lie, though, unlike the first book where I immediately felt compelled and invested with Itami Cho and her group of misfits in their impossible task, Pawn’s Gambit took me a while to warm up to the characters. Hayes keeps the story of Pawn’s Gambit going strong since the beginning with engaging—sometimes humorous—dialogues and characters. From the beginning of the book, we know that Yuu regretted her mistake that led to the death of the Steel Prince, and she felt guilty about it; she threw away the Art of War persona because of this. However, there’s more to this, I anticipated its revelation, and once it’s revealed, that was the moment where I became fully invested in Yuu, Natsuko, and their quest. In other words, this is me saying that the first half of the novel was good, but the second half was amazing, and the concluding final chapters were brilliant and incredibly satisfying. “Failure was always due to a lack of focus. With enough attention and preparation, no outcome could not be predicted, and no situation could not be overcome.” Pawn’s Gambit is a superb addition to the Mortal Techniques series. I loved Never Die more, but I honestly believe that Hayes should keep on writing standalone books within this world; the Mortal Techniques series is becoming something special. Not only do we get to learn more about the mortal techniques here, but Pawn’s Gambit also contains Hayes’s most philosophical and thought-provoking writing so far yet. I’m eagerly waiting for the release of the third installment that’s due out within 2021 as well, and it’s called the Spirit of Vengeance. “A true hero acts not on impulse, but on rationale and consideration.” P.S: I absolutely loved the chess elements within the narrative. I might have typed Queen’s Gambit plenty of times. Official release date: 26th January 2021 You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication. You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions Special thanks to my Patrons on Patreon for giving me extra support towards my passion for reading and reviewing! My Patrons: Alfred, Alya, Annabeth, Ben, Blaise, Devin, Diana, Edward, Estefani, Hamad, Helen, Jimmy Nutts, Joie, Lufi, Melinda, Mike, Miracle, Nicholas, Summer, Zoe.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Hamad

    This Review ✍️ Blog 📖 Twitter 🐦 Instagram 📷 Support me ☕ “Weapons are not dangerous,” said the goddess as she slid her Monk into place. “Nor is a man with a weapon. A person’s skill and intent are the real danger.” Hayes is one of my most trusted self-published authors ever. Never Die is one of my favorite books and I recommended it to many of my friends who also loved it. The War Eternal Trilogy is one of my favorite trilogies ever and the first trilogy that I read as ARCs. You can te This Review ✍️ Blog 📖 Twitter 🐦 Instagram 📷 Support me ☕ “Weapons are not dangerous,” said the goddess as she slid her Monk into place. “Nor is a man with a weapon. A person’s skill and intent are the real danger.” Hayes is one of my most trusted self-published authors ever. Never Die is one of my favorite books and I recommended it to many of my friends who also loved it. The War Eternal Trilogy is one of my favorite trilogies ever and the first trilogy that I read as ARCs. You can tell I was super excited when I was presented with the chance to be part of the blog tour for this book. The book comes out on January 26th which also happens to be my birthday and that alone is a good reason to convince you to read the book. (Look at the gorgeous cover courtesy of Felix Ortiz -artist- & Shawn T. King –Typography and design-) Pawn’s Gambit is part of the Mortal Techniques series which consists of bunch of standalones taking place in the same world. You don’t have to read Never Die to read this one, the only thing that will differ if you did that are some Easter eggs that Hayes put throughout the story but the two books are definitely standalones! This book revolves around Yuu who is also known as the art of war for being a renowned strategist and general in her past, one mistake cost her a lot and she’s now living with the consequences of it. On the other hand, The Gods are having their contest which is held every 100 years to determine the next ruler of the Jade Throne through people they choose to compete against each other and I think you can workout the rest from this info! Now it is no surprise for me that I enjoyed the prose in this one because I am already a fan of Hayes writing style. I think it balances humor and fantasy and well written characters at the same time. The books are not huge and they are easy to follow which makes them a perfect place also for anyone who wants to read more adult fantasy but is intimidated by the size! There were a ton of quotes that I highlighted and I think it lived up to my expectations from that aspect! “Mistakes are like wrinkles,” Natsuko said as she snapped together the last few pieces of the game and put them away in her pouch. “The older we get, the more we have, and we forget them until we look in a mirror.” Now the characters were great, I think in all the books I read by the author, characterization was my favorite thing and it is the same case here. I was excited when I saw Yuu gathering a gang and I thought it will be similar to Never Die but then it took a different turn which was also enjoyable. Yuu does grow out through the story and she had her moments were she was frustrating or not as smart as you would expect from her but overall she’s still a well written character, the rest of the characters are pretty much three dimensional too. The Plot is good and I think the fast pacing is another reason that makes it easy to read. I did felt it slowing a bit in the middle and there was some repetition (With Yuu’s rants) but then it picks up and the ending was cool and there was a small plot I did not see coming! “The first step toward winning is knowing which game you are playing.” Summary: Pawn’s Gambit was a very cool read which was engaging and easy to read. I think the writing was smooth and the characters were nicely written. I am just a fan of Hayes and this is another book I enjoyed by him and I will be reading his next work for sure!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nick Borrelli

    Anyone who is a frequent visitor to my blog knows that I am a huge fan of Rob J. Hayes. I've reviewed a number of his books and the common theme that always prevails is that I am going to enjoy anything he writes. Rob has the flexibility to write stories that are completely different from the ones before and yet the high quality is always there in my opinion. I'm happy to say that PAWN'S GAMBIT continues that trend and quite honestly, I wasn't really surprised. The book takes place quite a few ye Anyone who is a frequent visitor to my blog knows that I am a huge fan of Rob J. Hayes. I've reviewed a number of his books and the common theme that always prevails is that I am going to enjoy anything he writes. Rob has the flexibility to write stories that are completely different from the ones before and yet the high quality is always there in my opinion. I'm happy to say that PAWN'S GAMBIT continues that trend and quite honestly, I wasn't really surprised. The book takes place quite a few years after the events in Never Die. The time has come for the gods to see who will lead them for the next century. This will be determined through a competition. In this case, the competition is a scavenger hunt of sorts to collect a specific number of powerful magical artifacts that are hidden in different areas in the human world. There are a few catches that make the contest an even more difficult one. One of them being that these artifacts can only be collected by a human, sponsored by each god. Oh, and the gods can't assist directly in any way, making the recovery of these artifacts all the more challenging. The two main characters in PAWN'S GAMBIT are Yuu, also known as The Art of War, and the goddess Natsuko. Throughout the book we follow the two as they progress through the near-impossible competition of capturing each mysterious object. Natsuko's professed aim is to win the hunt at all costs so that the god of war Batu can be removed from the Jade Throne and finally free the world from 100 more years of bloodshed, war, and despair. Is this really her desired outcome, or are there motivations that go beyond what she claims? And what part will Yuu play in all of this if she does happen to be able to collect all of the artifacts? I really enjoyed this book a lot and part of the reason why is that it is so quickly paced. It doesn't take long for you to be dumped right into the action after a brief setup. The relic hunting aspect of this fantasy story made it a nice departure from Never Die as a fully standalone entry, yet there are enough nods to its predecessor to create a slight bit of nostalgia at times. The action is breakneck in this one and you won't find a lot of quiet reflective passages. That's not to say that there isn't any character development though, as Yuu especially evolves considerably from the beginning of the story to the climax. I found the relationship between the goddess Natsuko and her champion Yuu to be a truly compelling and complicated one. It's obvious that Yuu doesn't fully trust her almighty benefactor but really has no choice in the matter. Conversely, Natsuko needs Yuu to accomplish her final goal and it's increasingly clear as the story plays out that she chose her for a specific reason. There's a good deal of mystery, which Hayes usually inserts into his books, and that is also what made PAWN'S GAMBIT an even more rewarding read for me. As with most of Rob's books, he also does a fine job of including a significant amount of super cool magic and the world-building is never an area where Hayes slacks either. All in all, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a fantasy story that is rife with dangerous moments, daring escapes, vindictive gods at war with each other, and superb storytelling that only Rob J. Hayes can deliver. It's also a very quick read and the page count is not daunting at all compared to many other books in the genre. This is another sterling winner of a book from an author who is at the very top of his game right now. The Mortal Techniques series is truly one of the more unique series that I've come across and I can only hope that this isn't the last we've seen from this world. Something tells me it won't be. Be sure to grab yourself a copy of this one when it is released on January 26th.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rob Hayes

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  5. 5 out of 5

    Mihir

    Read full review over at Fantasy Book Critic OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Pawn’ Gambit is the second standalone story set in the Mortal Techniques world. Its origins will be expounded upon by Rob in an interview with me next week. I was bugging Rob to write more in this world when I first finished Never Die. So when this book was announced, I was super happy because it would be focusing on a minor character from Never Die who was very mysterious and intriguing. I had mentioned “The true backstory & the fu Read full review over at Fantasy Book Critic OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Pawn’ Gambit is the second standalone story set in the Mortal Techniques world. Its origins will be expounded upon by Rob in an interview with me next week. I was bugging Rob to write more in this world when I first finished Never Die. So when this book was announced, I was super happy because it would be focusing on a minor character from Never Die who was very mysterious and intriguing. I had mentioned “The true backstory & the future of Daiyu Lingsen“ as one of the things that I would love to be explored in a future sequel. The story is set over five years after the events of Never Die, but again this isn’t something that new readers have to worry about. Yuu (Daiyu Lingsen) is our primary protagonist who is languishing in self-exile as she fears for her life. Her actions while helping the heroes of Never Die, were seen a betrayal by the Steel Prince’s family and hence the self-exile. Yuu as she calls herself now is simply a day-drunk and has truly lost her way. She tries to drink herself to death while playing chess for money and swindling the local populace to fund her drinking habits. What she doesn’t know that an epochal event is about to occur in the lands of Hosa, Ipia, Cochtan & Nash. Natsuko is the god of missed opportunities & lost things and she’s been waiting for nearly a century to unseat the current Tianjun of the Heavenly Jade Throne. Batu the God of war rules Tianmen (the heavely abode of the gods of Ipia, Nash, Cochtan & Hosa) and all four lands have been engulfed in warfare in the past several decades as was his will. This of course makes the events of Never Die shine under a different light and raises some interesting questions about the true nature of the Shinigami & its actions. But back to the central focus of this story, every hundred years, the Gods have a contest to select a new Tianjun and thirty-five gods (including Natsuko) have taken on the gamble of unseating Batu this time. They have to include something close to their very Godhood and select a champion among the humans for a chance to win this contest. As the readers can imagine, Natsuko has chosen Yuu and proceeds to let her know of this onerous task. Faced with ignominy or the possibility to have her heart’s desire, Yuu decides to take part in this contest and thus begins Pawn’s Gambit. Before I start this review, I have to clarify, I was an alpha reader for this story and I will do my best to be as objective as possible. The first thing this story which struck me was that in spite of its epic scale, via gods, a contest and lots of magical shenanigans. The story was very intimate and kept on a personal level thanks to the twin POVs of Yuu and Natsuko. Yuu as a protagonist is a very admirable one, she’s down on her luck in life but comes with a very rich history. We get a detailed look into her backstory which makes for a fascinating tale in itself. There’s also the motif of chess and life as a series of battles that is interspersed richly within the story. Yuu has been dealing with some pretty tragic guilt issues and there’s more stuff in her past which showcases what a tremendous fighter she has been. Natsuko on the other hand is a pretty walled off deuteragonist whose actions while fully visible, her reasoning behind them, is not. This causes us as readers to not trust her fully as does Yuu when she first meets her but then slowly and surely more layers are pealed. Both Yuu and Natsuko learn more about each other and how they can learn to trust each other. This has been Rob J. Hayes’ strengths; creating a solid character cast beginning with the protagonist (s) and then onwards to the secondary cast and even up to the small role characters. Everybody who we meet, be it Li Bang or the shopkeeper of the famous Tsin Xao’s house of refreshments or my favourite secondary character from Never Die or general Roaring Tiger (pictured above). Rob’s characters strike a chord with their plans, behavior and style. Plus they keep you invested in the story and much more. This book has less of the action sequences than its predecessor but it definitely has some amazing fight scenes. The magic quotient of this book is definitely on the epic side and readers again will get a feel of the strange creatures and legends that populate these lands. Yuu as she goes about the contest in search of the godly artifacts often finds herself in various situations that range from whimsical to downright dangerous. The pace of the story and its plot twists are such that you are going to want to flip the page to see what happens next. Coming back to the heart of the story which is Yuu herself. Ultimately this book is very much in line with Greek mythology as you have a hero who is trying to find her path and use her wits literally to win a contest of the Gods. Mixed in with magic, deadly warriors, cunning thieves and devious assassins, I’ll leave you to find out what sort of Greek ending this one has. For me, Yuu’s personal journey was the epic heart of this story. Her personal losses, her recall of all the various mental tricks taught by her grandmother and the birth of the legend of the Art of War. This and more we get to read in this slim epic fantasy standalone. It's hard to talk about this book and not talk about Never Die. That book was such an adrenaline rush that to compare Pawn’s Gambit to it, will be a cruel endeavor. They both are awesome but in different ways, think of Never Die as spicy fast food while Pawn’s Gambit is a more refined meal that allows for palette expansion. Pawn’s Gambit is very much an epic exploration of one woman’s attempt at redemption. Along the way, she helps stave off an invasion, learns the secret of the monks of Bai-Ping, renews the hope of her countrymen via the brilliance of her alter-ego the Art Of War and in the end, gets to play a round of chess with the deadliest warrior/strategos ever. This is what made this book such a spectacular read for me. I finished it and since then re-read it twice and only have come to appreciate it and the world of Mortal Techniques even more. I know Rob is currently hard at work on the third Mortal Techniques book and knowing how this one ends, I can’t wait to get my hand on it. Lastly, I do want to highlight the spectacular cover for this book which follows the artistic style of Never Die. Felix Ortiz and Shawn T. King deserve a big round of applause for this spectacular cover and I can’t wait to see what they come up with in the third Mortal Techniques book. For drawbacks to this story, readers expecting the fast-paced action of Never Die won’t find it here. This is a bit slower paced read but not like molasses. Some readers might not enjoy the themes that are explored in this story but there’s a specific reason for them. I believe this encapsulates the story precisely: “And when a war is finally laid to rest, as all wars must be, it is remembered by those it has delivered, and by those It has destroyed.” CONCLUSION: Pawn’s Gambit is an epic exploration of one woman’s guilt and her attempt at redemption in the eyes of everyone (and herself). It is the story of the Art Of War and Daiyu Lingsen who will easily go down as one of the most brilliant and empathetic minds that we readers will come across in the annals of epic fantasy.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Filip

    You can find my video review of Pawn's Gambit here: https://youtu.be/XBQmCi2plt4 I thoroughly enjoyed 2019’s standalone Never Die, an action-driven novel I described as an anime in novel form when I reviewed it, chock-full as it was of brilliant combat inspired by Japanese myth, legend, folklore, and martial arts. Pawn’s Gambit, surprisingly not the prequel to hit Netflix show Queen’s Gambit, does everything I enjoyed in Never Die, and a whole lot more besides. Never Die 2: Die a Little Bit is, fa You can find my video review of Pawn's Gambit here: https://youtu.be/XBQmCi2plt4 I thoroughly enjoyed 2019’s standalone Never Die, an action-driven novel I described as an anime in novel form when I reviewed it, chock-full as it was of brilliant combat inspired by Japanese myth, legend, folklore, and martial arts. Pawn’s Gambit, surprisingly not the prequel to hit Netflix show Queen’s Gambit, does everything I enjoyed in Never Die, and a whole lot more besides. Never Die 2: Die a Little Bit is, far and away, a more memorable book than its predecessor; and a better novel, I would argue. Its chief conceit is more engaging by far—a contest for the throne of heaven. Part gauntlet, part treasure hunt, this is a work that isn’t afraid to claim an identity of its own, similar yet very different from its predecessor. Take protagonist Yuu, who is hardly a fighter the likes of Never Die’s Whispering Blade. A strategist of both great renown and infamy, she is a drunk, full of self-pity for the person she used to be before, I quote, “war had made her a murderer, and before peace had made her a criminal.” Yuu is embroiled in the divine contest by Natsuko, goddess of lost opportunities, whose most common appearances include a small child and a tiny, wrinkled grandmother. It’s the relationship between these two characters from which conflict is generated – Yuu is a most unwilling champion, pushed and prodded into her role by the insistent goddess. Yuu is a little like Batman in that old internet joke—give her enough prep time, and she’ll figure out how to deal with it. Trouble is, the artifact hunt Natsuko sends her on has a set time limit, and our protagonist is forced to improvise. Watching her figure her way through one tight spot after another is a highlight of this novel. As for the goddess, Natsuko is amusing, a little frightening, constantly cantankerous. But she is wise, too; lines such as the following well exemplify that wisdom: “Mistakes are like wrinkles…The older we get, the more we have, and we forget them until we look in a mirror.” and “There is a propensity to confuse heroism with rash action. They are not the same. A true hero acts not on impulse, but on rationale and consideration.” Good lines, even if one of them comes from Art of War, Yuu, herself—but hey, it takes wisdom to recognize it in others. Is it a rewarding experience, reading this while having read Never Die? I would argue so. I had a murky memory of Yuu’s character herself, but as I read on, I found elements from the first Mortal Techniques novel coming back to me—a welcome return, by the end of this one. Support characters include a peasant with heroic aspirations, a thief, a yokai or two, and several murderous mortals with Techniques far deadlier than that of our inebriated protagonist. It’s all fun and games until someone named the Ticking Clock comes after you with a flying machine and bloody intent. Impressive is the way in which Hayes handles the theme of domestic abuse – some of his subtlest work yet. Hints of something amiss are spread throughout, left for you to piece together as you read on, until a point when—snap—it all clicks. The game of chess is used as a framing device to the novel. The prologue to the book opens with the goddess Natsuko literally picking a pawn in the gods’ contest; the opening proper of the book closes in on Yuu playing a literal game of chess; many of the conflicts in the book can be related to metaphorical chess games, to a greater or lesser extent. As far as framing goes, this is wildly successful and well-deserving of praise. Unlike its predecessor in the Mortal Techniques, this one also left me eager to read the next title in this collection. Hayes has a talent in teasing out what’s to come; this is most evident in the epilogue, only a few short pages, which hints at a conflict to come in this world, and at a certain character with whom readers of either book (or both) should be well familiar with, to one extent or another. It’s a very fine release, as I’ve come to expect of Rob J. Hayes. He continues to deliver captivating tales of deeply flawed heroes in a way that deserves recognition and acclaim, as well as my recommendation. Buy it, read it – I trust you’ll enjoy it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Marvellous fun, and an enjoyable read. A melange of ordinary folk, heroes and gods, some spirits too, all soaked in an Eastern Oriental culture and mythology. EDIT: Learnt a new word relevant to this genre; Wuxia! I’m a bit slow... Well written, an easy read. If I hadn’t had other matters distracting me then I’m sure I could have wolfed it down in a couple of days, it was that absorbing. The main POV is sympathetic and well drawn. A drunk with a penchant for chess, she’s sucked into a competition Marvellous fun, and an enjoyable read. A melange of ordinary folk, heroes and gods, some spirits too, all soaked in an Eastern Oriental culture and mythology. EDIT: Learnt a new word relevant to this genre; Wuxia! I’m a bit slow... Well written, an easy read. If I hadn’t had other matters distracting me then I’m sure I could have wolfed it down in a couple of days, it was that absorbing. The main POV is sympathetic and well drawn. A drunk with a penchant for chess, she’s sucked into a competition between the many gods and spirits linked to this East Asian world, and although a journey to find some artefacts, almost like an old style computer game, is a major part of the storyline this isn’t allowed to dominate over the interesting characters added to the story, some passing and some more permanent, some unpleasant, some likeable. Loved the fancy names some of the more heroic characters gave themselves; ‘Art of War’, ‘Ticking Clock’, ‘Laws of Hope’, etc! Endings are always tricky for well constructed stories on which the fate of the world may depend. I thought this ending worked well, bit of a twist. I’m sure it’s a coincidence that the title almost clashes with The Queen's Gambit book and TV series. There’s no other link of course, aside from the title but also an important role for chess. Only my second by this author since the previous standalone Never Die. And this was just as good. And a quite different story albeit both being in an East Asian setting. It seems another standalone in the same world is also in progress - I’m in the queue for it based on these recent books. I was thankful for the dictionary option on my eReader allowing me to check up the various Chinese/Japanese cultural references, often items of dress or weapons. Far from essential as you didn’t really need to know them, but useful. Not a deep book exploring the meaning of life, but a lovely interesting story, almost comic book style, in a fantasy world culturally distinct from that by many Western authors. 5*.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Charlie - A Reading Machine

    When I heard there was another book in the Mortal Techniques series I had no hesitation putting my order in. The first book in the ‘series’ was brilliant and it fulfilled all the Wuxia needs I didn’t even know I had. I also just finished watching The Queens Gambit and I’m enjoying the mysteries and challenges of chess, the art work on the cover by Felix Ortiz is breathtaking and finally, and the most important, because with every book of his that I read, Rob J. Hayes continues to become one of m When I heard there was another book in the Mortal Techniques series I had no hesitation putting my order in. The first book in the ‘series’ was brilliant and it fulfilled all the Wuxia needs I didn’t even know I had. I also just finished watching The Queens Gambit and I’m enjoying the mysteries and challenges of chess, the art work on the cover by Felix Ortiz is breathtaking and finally, and the most important, because with every book of his that I read, Rob J. Hayes continues to become one of my favourite authors. It’s election time for the Gods. The God of War is in charge and has basically said if you don’t beat me this century I’m taking over full time. It is up to the God of Lost Things and Missed Opportunities to find a champion on earth that can complete a scavenger hunt that will crown her the winner and hopefully lead to a more peaceful period for the humans of earth. Yuu is that champion. At one point in her life she was known as The Art of War, the masked advisor to the Silver Prince, whose ability to out think, out plan and out maneuver an enemy made her the most feared and respected person on the battlefield. Now she lives in hiding, hunted after a failure of epic proportions that disgraced her and the hero she helped usher to greatness. Now Yuu must not only find the lost and hidden objects of the god but avoid the other contestants, after all it might be easier to just kill a champion and take whatever trophies they have collected than do the finding yourself…typical bounty hunter scum. There is so much love in the book. If it were a video game the special ability meter would be maxed out indefinitely. There are some fantastic fight scenes as contestants, all chosen for their ability to compete with the God of War, literally tear through each other. I loved the few links I spotted to the first book but I also love that this stands alone because it was so easy to jump into and enjoy without the mental stress of trying to remember every character and relationship from the first book. Bottom line? Buy this series and get ready to enjoy yourself. 9/10

  9. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Tabler

    Pawn's Gambit by Rob J. Hayes is one of my most anticipated releases for 2021, and it lived up to the hype. Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing the Wuxia epic Never Die, it was my first introduction to Rob as a writer, and I got to say that his books are fast becoming some of my favorites. "Beauty is emotion, good or ill. Pain or happiness or fear or love. Beauty is in the experience." From my review, "Never Die is centered around Ein...and has been sent on a quest from God. ..For Ein's mis Pawn's Gambit by Rob J. Hayes is one of my most anticipated releases for 2021, and it lived up to the hype. Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing the Wuxia epic Never Die, it was my first introduction to Rob as a writer, and I got to say that his books are fast becoming some of my favorites. "Beauty is emotion, good or ill. Pain or happiness or fear or love. Beauty is in the experience." From my review, "Never Die is centered around Ein...and has been sent on a quest from God. ..For Ein's mission to succeed, the mysterious and powerful Emperor of Ten Kings must fall. To succeed in his quest, Ein must walk barefoot across the cities, mountains, and rivers of the countryside and never don footwear. Ein must select champions to fight the Emporer for him, and these champions must die first so that their souls are tethered to Ein." Never Die was the first installment in the Mortal Techniques world. Pawn's Gambit takes place many years after Never Die and is not a sequel, although there is some fun scattered Easter eggs for the readers of Never Die to enjoy. Instead, Pawn's Gambit is a stylized Wuxia epic with some steampunk and game theory thrown in that takes place in the same world of Never Die. It has the same rules and techniques, which we learn more about, but it is about redemption and finding peace. "Yuu shrugged. "Throw her a tea party or something, sure. Whatever works." Pawn's Gambit's plot centers around the protagonist Yuu, also known as The Art of War. Yuu is a former famous military strategist, who wears a white mask at all times, and is known for pulling out military wins in the direst of situations. Her ability to see all the angles of a fight are legendary. Though these wins often come at the high costs of human lives lost. Her grandmother, the previous incarnation of Art of War, trained Yuu in all the aspects of war and strategy. However, unlike Yuu's grandmother, Yuu cannot separate herself from the battles. She feels the pain of the deaths that she helped cause, even if she won the war. They weigh heavy on her heart. "Failure was always due to a lack of focus. With enough attention and preparation, no outcome could not be predicted, and no situation could not be overcome." Five years ago, Yuu made a choice that cost her the thing she held most dear but won the battle. The repercussions of that choice caused her to drop the mask and leave batteling forever. She no longer wanted to be The Art of War. Now five years later, we find Yuu sitting in a bar, getting drunk as she does every night, fleecing men for coin in battles of chess. It is below someone who was once The Art Of War, but at this point, all she wants to do is forget and drink till she feels the pain of the loss no more. Meanwhile, in another realm, the Gods are having a battle of their own. Every 100 years, the gods have a contest to see who will sit upon the throne for the next 100 years. The God who is currently sitting on the throne, Batu, is the God of War. He has brought nothing but devastation and horror to the land of men for the last 100 years. He cannot help it; it is his nature. But it is time for a change. "The first step toward winning is knowing which game you are playing." The contest is this: Each God participating must give up a thing they hold most dear. The objects are placed throughout the land, and champions, chosen by the benefactor God, must go out and find those objects. Whoever has the most items wins. It is a grand scavenger hunt. Natsuko, the Goddess of missed opportunities, has chosen her champion, Yuu. Yuu is not thrilled with this. Yuu is an interesting character. She is one of those types of characters that isn't likable, but she could care less about being liked. She has a core of inner strength that you can see even when readers start the story, and we see Yuu at her very lowest point. But this story is her redemption arc, and what that redemption actually is, is up to the reader. Hayes doesn't concretely define what redemption looks like for Yuu. I think that makes her a stronger and more interesting character. She has layers and different parts to her. Is she the strategist, the friend, the woman, the human? I am not sure, but I know that the various facets of Yuu are tested thoroughly throughout this story. The dialog for the story is funny and very human. Hayes can bring out a situation's nuance and doesn't need to pound the reader with heavy-handed dialogue. This made me relate all the more to Yuu and the supporting characters she finds along the way to help her. These characters, seen on the superb Felix Ortiz and Shawn T. King cover, help her in different ways. The journey is not the same as Never Die, but there are similar teamwork elements that carry through. Pawn's Gambit is a worthy addition to the Mortal Techniques series and a follow-up to Never Die. It is really good, and I am so excited that I got to immerse myself in this Wuxia inspired world with great characters, exciting fight scenes, and heartfelt dialog once again. This story asks some big questions and challenges what redemption is. You should come and take this journey with Yuu; you will not regret it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Blaise

    More reviews at undertheradarsffbooks.com I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. I have said it before in my review of Never Die and I will say it again if you didn’t hear me the first time, Rob Hayes is the pinnacle of how a self-published author can achieve great success and notoriety. He keeps putting out novel after novel with each one being better than the last as he gains more experience to go along with the great talent he already possesses. Pawn’s Gambit is th More reviews at undertheradarsffbooks.com I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. I have said it before in my review of Never Die and I will say it again if you didn’t hear me the first time, Rob Hayes is the pinnacle of how a self-published author can achieve great success and notoriety. He keeps putting out novel after novel with each one being better than the last as he gains more experience to go along with the great talent he already possesses. Pawn’s Gambit is the “not” sequel to Never Die but it takes place in the same world of Hosa. You do not need to have read Never Die in order to enjoy and understand this novel, but there are crossovers from Never Die to will give readers the slightest of nods and a fantastic set up for book 3. Since this is a standalone novel, there will be no risk of spoilers in this review. The gods are at each others throats as a contest has been launched for control over the pantheon. Each of the gods has to sacrifice something of value in the contest and select a champion. It is the champions job to search the land and discover these hidden artifacts in order to provide their god sponsor the chance to become the next ruler of the gods. The plot seems simple and even along the lines of a hide and seek game, but the characters and progression of the story will keep you coming back for more. In Pawn’s Gambit we follow the journey of Yuu, a world renowned strategist and general, wanted for the betrayal and murder of the prince. When Yuu, who is in hiding, is approached by one of the goddess’ to embark on this search she is quick to turn her aside until the goddess promises to return the one thing she values the most. Then the journey begins across the land of Hosa. Along the way, Yuu will encounter other characters whom will help in her endeavor to gain as many artifacts as she can. Rumors are swirling that another champion of the gods is hunting down the champions and stealing the artifacts for themselves. Yuu will have to keep up her guard in order save herself the goal she has agreed to take on. Yuu is the shining character in Pawn’s Gambit as she has the reputation of seeing the whole battlefield and has been known to sacrifice armies of soldiers in order to achieve a winning position on the field. She is smart, cunning, and has the ability to pivot on the spot when the unexpected comes to fruition. Yuu’s journey has plenty of twists and turns along the way and her arc progresses nicely for the set up to book 3. One other great addition to Pawn’s Gambit is the explanation of the different types of mortal techniques characters have and how they are introduced to the world. There are three different types of techniques: Those that you are born with, those that can be learned from a young age with practice, and those that are granted spontaneously through gifts from the gods. Yuu has a mortal technique and she uses it sparingly when planning her strategies for the upcoming battles. Two of these techniques lead to a fantastic battle around the half way point and the endless possibilities of what can be introduced for future novels has me giddy with excitement. Yuu may want things to return to the way they were when she was the right hand man, to the prince, but she has now become a pawn in the greater game of the gods. Yuu will come to know that even a pawn can checkmate a king, or in this case a god. If you have not read Never Die yet or anything by Rob Hayes, then I don’t know what you are waiting for. Every time I pick up on of his books, I am blown away with the imagination and love Rob Hayes has for his characters and work. Don’t let another second pass without giving Rob Hayes a read and I promise that you will be glad you did! Cheers!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    “I mean, what is a kingdom but a collection of people who don’t need to be ruled by a person who has no idea how.” In Pawn’s Gambit, a.k.a. Never Die 2: Never Stop Never Dying (Not a sequel to Never Die), Rob Hayes takes us back into the world of his Mortal Techniques series, set a couple of decades past the events of the first book. While there are tangential mentions of characters from the original story, Pawn’s Gambit features all new characters and its own self-contained story that allows “I mean, what is a kingdom but a collection of people who don’t need to be ruled by a person who has no idea how.” In Pawn’s Gambit, a.k.a. Never Die 2: Never Stop Never Dying (Not a sequel to Never Die), Rob Hayes takes us back into the world of his Mortal Techniques series, set a couple of decades past the events of the first book. While there are tangential mentions of characters from the original story, Pawn’s Gambit features all new characters and its own self-contained story that allows the reader to jump in without needing any previous knowledge of this world. So join us, won’t you? What immediately jumps out about this non-sequel to Never Die—which was largely an action-oriented, team-focused story--Pawn’s Gambit narrowed its focused on two central characters: Yuu, a self-exiled former war strategist who has gone into hiding out of shame for her actions; and Natsuko, a half-crazed Goddess of Lost Things who is attempting to win a once-per-century contest to overthrow the reigning god of war. While there are some memorable characters and exciting set pieces throughout the story that keep the emotions high and blood pumping—which is customary for a Rob Hayes novel—Yuu’s story takes a quieter, intimate approach. Hayes takes his time revealing her backstory and reasons for her emotional distress, and I found it to be the biggest driving force of the story – more so than any of the supercool steampunk monk battles or city sieges. It was a nice change of pace from what I was expecting from a Mortal Techniques story, and it helped enrich the world by focusing on the inner struggles of our main characters and discovering the world through their eyes, as opposed to learning about the environment from a general narrative overview. “Wars are always fought on two fronts. One is the battlefield between soldiers. The other is back at home between the loved ones and their grief. That was what Yuu saw in Anding. Not a city in its death throes, wallowing in grief. But a city trying to rebuild, to reclaim what it had lost. A city brought together by tragedy, forged into a family by hardship, made strong by the support they showed each other and the determination they rallied around. Hope. That was what Yuu saw in Anding. Hope of a new start.” The above passage resonated with me as I felt an underlying theme throughout the story was hope – the hope of redemption for washing your sins clean. Everyone has demons in their past of which they are trying to make amends – literally, in some scenarios. (And they are super gross and scary and its awesome.) Sometimes these goals can be achieved through a journey of self-discovery. Other times you need the support of all your life’s experiences to move forward into whatever destiny awaits you, be you a god, human, or something in between. Emotional stuff. Hayes has once again created a captivating story to add to his growing library of flawed, badass warriors sowing chaos and kicking ass. If that sounds like your mug of grog, Pawn’s Gambit is a sacrifice you’ll want to make.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Maxine Robinson

    It exceeded my expectations. Full review to come closer to release.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lynn K : Grimmedian

    I thoroughly enjoyed Rob J. Hayes’ first installment of Mortal Techniques, Never Die. It was a fun and entertaining wild romp through the world he’s created. You can read my review here. After his dark hair-raising adventure of The War Eternal, (review here), Hayes has returned to the universe of Mortal Techniques and has surpassed himself. The story is deeper and more complex. The characterizations are done with more depth and it features a protagonist that is relatable and memorable. Gambit- de I thoroughly enjoyed Rob J. Hayes’ first installment of Mortal Techniques, Never Die. It was a fun and entertaining wild romp through the world he’s created. You can read my review here. After his dark hair-raising adventure of The War Eternal, (review here), Hayes has returned to the universe of Mortal Techniques and has surpassed himself. The story is deeper and more complex. The characterizations are done with more depth and it features a protagonist that is relatable and memorable. Gambit- defintion: A chess Gambit is an opening in the game which, when played correctly, can determine the outcome from the very first move. The beginning of Pawn’s Gambit contains one of the best prolougues I’ve ever read. The tone is quite philosophical and remains so throughout, with fast pacing, and witty dialogue. "A war starts small. An idea, a thought. A conception. Never quick, it takes time to gestate, to grow, to take form long before it is birthed into the world. And it is always birthed in blood." Pawn’s Gambit: Rob J. Hayes Yuu’s story is a redemption arc that provides an opportunity for a lot of great character growth. Hayes delivers in spades with Yuu. She has a long way to go to shed five years of drinking away the memories that haunt her. Of fleeing the royal house that set a price on her head, and suffering a lack of purpose while she has attempted to evade her past. Yuu has cast aside her mask as The Art of War. A master strategist, she now plays chess against any comers for the coin to buy wine and drown her sorrows. She wanders Hosa as a vagrant while avoiding those who seek the bounty on her head. Until she is approached by a Goddess and challenged to a game of chess that will decide both their fates and the fate of mankind as well. Natsuko, is the goddess of lost things and missed opportunities. She and her twin brother *Fuyuko have set a plan into motion to take the throne of heaven from the god of war, Batu. She has pinned all their hopes on Yuu, The Art of War. The relationship that develops between the two, is heartwarming, although Natsuko is irascible and Yuu is stubborn as a mule. Their first companion is Li Bang, a rather simple seeming fellow that Yuu hires as muscle. As snarky as Natsuko is, calling him Lump, she cares enough to spare him as a sacrifice in Yuu’s long game. One she must play to win. Batu has kept the realms of Hosa, Ipia, Cochtran, and Nash in the chaos of war for a century. Every one hundred years, the gods can challenge the king for the throne in Tianmen and Natsuko intends to end the reign of bloodshed. Thirty five gods come forward, their champions chosen, their artefact for the contest, a most precious possession, laid at the base of the Jade throne. Batu scatters the artefacts across the land and the champions must acquire them before the next moon cycle. The one with the most artefacts at the end, no matter how they came to have them, whether by skill, strength, or even murder, will challenge Batu for his throne. The colorful side characters make this story rather unforgettable, as a mob run by monks hold a city hostage, an assassin more machine than man seeks Yuu’s death, and a terrifying army of soldiers from Cochtran, with Blood Engines, at war with Hosa plus Gods of every description which all vie for the coveted position of Tianjun, emperor of the Gods. There is a strong vein of strategy within Pawn’s Gambit, in the allegory of chess. It is woven deeply into Yuu’s persona. A childhood of training at the hands of her grandmother, the first Art of War, that was begun with the game of chess. She was the general of armies standing next to her Steel Prince. What happens when your pieces have become your friends and allies? Who can be sacrificed? Can Yuu overcome her self crippling doubt and sober up to meet the challenge? Or will she perish, along with her and Natsuko’s hopes and dreams? Yuu is not the only one to grow and change, her companions must do so as well. Present in this fast-paced tale, is a deep look into how people are motivated, how lives are shaped by innate talents or the lack of them, and the devastation wrought on generations by war. By using her unique skill set, Yuu is able to look at each challenge from every angle and find a strategy for the weaker, smaller and downtrodden to triumph above overwhelming odds. It’s an intricate way to create tension within the story. The monsters in this installment are not spirits, but the worst and deadliest of both humans and Gods alike. There is value in each person, whether seen or unseen, which can make them heroes in the truest sense. Not for glory, but for what is right, and they can possibly save humanity from destruction. Pawn’s Gambit is a well crafted, and well rounded stand alone book with all the best of what we loved in Never Die. Pawn’s Gambit possesses an emotional hook and sympathetic players which explore the basics of the human condition. It demands careful consideration with a depth that some readers may have been looking for in Never Die It’s brilliant. Highly recommended. I know I will be eagerly awaiting the third installment that’s due out within 2021 as well, called the Spirit of Vengeance. Official release date: 26th January 2021

  14. 4 out of 5

    Miriam Michalak

    Set in the same world as Never Die around 5 years after events in that book took place, Pawn's Gambit tells the story of Yuu when she is chosen to be a champion of the Gods. We learn that Yuu, a wanderer making a living by playing and winning at chess, was previously known as The Art of War - a famous war strategist. When her strategy fails and leads to the death of the Steel Prince, she leaves behind the persona of the The Art of War and goes on the run. Now the Gods are holding contest for the Set in the same world as Never Die around 5 years after events in that book took place, Pawn's Gambit tells the story of Yuu when she is chosen to be a champion of the Gods. We learn that Yuu, a wanderer making a living by playing and winning at chess, was previously known as The Art of War - a famous war strategist. When her strategy fails and leads to the death of the Steel Prince, she leaves behind the persona of the The Art of War and goes on the run. Now the Gods are holding contest for the Jade Throne and each must choose a champion – the winner deciding the fate of the world for the next century. Yuu is selected and the adventure begins! The Pawn’s Gambit, whilst not lacking in the action that made Never Die a rip roaring read, is more character led and thought provoking. The pacing, dialogue and plotting are excellent and I was fully invested in both Yuu and her story from the first chapter. And the ending, oh the ending – extremely satisfying is all I will say 😊 I think I devoured this book in 2 or 3 sittings – it was that good. A brilliant addition to the Mortal Techniques world and a rewarding read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rhian

    I loved Never Die which was the predecessor to this book (although they're not a series, you could read them in any order) so I had high expectations. I was not disappointed. Pawn's Gambit has great pace and characters and a very engaging plot. The lead character is quite different to those in other books I've read and it was really refreshing. She is a celebrated hero but has fallen by the wayside and lacks drive and confidence...until a goddess decides it's time to change that. The story is an I loved Never Die which was the predecessor to this book (although they're not a series, you could read them in any order) so I had high expectations. I was not disappointed. Pawn's Gambit has great pace and characters and a very engaging plot. The lead character is quite different to those in other books I've read and it was really refreshing. She is a celebrated hero but has fallen by the wayside and lacks drive and confidence...until a goddess decides it's time to change that. The story is an adventure with interesting and surprising characters throughout. I finished this in record time (for me!). It kept me up at night and I woke in the morning having dreamt about the story, wondering what was coming next and hoping I could squeeze a chapter in before work.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Literature & Lofi - Benjamin Blackmore

    "The pieces never needed to know the strategy, only the parts they had to play." I was ecstatic when Rob J. Hayes announced a second book in the self-published fantasy series, Mortal Techniques. It's not specifically a sequel of sorts, but more an expansion upon the rich eastern influenced world R.J.H has already built. Our protagonist in this entry is a character who intrigued my curiosity in the previous novel, Never Die, and that is the impressive strategist, Daiyu Lingshen, better known as Th "The pieces never needed to know the strategy, only the parts they had to play." I was ecstatic when Rob J. Hayes announced a second book in the self-published fantasy series, Mortal Techniques. It's not specifically a sequel of sorts, but more an expansion upon the rich eastern influenced world R.J.H has already built. Our protagonist in this entry is a character who intrigued my curiosity in the previous novel, Never Die, and that is the impressive strategist, Daiyu Lingshen, better known as The Art of War. She now goes by the name Yuu. She's running from her past and has lost her purpose in life. Enter the goddess of missed opportunities, Natsuko, with a proposition for her. Natsuko wants Yuu to become her champion and to engage in a contest among the gods. And so the adventure begins... And it's one hell of a fun time. All the exquisite character work R.J.H did in Never Die is equally as present here if not more so. This is his Forte, yet again, I can only praise him for his work. The story line is just as engaging. We shy away from constant action of Never Die (however they're is still a generous serving sprinkled between the pages) in favour of moments and situations which solidify the character arcs. Yuu: is such a fantastic protagonist. I've always had a soft spot for strategists. It's very insightful seeing the world through Yuu's eyes. As a strategist we see the full extent of war and the aftermath as well as her detailed opinions of participants in battles. She's been taught to see people as tools but you can tell she also has a sensitive side that values loyalty and friendships. I really loved the inclusion of her struggles with alcoholism, it was realistic in showing that the problems she possesses stems a lot deeper than initially perceived. She's firmly cemented herself as a favourite character of mine. Her arc is tremendously executed, learning about Yuu's past is just as essential as understanding the character she is in the current day. Natsuko: Despite the cover art and the format of the first book, I consider Pawn's Gambit a story that follows a partnership rather than a group of characters. And Natsuko is the other half of the duo. She initially comes across as light hearted, playful and whimsical but as the story progresses we understand her to be serious, wise and benevolent (everything we expect a goddess to be). But what I love most is the relationship Yuu and Natsuko form, they open up about their vulnerabilities and the best way to make a goddess relatable to a reader is to give them empathetic "mortal" problems. I didn't entirely trust "little" Natsuko the whole time but I found myself rooting for her to succeed. Other characters also assist in carrying the story. Li Bang was a lovable character from the get go who I wanted more of in the book. The Falling Moon was a sweet and humble character that developed a beautiful relationship with our protagonist, despite her attempts at cutting him loose and pushing him away. I also loved the mutual respect between the old general, The Roaring Tiger and Yuu. I appreciate how they both see the bigger picture despite lingering memories of the past where they were opponents to one another. Lump was a great addition to assure Yuu that she was never entirely alone. This pet companion also helped to reveal a caring and nurturing side to both Yuu and Natsuko. We also get a lot of references to characters from the previous novel which felt like a nostalgic trip down memory lane. We even get a few cameos here and there. The continuous mentioning of the "False Steel Prince," Zhihao, brought up some unexpected emotions. It was the little things like learning more about his body's fate was a cleverly written detail that tugged at my heartstrings. What I will say is the "companion" characters felt more like episodic cameos in this book. They were here to serve a purpose and then are dismissed. Fang, The Roaring Tiger and even the villain, The Ticking Clock, we're all characters I feel like we could have gained a little more from. However, reeling everything back in, this sacrifice of a larger roster of characters was clearly intentionally done in favour of excelling the arcs of our dynamic duo, Yuu and Natsuko. And to me, that was a very fair trade to make and is something that I can't argue it disagree with. The third act and conclusion to this story is executed in classic Rob J Hayes fashion. He has a habit of throwing unexpected curve balls which draw up phenomenal revelations just as the curtains are being closed. While Never Die was a bittersweet ending, I think Pawn's Gambit finishes in a somewhat more exhilarating and impactful manner. A lot of Never Die fans are going to love Pawn's Gambit as it's a book which is nostalgic, expands the world even further and keeps true to the mantra of following incredible characters close to the heart of it's story. This is a little bit more of a slow burner with more interesting content. I genuinely feel this book has a broader appeal to wider range of readers than it's predecessor. The Final Verdict: 9.5 out of 10

  17. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin G

    Final Rating: 3.5/5 Stars Review based on a free ARC provided by the author in exchange for my fair and honest review. Once upon a time, Yuu was the known as the great strategist, the Art of War. But when faced with impossible circumstances, Yuu made a move that angered many, even though it helped secure the overthrow of the Emperor of Ten Kings. In hiding from the nobles who would see her executed, Yuu is content to spend her days getting drunk and playing chess. But Yuu’s quiet life is interrupt Final Rating: 3.5/5 Stars Review based on a free ARC provided by the author in exchange for my fair and honest review. Once upon a time, Yuu was the known as the great strategist, the Art of War. But when faced with impossible circumstances, Yuu made a move that angered many, even though it helped secure the overthrow of the Emperor of Ten Kings. In hiding from the nobles who would see her executed, Yuu is content to spend her days getting drunk and playing chess. But Yuu’s quiet life is interrupted when she is sought out by Natsuko, the goddess of lost things and missed opportunities. Once every 100 years, the gods have the opportunity to compete for the throne of heaven by choosing one mortal champion to seek out and claim as many hidden divine artefacts as possible before the competition ends. Natsuko is determined to dethrone Batu, the god of war, who has been stoking conflict between the nations. And who better to defeat the god of war than one who knows war so well? PAWN’S GAMBIT is a string of clever tales about a woman who claims her victories not by skill with the blade, but with cunning. Yuu goes through a series of adventures as she tries to recover the hidden artefacts, frequently facing situations where she is either too outnumbered or underpowered to tackle a situation head on. She instead must weigh the pieces she has to figure out how to outmaneuver her opponents and emerge victorious. It’s a very episodic journey, with Yuu encountering a variety of scenarios, from temples guarded by warrior monks to rooms haunted by vengeful spirits. In some ways, it feels like Yuu is dancing through the lives of others, popping into events long enough to find what she needs before moving on to the next artefact. Yuu is playing to change the balance of the gods themselves, making even large events like a war seem trivial to her task of finding a divine coin. For those wondering how PAWN’S GAMBIT compares to its predecessor NEVER DIE, I will say PAWN’S GAMBIT is a fairly different beast. NEVER DIE was a tale of epic heroes, of sword fights and monsters, duels and large battles. While there are flashes of those elements here, PAWN’S GAMBIT is a more intimate story. Yuu does get into a few clashes with larger-than-life figures, but her best scenes are the ones where it’s simply her and an opponent staring at each other across a table, each trying to outwit and defeat the other without ever drawing a blade. Whereas NEVER DIE was about building a crew of heroes, Yuu largely operates on her own, picking up allies for a few days and then leaving them behind. This is Yuu’s story. She might be in a contest of the gods, but the heart of this story is about Yuu’s reconciliation with all the pain and abuse of her past and how she moves forward with her life. It’s a cathartic moment indeed when Yuu makes an emotional realization that allows her to recontextualize much of her past and upbringing. PAWN’S GAMBIT has been marketed fairly heavily as “not a sequel” to NEVER DIE, and for the most part that holds true. Although Yuu was a notable character in NEVER DIE, you can very much enjoy this book on its own. The story makes small nods to people and places from NEVER DIE, but they felt more like Easter eggs than key information. I did, however, find the narrative a bit too vague in describing the events from NEVER DIE that led Yuu to need to go into hiding in the first place. I cobbled together a rough idea of what had happened from PAWN’S GAMBIT, but had to go back to my copy of NEVER DIE to confirm what had ACTUALLY happened. It may seem like a small nitpick, but given how many times Yuu mentions the Steel Prince and the grief she feels about her actions, I would have liked a bit more clarity at some point in the book, especially if this is truly a standalone adventure. Whether you are going to enjoy PAWN’S GAMBIT will depend on your preference of story. I had a great time with PAWN’S GAMBIT, but personally preferred the more duel-oriented adventures of NEVER DIE, which focused on battling warriors. Not every battle needs to be decided with a blade, however, and many will enjoy a hero who wins through brains over brawn! And while PAWN’S GAMBIT is a standalone adventure, there’s an excellent tease for a third MORTAL TECHNIQUES book, which I will definitely be checking out!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Frank Dorrian

    Rightio where to start with this one? I didn't expect to enjoy this one as much as I did, as I thought the setting etc would bug me as it's not usually my kind of thing, but it absolutely blew me out the water. I've read a few of Rob's books over the last 12 months and, while they were all very good and highly enjoyable, for me they absolutely pale in comparison to this one. Pawn's Gambit is a surprisingly visceral and cerebral affair compared to what I've seen the Mortal Techniques series describ Rightio where to start with this one? I didn't expect to enjoy this one as much as I did, as I thought the setting etc would bug me as it's not usually my kind of thing, but it absolutely blew me out the water. I've read a few of Rob's books over the last 12 months and, while they were all very good and highly enjoyable, for me they absolutely pale in comparison to this one. Pawn's Gambit is a surprisingly visceral and cerebral affair compared to what I've seen the Mortal Techniques series described as in various groups and online discussions etc. It's an extremely intelligent book, like, extremely. The intrigues and 'holy shit' chess-based one-uppings that take place in it are beyond anything I could coin as a writer, and make uncertain if I wish to steal inspiration from it or simply choke the life from Rob whilst screeching in mindless jealousy for penning something so damn good. While the general plot is pretty dang simple in and of itself, it's the characters and their interactions and intrigues that make this into something special. The naming conventions are excellent and beyond creative, and the character of the Ticking Clock was badass. Considering the setting and the tone of the book, there's also enormous Warhammer 40k nods in it that gave me a few 'ha, cool' moments yet never felt jarring or out of place. Also considering that this book is martial arts movie inspired, and being a martial artist and former fighter myself, I'm extremely picky and eyebrow raisy when it comes to fight scenes in books. But I've got to give it to Rob, he did a bastardly good job on the action scenes. They're seemless, convincing and enthralling, and gave me more than one 'yeah fuckin go ed la' moment whilst I read into the small hours and neglected my own writing. Something else important to note: not having read the first book of this series didn't impact my read at all, there were no 'wtf's he on about' moments at all, and it shouldn't impact anyone elses enjoyment of it either. In fact it's made me determined to go read Never Die asap. There was not one bit of this book that left me feeling underwhelmed, and even the parts and characters I thought could have been made more of I believe that were purposely left as such for future works in this series (I personally demand a story each for Li Bang and Yanmei from you, Rob). It's ending was awesomely crafted, extremely well thought out, conclusive, satisfying and left me wanting more. So, in summary, it's fucking excellent and I'm insanely jealous. Go and preorder it immediately, you fools!!! 5/5 yams: yamyamyamyamyamyamyamyam 🍠🍠🍠🍠🍠

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Rob J Hayes is my new favorite authoR Part Mark Lawrence, part Scott Lynch if enough people read his books, someone will write a review that starts Rob J Hayes. The writing is fresh and quick paced. These last 2 stand alone as were a lot of fun to read. Dark, but not full Grim Dark. With clever plot twists, and multiple little adventures within the overall story. If you haven’t read RJH, the good news is you know have several months of reading ahead of you,

  20. 4 out of 5

    sol

    its wuxia ... that's literally all i needed to hear its wuxia ... that's literally all i needed to hear

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dustin

    Never Die, (book I in the Mortal Techniques series,) was easily one of my favorite books of 2019. My review, if you're interested: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Needless to say, I am PSYCHED for Pawn's Gambit, which is a standalone novel set in the same world. Never Die, (book I in the Mortal Techniques series,) was easily one of my favorite books of 2019. My review, if you're interested: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Needless to say, I am PSYCHED for Pawn's Gambit, which is a standalone novel set in the same world.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andy Peloquin

    Never Die, the first of the Mortal Techniques "series", slayed in the 2019 SPFBO--and, of course, my heart. I loved the wuxia/ronin/martial arts movie feel of the book. Pawn's Gambit is both delightfully LIKE and UNLIKE Never Die. The world was the same. The flavor of gritty, dirty, down-in-the-muck, slightly grimdark, cynical, world-weary society that I loved was the same. The characters are similarly caricaturized and incredibly realistic human beings, which was one of my favorite parts of Neve Never Die, the first of the Mortal Techniques "series", slayed in the 2019 SPFBO--and, of course, my heart. I loved the wuxia/ronin/martial arts movie feel of the book. Pawn's Gambit is both delightfully LIKE and UNLIKE Never Die. The world was the same. The flavor of gritty, dirty, down-in-the-muck, slightly grimdark, cynical, world-weary society that I loved was the same. The characters are similarly caricaturized and incredibly realistic human beings, which was one of my favorite parts of Never Die. But what I really loved about Pawn's Gambit was the way it steered AWAY from violence. That's not to say there were no fight scenes--there were enough to keep me interested, for sure--but the goal of this story was almost the diametric opposite to Never Die, using combat only as a last resort. And to good effect! The main character, Yuu, hooked me from the opening. I loved the "Sun Tzu/Lao Tse" vibe, but with the added layer of cynicism, alcoholism, and despair that made her utterly human and relatable. Her story was layered in beautifully, and the payoff at the end absolutely satisfied her journey to the very last page. I will say the characters in this one weren't quite so flamboyant as in Never Die. I did find myself wishing for some Iron Gut Chen-type characters who were just so much larger than life. But I loved Li Bang, Fang, crone Natsuko, Roaring Tiger, and all the other characters who graced the page. Never Die had a huge TWIST that I loved, so I spent most of Pawn's Gambit waiting to be equally surprised. I won't say how or when, but that part of me that craved a good old-fashioned "WTF!!!?" moment was absolutely satisfied. I'd call this an excellent Bloody Rose to Never Die's Kings of the Wyld. The second book in the "series" has a different flavor than the first, but I enjoyed that far more than a continuation of the story. Now, if only I didn't have to wait another 1-2 years to see what other adventures await in the world of the Mortal Techniques!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hari Krishnan Prasath (The Obvious Mystery)

    If you think about it, Our mistakes are proper milestones in our lives. If we try, we could possibly remember most of the mistakes that we have made along the way, better than the things that we have learned from them. They serve as reminders, alarm clocks that anchor us to the ground, reminding us that we are only human. The magnitude of these mistakes determines their significance in matters of importance and presents us with choices that are life-altering. The path we choose to walk determine If you think about it, Our mistakes are proper milestones in our lives. If we try, we could possibly remember most of the mistakes that we have made along the way, better than the things that we have learned from them. They serve as reminders, alarm clocks that anchor us to the ground, reminding us that we are only human. The magnitude of these mistakes determines their significance in matters of importance and presents us with choices that are life-altering. The path we choose to walk determines the future of who we are. One such path emerges in front of Yuu, 5 years after the biggest mistake of her life. Strained with guilt and lack of drive, Yuu, the Art of War, accepts this path that sets her on a quest to aid a Goddess and repent for phantoms that haunt her past. Pawn's Gambit is the second standalone fantasy novel set in the Mortal Techniques universe and loosely follows the events of Never Die. Like Never Die, this wuxia adventure novel packs a mighty punch in terms of giving its readers 'the experience'. The experience here consists of different elements of the stories that act as portals to get lost in. With the world that is built and established beautifully to well-executed action sequences and wonderful characters! Witness them grow from bud to flower and finally bear fruit as they evolve and mature along the way. The pace of the book transitions from a slow warm-up to a very fast conclusion. The scenes transitioned elegantly Yuu grew on me as her character signified a positive change and her abilities that granted her the name, Art of War. The magic system is further explained in the second book and its obvious tie-in with the folklore and myths of that land makes it easier to understand the premise as a whole. For a quest-driven book, Pawn's gambit surprisingly gave importance to its character arcs. There are several key explorations in the psyche of Yuu and the goddess, Natsuko as they both figure out their wins and losses and determine the next path at the crossroads of their lives. Yuu's wit and occasional reasonings were a marvel to read about. That being said, I really wished that the book had a map of the extensive world that is portrayed in it. I was also not a fan of the names or titles that these heroes were given. At times they were comical and that did remove a bit of seriousness from the scenes that were unfolding. Though I loved it, I did not love it as much as loved the first book! Never Die was a target that Pawn's Gambit could not reach. But It did have an ending that completely blew my mind! Also, did I mention this book is self-published? Check it out!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kristoffer Furacão Pereira

    I love Rob Hayes. That's no secret, his work is narratively fun while still stylistically genre appropriate. This was a great book and I rate it highly (it hit all the right notes for me). It brought back a few characters I did want to know more about and was wuxia in all its generic asian wonderfulness (best of all, while slighting none) and was generally a good fun read. My only sort of gripe was that narratively, like its predecessor it was simple and exactly what you'd expect. Which isn't nec I love Rob Hayes. That's no secret, his work is narratively fun while still stylistically genre appropriate. This was a great book and I rate it highly (it hit all the right notes for me). It brought back a few characters I did want to know more about and was wuxia in all its generic asian wonderfulness (best of all, while slighting none) and was generally a good fun read. My only sort of gripe was that narratively, like its predecessor it was simple and exactly what you'd expect. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but having read the previous novel recently I did find myself wanting more deviation in themes. Which is hard when each book is standalone-ish, i guess. I think I would really love more of Rob's overarching finesse in storytelling based in this world. It does drop hints that more could be coming, but I would love a stronger set of...ties that bind (i'll see myself out, it was worth it). It's a solid book, but maybe leans too heavily into itself.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Benny Books

    As soon as I saw the cover for Pawn's Gambit I got a pang of excitement. Never Die was one of my favorite reads of last year and author Rob Hayes absolutely nails this series once again. Pawn's Gambit is awesome! The 'magic system' is based around techniques learned through training or in some cases inherited, elevating mere mortals to heroes who roam the world fighting and gaining notoriety. This story follows The Art of War, a master strategist who with the help of a god embarks on a quest to As soon as I saw the cover for Pawn's Gambit I got a pang of excitement. Never Die was one of my favorite reads of last year and author Rob Hayes absolutely nails this series once again. Pawn's Gambit is awesome! The 'magic system' is based around techniques learned through training or in some cases inherited, elevating mere mortals to heroes who roam the world fighting and gaining notoriety. This story follows The Art of War, a master strategist who with the help of a god embarks on a quest to overthrow the god of war and set right past wrongs. What follows is a very intelligent and well thought out story with clever plot twists and fulfilling payoffs. The action is exciting, the heroes are badass, and although not a comedy as such contains dialogue completely in tune with my sense of humour. "Natthuko," Sarnai lisped, fire spraying out of her mouth like spittle from a toothless oldman. "I didn't exthpect you to make it thith far." "Sarnai" Natsuko said, holding out her arms as if in welcome. "Fuck off." I can't wait for the next book and really really hope this series continues beyond book three. A solid five stars from me.

  26. 4 out of 5

    S. D. Howarth

    A slightly more cerebral take on the use of characters, and I thought with the not earlier book I would miss it. I didn’t, the characters - and their strengths are there to open certain opportunities, then held to strike decisively. The Art of War is a neat character, in a tight tale of her unravelling and gradual rebuilding that works very, very well, yet remains human, and no mere pawn pusher, while broken and up there with Tanaka Khan. Depending what else comes out, it could be a book of the y A slightly more cerebral take on the use of characters, and I thought with the not earlier book I would miss it. I didn’t, the characters - and their strengths are there to open certain opportunities, then held to strike decisively. The Art of War is a neat character, in a tight tale of her unravelling and gradual rebuilding that works very, very well, yet remains human, and no mere pawn pusher, while broken and up there with Tanaka Khan. Depending what else comes out, it could be a book of the year, and lays out the stigma of self pubbing vs trad, better than an assassin’s blade. A cool, twist at the end and elegant to match the character in full flow.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Crystal D

    This book is amazing. I like it even more than Never Die I think. It focuses on a character from that book that was interesting, but didn't get a lot of scene time due to the nature of that story so I was really happy to see The Art of War return in her own story. and wow, what a story! Such a wild adventure. Hayes remains the master of massive action, wonderful plot pacing, great character beats and awesome foreshadowed, but unpredictable plot twists at the end. The ending was super rewarding, This book is amazing. I like it even more than Never Die I think. It focuses on a character from that book that was interesting, but didn't get a lot of scene time due to the nature of that story so I was really happy to see The Art of War return in her own story. and wow, what a story! Such a wild adventure. Hayes remains the master of massive action, wonderful plot pacing, great character beats and awesome foreshadowed, but unpredictable plot twists at the end. The ending was super rewarding, and a satisfying end to Yuu's story. I loved Yuu's character development throughout this entire story. She had demons to deal with, and through the journey came to some beautiful realizations about herself and it was just so fantastic to read. I really liked the supporting cast in this as well. Natsuko is a wonderful maternal and also little sister character to Yuu. Li Bang is so sweet, Fang is awesome, I really liked seeing Yanmay again, and how all of them effected Yuu's journey was just so well done. There's plenty of action in this, but the way it's written is so cool. Our main character isn't a fighter by trade, but a strategist, so it's really fun to see her puzzle out how to out play her opponents. It keeps everything high stakes, as did the overall contest, but I especially appreciated the attention to detail that Hayes had to add for these fights to be so well coria graphed to fit Yuu's skillsets. While this is technically a stand alone, if you're even remotely interested in reading Never Die, do it before this one. Major spoilers are in this book for that one, since it takes place after it. World building happens, but Yuu mentions a lot of stuff from the first book so read it if you plan to. You should read it anyway, it's just as amazing as this one! I love the anime/Japanese action movie vibe these books always have. So full of such heart, and masterfully woven plots and characters that just make me want more in this world. I would love to see Yuu after this story and what comes of her new life, so I hope we get a novella or something of that sort to check in on her! All in all, fantastic read, highly recommend!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Vanucchi

    Love Hayes Definitely a stand alone though the world is certainly worth checking out in the first to also. This was really good and hard to put down. I love how the author develops his characters, especially the horses lol.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    As a reviewer and a professional reader, I come across many books. "Never Die" seduced me with a one-line-long prologue (full review is under this link), and the most significant part of the criticism was how short the story was. Due to popular demand, Rob decided to take us back to the Mortal Techniques' world. I want to thank him for the opportunity to return to Hosa, as well as the ARC he provided me with in exchange for my opinion. "Pawn's Gambit" is a standalone novel, but Rob included a fai As a reviewer and a professional reader, I come across many books. "Never Die" seduced me with a one-line-long prologue (full review is under this link), and the most significant part of the criticism was how short the story was. Due to popular demand, Rob decided to take us back to the Mortal Techniques' world. I want to thank him for the opportunity to return to Hosa, as well as the ARC he provided me with in exchange for my opinion. "Pawn's Gambit" is a standalone novel, but Rob included a fair amount of Easter Eggs in the story. Therefore, reading "Never Die" beforehand will add more depth to the world. The blurb: "Five years ago, Yuu made a mistake that cost her everything. Once a renowned strategist and general, now she is on the run, royal bounty hunters snapping at her heels. But what if there was a way to get back what she lost, a way to bring back a murdered prince? Once a century, the gods hold a contest to choose who will rule from the Jade Throne. Each god chooses a mortal champion, and the fate of heaven and earth hangs in the balance. On a battlefield full of heroes, warriors, assassins, and thieves can Yuu survive long enough to learn the rules of the game, let alone master it?" Once a century, gods decide who will rule from the Jade Throne in the way of a contest. Those who wish to participate, sacrifice something dear to them and choose their mortal champion to compete in a deadly scavenger hunt for divine artefacts. The winner will then decide the fate of the realms. The story follows Yuu, a guilt-ridden strategist and former general, who hides from her past in a bottle. Yuu, who was previously known as Art of War, is chosen as a champion by Natsuko, goddess of lost things and missed opportunities. She wants to overthrow the current ruler, the god of war, whose rule soaked the world in blood. As an avid reader of Rob's previous works, I'm used to his vivid characters. Pawn's Gambit is no different. Yuu struck a chord for me - a middle-aged woman, wearing scars of her past and her decisions. "Middle age seemed to have snuck up on her overnight and given her the ass-kicking she so rightly deserved". I've found her very compelling - a capable and broken woman, stuck between her thoughts and a bottle that numbed them, can change the fate of the world armed with nothing but her technique and incredible intellect. Goddess Natsuko is a very nuanced being, and I loved how her relationship with Yuu develops through the pages. Gods are never easy to deal with, and usually, they have little regard for human life. To win the contest, Natsuko needs Yuu far more than she lets on. The stakes for her are higher than for any other god entering the competition. Her doubts and Yuu's behaviour and coping mechanisms make her a hilariously cranky old hag, but there's more to her. I could say a lot about secondary characters, each playing their uniquely important part in the game, but the one I am fond of the most is an old horse, which Natsuko named Lump. I've found the snappy old beast incredibly endearing and adorable. When it comes to narrative, the dialogue is a solid element of it. Hayes can bring out the nuance of the situation without overloading it with heavy exchanges between participants. It also highlights the humour and makes characters more human. If you haven't read "Never Die", you will not be lost in the story or the world. The number of details of the worldbuilding will give you an excellent idea about the environment and lives of characters inhabiting it. Readers familiar with the setting will not be bored by the "repeated introduction". Instead, they will find more insight into different mortal techniques and how characters can acquire them. Another element of the book I enjoyed is the plot. Similarly to "Never Die", the story revolves around a quest from a god. However, the main character is not a fighter and relies on others' physical strength when facing direct threats. Despite that, there are plenty of epic duels for readers to enjoy. The action sequences are entertaining and gripping, and I've found myself biting nails on many occasions. The book is not very long, but in just over 300 pages it manages to include daring escapes, vindictive gods, the horrors of war, burdens of legacies, and complexity of human nature. All of that wrapped in storytelling that makes Rob J. Hayes such a recognisable name on self-publishing stage. And speaking of the wrapping - the cover art is impressive, and its style perfectly ties the book with previous Mortal Techniques story.   ----- More reviews on my blog: OfBooksAndCoffee.com

  30. 5 out of 5

    Srikkanth G

    4.5/5 Pawn's Gambit is a wonderful Fantasy Novel by Rob J Hayes. I loved this one much better than the previous stand along book Never Say Die. Never Say Die is filled with individual action/fight sequences without a central plot where as Pawn's Gambit is driven by the Central Plot. The plot is simple and exciting. The Gods are deciding on the next King of Gods and they select a Champion to lead their cause. Each Champion has certain time to do certain stuff in order to help their God win the com 4.5/5 Pawn's Gambit is a wonderful Fantasy Novel by Rob J Hayes. I loved this one much better than the previous stand along book Never Say Die. Never Say Die is filled with individual action/fight sequences without a central plot where as Pawn's Gambit is driven by the Central Plot. The plot is simple and exciting. The Gods are deciding on the next King of Gods and they select a Champion to lead their cause. Each Champion has certain time to do certain stuff in order to help their God win the competition. The plot follows a very simple structure to keep the audience engaged. It's called Story, Stakes and Urgency. We know that the Champion has limited days (urgency) to win the artefacts for their God (plot) and in not doing so, the current God will continue the rein for the next 100 years (Stakes). If the current God Batu is to lead the world for next 100 years, then we will see more way and destruction. We can't have that, can we? We also need peace and prosperity. Since there are stakes and urgency in the story and we are glued to read how the story progress. Hence, all the actions led by the Champion seem relevant and important. We want the Champion to win the race because we know what happens if the Champion doesn't. Once the author has set the plot, it is important to develop good quality characters. Of all the characters in the book, the central character Yuu is very well developed. For me, she is a complete character. Someone with weakness, inherent strength and a solid back story. A character needs to have Wants & Needs. Want is external and that's something driving the character. Want is what make the character do certain things. Want is what pushes the story forward. Need is internal, something the character doesn't realise at first but a desire that's deep within. It could be something the character is running away from, not wanting to face. Some Ghost from the past, a lie that the character believes it. For a Want to be successful, the character needs to have Goals, Motivations and Beliefs. Yuu has become a recluse. A drunkard who is wilfully giving her life away. She is holding on to her past, her ghost so close that nothing else matters to her. It's very tricky to create a protagonist who isn't interested in her life anymore. What makes Yuu interesting is how she is willing to manipulate people to get her a drink. She is disinterested in life but yet, she is an active protagonist. She isn't surviving on alms or kindness, instead she is earning her own drink. Even though the method she adopts can seem cunning, Yuu is an active protagonist. At first we don't seem to find Yuu's goals or motivation but if you look deep down, you realise that her desire to stay alive, not be caught is in itself a motivation. While that's not an exciting motivation, it's what makes the character lively. That's why when Yuu decides to accept Natsuko's request to be her champion, as readers, we are not so surprised. It may seem a bit weird to see someone who is willing to give away her life to wine accept a challenge. This works here because Yuu is an active protagonist. The moment Yuu gets a goal, given by someone else, her life sparkles again. She revels in the challenge and comes back to life. Yuu's Goals then evolves as the story progress. This is required because her own Goal, at first, isn't exciting. The moment she gets an external goal, her want to stay alive combines well with the want to keep the God of War away from the Kingdom. Yuu has seen a lot of war and she doesn't want Batu to continue the blood shed. So, she decides to make it her Goal to stop the God by helping Natsuko. To make a plot even more exciting, we need obstacles. A main obstacle in any plot is the antagonist. Just like Never Say Die, there is no main antagonist in the book. There are obstacles but not singular person who is wanting to stop Yuu from achieving what she and Natsuko is set to achieve. However, this problem is addressed by creating a main obstacle called TIME. Time is of essence in the story. Yuu has to achieve all she has to within a specified time limit and hence the lack of a main antagonist doesn't affect the over all plot. All the other obstacles or smaller antagonist does a brilliant job to keep the plot exciting and moving forward. We also have Yuu's own backstory which acts as another obstacle. Overall, the book is simple but interesting read. There is ton of live advice, picked up from Sun Zu's Art of Way and many other texts. It's very interesting to see how the author has managed to weave a narrative around life advice and a plot. I highly recommend for anyone who wants to pick their first Fantasy Book or add an extra one to their growing collection. You would not be disappointed.

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