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Monday, September 27, 2021

Spirits Of Vengeance & The Century Blade by Rob J. Hayes (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

 

Official Author Website    
                                                                                                   
Order Spirits Of Vengeance over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)                         Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Pawn’s Gambit
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Never Die
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 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 Fantasy Book Critic’s Pawn’s Gambit 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 BOOK BLURB: He'll die as many times as it takes.

The Ipian Empire was once a land that welcomed dragons and spirits alike, but a century of war and bloodshed saw them all but vanish. Now, the lost things are returning and the Onryo have gathered. Five legendary spirits with mysterious powers, bent on freeing an ancient evil that would wreak havoc on humanity.

Haruto swore his soul to the God of Death for the chance to hunt down the vengeful ghost of his wife. Now an onmyoji, he’s tasked by the Imperial Throne to hunt down monsters and malicious spirits. But he knows not all spirits are evil and not all deserve the peace of the sword.

Kira is a student at Heiwa, an academy for children with dangerous techniques. But she has a secret, she’s not like the other students. When the school is attacked, she flees with one of the tutors, determined to hide both from those who would kill her, and those who would use her.

As a plague of spirits sweeps across the land, the Onryo leave a bloody trail for Haruto to follow. But who’s hunting who?

FORMAT/INFO: Spirits Of Vengeance  is 624 pages long divided into sixty-four numbered chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. The narration is in third person omniscient view via quite a few characters namely Haruto, Kira, Guang, Crow & Konihashi. This book is a standalone title and is set in the same world as Never Die & Pawn’s Gambit.

September 28, 2021 will mark the US and UK e-book, hardback and paperback publication of Spirits Of Vengeance and will be self-published by the author.
Cover art is by Felix Ortiz & design is provided by Shawn King. Stas Borodin provides interior B/W illustrations.

CLASSIFICATION: Spirits Of Vengeance is a standalone epic fantasy story mashing The Witcher's action sequences with the creepy mythology of The Ring

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Spirits Of Vengeance is the next STANDALONE volume in the Mortal Techniques world and is set a little over a decade after the events of Pawn's Gambit (and over fifteen years after the events of Never Die). This story unlike the previous books is not set in Hosa but the neighboring kingdom of Ipia. The land of snowy winters, Shintei warriors & icy mountains (where the secretive Shintei academy called Sky Hollow is said to be located).

The prologue takes place in the Heiwa academy, a place for children with special abilities or techniques (as they are called in this world). Where they can learn to harness their techniques. It is a special place and the headmaster is Konihashi the Fifth Sage Under Heaven (remember that name, it’s an important one). We are then introduced to Haruto, an immortal Onmyoji (a demon/spirit hunter akin to Geralt the Witcher) who alongside a poet named Guang goes everywhere trying to help the local populace getting rid of Yokai and other pesky spirits. He is constantly destroying his kimonos and only has Guang for company. Guang is an old man who recites horrible poetry, frequently curses using vegetable names (you will find out why before the end) and helps Haruto in his ultimate quest.

The book also re-introduces us to Kira who the readers first met in Pawn's Gambit in a very, very small way. Kira is a unique girl with extra-special abilities and is mentored by Yanmei, her teacher from the Heiwa academy and the person whom she considers as a mother. Yanmei is also a character we have met in the previous titles and here the readers get to see an older & stronger warrior who is on a quest of her own. Yanmei knows more about Kira’s past than she does. However, she doesn’t know how to help her.

Amidst all of this, and powering the main storyline are a group of five Onryo (vengeful, destructive spirits) who are being led by a mysterious entity They are searching for an ancient prison as the contents of that prison might change world (but for the good or worse no one knows). This is the main gist of this epic story awaiting readers within as all of these characters are striving to find out their raison d’etre

The story is very different from Never Die and Pawn's Gambit. This is more of an epic fantasy story and there is a lot more going on within the world as well. The readers get to see a new nation and its problems (like having dual competing royal families who are locked in an internecine conflict spanning decades). The storyline also ties heavily tied into a past pivotal event, which is the focus of the short story The Century Blade. I would really recommend that readers read that short before they read this book. However if you don’t, you will still get a complete story within.

The main thrust of the story is still its characters and this is a special characteristic of Rob J. Hayes. All of his books always feature characters who are brilliantly etched, no matter where they fall on the moral spectrum. In this book we get six-seven POVs and this is really helps in expanding the story. As I mentioned previously this story is more in the epic fantasy vein and it all builds up. This story is all about past regrets and letting go of them. Each of our characters have experienced massive amounts of pain and suffering in their lives and it has lead them to where they are now.

Haruto is immortal but not at peace as he searches for his wife. Kira does not know who/what she is and where she comes from. Guang is furthermore tormented by his past and has sworn several, severe oaths to make the world and himself forget who he was. Yanmei is the one character who is the most heroic but even she cannot escape the wounds on her psyche. Among the Onryo, all of them are conflicted but none more so than Crow who struggles to contain themselves within a physical robe as otherwise they would disparate. The others similar to Crow do not recall any of their past besides the pain that they experienced when they left their human shell and now they inflict all of that and more to whom they meet.

“We live in a world of people passing their pain to others. It shouldn’t be that way.”

There is also a lot going on in the past that has led to the current issues that our main characters face and Rob explores this beautifully throughout the book. Almost everything that happens within this story as well to each of our characters has ties to the past and I loved this aspect of the story. There are quite a few nods to the previous books, which canny readers will spot. There are a lot of stories and past events mentioned within this book and it adds to the richness of the characters and the world. I loved each and every story or legend that was mentioned.

The best past about this book is that it spectacularly combines the action-packed approach of Never Die and the deep, thoughtful characterization of Pawn's Gambit. This book is also nearly double the length of the previous books and this is well spent in giving the reader a well-crafted story that will hold your attention through and through. From the snowcapped mountains, to the different types of spirits that Rob mines Japanese mythology so successfully for. The world presented is a living, breathing one and as previously the readers got the know the land of Hosa, they now are immersed with the land and legends of Ipia.

The action sequences within this story are gory, charismatic and mostly on a personal level. They reminded me of many sequences from Never Die however, the action here is more supernatural and no less brutal. One particular example is the final fight between Haruto and the Onryo master. But possibly the best sequence within this book falls on to the most powerful character of them all Yanmei. It’s an action sequence, which would have made David Gemmell proud and has the same cathartic effect as well. For a Yanmei fanboy like myself, it was better than her fight with the Ticking Clock in Pawn’s Gambit.  The author has also enlisted Stas Borden to illustrate a few scenes within the book and they are spectacular to say the least.

For me this book did have a couple of drawbacks, namely that the book’s pace is not that streamlined as its predecessors. This is very much a byproduct of the detailed world-building within the book. There are a lot of stories/legends that are narrated by Guang (mostly) and a few other characters. These might seem unnecessary (at the start) and often slow down the story. However, there is a grand plan at play and they all have a huge payoff in the end. Lastly for me, the way the story ended and with the epilogue revelations, I can’t wait to read what happens next within the world. This is not a drawback but that’s going to be a few years away as Rob mentions in his interview tomorrow what he will be working and releasing next in 2022-23.

CONCLUSION: Spirits Of Vengeance is a tour de force that brings to an end to the Heroic age of the Mortal Techniques series. It begins with a blast and ends with an explosive finale that upends the world and lands within. This book has it all action, character development, heroic deaths, creepy creature
s and most of all a thrilling finale that ties up the story in a spectacular way. I don’t know about you but for me, that’s exactly what I look for in a story. 



Buy The Century Blade over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

OVERVIEW: The Century Blade is a short story that is set many, many decades (possibly a century or more) before the events of the heroic events seen in Never Die, Pawn’s Gambit & Spirits Of Vengeance. It’s a short story that’s told by an experienced narrator at a fireside regaling their loved ones.

It consists of eight chapters and focuses on a quest wherein a group of warriors combine their powers to fight dragons. If this sounds familiar then you are right, think Avengers meets Final Fantasy and this is what you will find in spades. The story focusses on the Century Blade, Tenzing the Ticking Clock, the Gilded Crone, Konihashi, and a defeated god of the SeaFolk. These five individuals alongside a plucky, obstinate goat form the Abenjazu who are asked by a human named Yamasachi to help defeat the seven dragons of lore.

The story alludes to many other adventures and perhaps we might get to read them one day. This story is a fun little one that has a lot of action and the finale against the dragon Sekiryu will leave the readers wanting more stories of the Abenjazu.  Having read Spirits Of Vengeance, I can say with 100% certainty that this short story is very instrumental to the main plot of the story and is even referenced within it.

So give it a shot if you love Final Fantasy and/or Avengers as this short story promises fun on both counts and delivers it as well.


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