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Friday, January 22, 2021

Pawn's Gambit by Rob J. Hayes (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Pre-order Pawn’s Gambit over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Along The Razor's Edge
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Lessons Never Learned
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of From Cold Ashes Risen

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Never Die

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of City Of Kings 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Where Loyalties Lie
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Fifth Empire Of Man
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Price Of Faith
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Start A Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Mini Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic trilogy completion interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Best Laid Plans Series Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's SPFBO Aftermath Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Post COK interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Never Die Release Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's The War Eternal Trilogy Release Interview
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey. Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.

OFFICIAL BLURB: 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 standalone story set in the award-winning Mortal Techniques universe. It's a wuxia adventure filled with heroes, gods, spirits, and magic.

FORMAT/INFO: Pawn’s Gambit  is 314 pages long divided into thirty numbered chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. The narration is in third person omniscient view via Yuu (Daiyu Lingsen) & Natsuko only. This book is a standalone title and is set in the same world as Never Die.

January 26, 2021 will mark the US and UK e-book publication of Pawn’s Gambit and will be self-published by the author. Cover art is by 
Felix Ortiz & design is provided by Shawn King.

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.

Before we begin my review, first checkout what some of the most prominent bloggers have had to say about it via the Pawn’s Gambit blog tour:

Novel Notions (PetrikL.)

Grimmedian (LynnUSA)

Out Of This WorldSFF Reviews (Nick B.)

The BookPrescription (Hamad M.)

Lynn's books blog (Lynn UK)

Realms Of My Mind(Caitlin G.)

Maxine’sObsessions (Maxine)

Grimdark Magazine(Beth T.)

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.



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