Pawn's Gambit by Rob Hayes (The Mortal Techniques)

“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.

8/10 Hayes has once again created a captivating story to add to his growing library of flawed, badass warriors sowing chaos and kicking ass.

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