“Pawn’s Gambit” by Rob J. Hayes: ARC Review

“No war can take place without love. Be it love for a person, love for power, love for money, love for a nation.”

Synopsis: Yuu, once regarded as one of the finest military tacticians alive, wallows in guilt and drink, but when a goddess recruits her for a divine contest with the greatest stakes, can she regain her former glory?

Who May Enjoy This Book:

  • Wuxia enthusiasts
  • People who like clever protagonists
  • People who like divine shenanigans

Hi everyone! Yes, I still post here. COVID burnout is very real, and I needed some time to rest and recharge my batteries. It’s hard to review when you’re not actively reading! Don’t worry though, I have a few things in the pipeline now. I’d like to begin by thanking Rob J. Hayes for the copy of this book which was provided in exchange for a fair and honest review! It is always a pleasure to work with and support talented authors, and it brings me particular joy when it’s a high quality self-published piece as well.

“Pawn’s Gambit” is a stand-alone novel taking place in the “Mortal Techniques” world introduced in “Never Die” (see my review here); there are references to the previous book, but the cast differs and one need not have read the first book to understand what is going on here (though I strongly urge you to read it anyhow, as it was simply excellent). The setting is a war-torn Empire inspired by Wuxia fiction and a variety of Kung-Fu tropes/themes. I’d describe it as a mashup of the best Wuxia/Kung-Fu films and your favorite Western Fantasy and yes, it is precisely as good as it sounds. The premise of this story is that once per century, the gods hold a contest to see who (if anyone) will unseat the holder of the Jade Throne (currently the god of war) and become Emperor of the gods. To this end, each god selects a mortal champion to represent them on what is in effect a divine scavenger hunt. Those who survive after the allotted time present their acquired tokens, and the one who holds the most is the winner. The goddess Natsuko, for reasons unknown, has chosen Yuu.

Yuu is not what one would expect from a protagonist (especially given the powerhouses we met in “Never Die”); formerly known as The Art of War, she has very little combat prowess to speak of. Yuu is a master tactician, moving armies about the field to the delight of her liege, and the frustration of her opponents. Natsuko (goddess of lost things) finds her in the bottom of a bottle as the story begins, and how Yuu got here is a continuous part of the story’s narrative. It is certainly a slow burn when compared to “Never Die”, and if that concerns you I urge you to read it through. I devoured this book in 1 day, and I guarantee you won’t find this to be a slog. I am merely setting the expectation that this is not all about action, and that like a well-played game of chess, one must examine it in its entirety to fully appreciate its art. For those into world-building and lore, Hayes provides a fair bit of useful exposition as well on the “mortal techniques” which his books are named for. There is substance here, and Hayes does a remarkable job at developing his world and characters in such a short time. I swear, I’ve read novels three times as long with characters and settings which just felt flat to me.

Sacrifice, responsibility, and the enduring effects of past trauma are some subjects which flow through the entire narrative. Rather than putting the focus on some sort of protagonist/antagonist duality, the story focuses more on the development of Yuu as she reframes and works through her understanding of her own history. There are certainly obstacles on this journey, such as a terrifying clockwork assassin and a deadly bounty hunter, but the true end goal is the character’s journey to understanding of the self and forgiveness of past transgressions. It’s a lovely piece of writing, and not the sort of thing one would typically expect from the style/genre. I’d love to get into it in more detail, but those who follow me know I prefer to avoid spoilers altogether if possible. Suffice it to say that there is a colorful cast, intrigue, satisfying character development, and introspection into the impermanence of humanity.

“Pawn’s Gambit” is a worthy non-sequel to “Never Die”, and it will be released TOMORROW! Make sure you grab a copy, and always remember to support our indie authors. Let me know what you think once you’ve had a chance to check it out!

Happy Reading!

Order “Pawn’s Gambit”
Check out Rob J. Hayes on Twitter!

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