The Lessons Never Learned by Rob J Hayes (The War Eternal: Book 2)

“Opinions are like children. Those who have them want them to be special, rarely realizing they are just as dumb as ugly as all the others.”

I had some trepidations going into book two. Although Along the Razor’s Edge was the start of the trilogy, it could have worked as an entirely self-contained story. In Edge, there is a singular goal and a definitive endpoint that remains the focus of the story, and it resolves itself by the book’s conclusion. But now that the environment will be changing, can the story maintain its excellent pace and character work? We were also teased with a handful of intriguing plotlines that the narrator dropped on us throughout book one, and it only seems logical that those mysteries would start to be solved in the sequel. Therefore, it is possible that the ‘wow factor’ may lose a bit of luster once we are able to look behind the curtain. Will there be enough new developments to surprise the reader, or will it spend most of its time explaining all of hints dropped in book one?

And above all, Along the Razor’s Edge is stupidly brilliant. So you can say that The Lessons Never Learned has a lot to live up to.

You can see where this is going.

Rest assured, dear reader. This story is something special.

“We are, all of us, marred by scars, plagued by the faults and insecurities laid upon us by our pasts.”

I’ll avoid discussing the events of the story but will touch on the themes that separate it from Razor’s Edge. This entry spans a longer length of time, so we get to see Eska mature and start to manage her newfound responsibilities in compromising ways. Although she doesn’t have many people who will ever be close to her, she will guard them fiercely and sacrifice anything to protect them. This ideal is tested to the extreme, and it is one of the most well-written and most emotionally challenging aspects to the story. There are some powerful themes to explore, and Hayes takes his time to examine these events carefully and with enough thoughtful respect to give weight to their consequences.

Eska must also face new trials in her life involving freedom, vengeance, and the many different forms that love can take. She is still hunted by powerful forces, but she has a much wider array of resources to rely upon. And there are some truly harrowing action sequences that kept me flinching and squirming over the course of several chapters; my emotions ranged from stressful, incredulous, and devastating. It’s another testament to how powerful Hayes has written Eskara’s narrative voice; we live inside her and emote with her, we relate to her and understand her. Even if we disagree with her methods, we are connected to her every step of the way. I said this before and I will say it again: this story is more than a read, it’s an immersive experience of rare caliber.

“Truth is a prison. One that sits behind us our entire lives, just waiting for us to step inside its barred domain. I have heard people say that the truth can set you free. Somewhat ironically, that's a bloody lie. The truth locks you in, determines a set way of thinking, of feeling, of believing. The truth is the opposite of freedom. Lies, on the other hand, can be whatever we want them to be. Lies can free us from a burden that truth would bury us with. Lies can ease a pain that truth would cause to rot and fester. Lies can make a point, where truth would just expose us for the hypocrites we are, a lesson all parents know well. The world is founded on lie, upon lie, upon lie. But the truth is always there, just waiting for an opportunity to tear down everything we have built.”

Hayes has won several awards over the course of writing career, most recently the Booknest novel of the year, and is once again a finalist for this year’s SPFBO, which he won in a previous year. But through all his accolades and experiences in the self- and trad-published industries, there is no doubt in my mind that ‘The War Eternal’ is the crown jewel of his writing career. There is more going on beyond Eska’s endeavors that will be revealed in From Cold Ashes Risen, and I can hardly wait to find out how this story will pan out. All I know for sure is that it’s going to be fantastic, and you'll be plotting your own mission of vengeance if you miss it.

ARC via author. Releasing April 28, 2020.

9/10 We live inside her and emote with her, we relate to her and understand her. Even if we disagree with her methods, we are connected to her every step of the way.

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