By: Rob J. Hayes
Reviewed by: Andy Peloquin
Never Die, the first of the Mortal Techniques “series”, slayed in the 2019 SPFBO–and, of course, my heart. I loved the wuxia/ronin/martial arts movie feel of the book.
Pawn’s Gambit is both delightfully LIKE and UNLIKE Never Die.
The world was the same. The flavor of gritty, dirty, down-in-the-muck, slightly grimdark, cynical, world-weary society that I loved was the same. The characters are similarly caricaturized and incredibly realistic human beings, which was one of my favorite parts of Never Die.
But what I really loved about Pawn’s Gambit was the way it steered AWAY from violence. That’s not to say there were no fight scenes–there were enough to keep me interested, for sure–but the goal of this story was almost the diametric opposite to Never Die, using combat only as a last resort. And to good effect!
The main character, Yuu, hooked me from the opening. I loved the “Sun Tzu/Lao Tse” vibe, but with the added layer of cynicism, alcoholism, and despair that made her utterly human and relatable. Her story was layered in beautifully, and the payoff at the end absolutely satisfied her journey to the very last page.
I will say the characters in this one weren’t quite so flamboyant as in Never Die. I did find myself wishing for some Iron Gut Chen-type characters who were just so much larger than life. But I loved Li Bang, Fang, crone Natsuko, Roaring Tiger, and all the other characters who graced the page.
Never Die had a huge TWIST that I loved, so I spent most of Pawn’s Gambit waiting to be equally surprised. I won’t say how or when, but that part of me that craved a good old-fashioned “WTF!!!?” moment was absolutely satisfied.
I’d call this an excellent Bloody Rose to Never Die’s Kings of the Wyld. The second book in the “series” has a different flavor than the first, but I enjoyed that far more than a continuation of the story. Now, if only I didn’t have to wait another 1-2 years to see what other adventures await in the world of the Mortal Techniques!
This review is the opinion of the author and does not represent the views of Aethon Books or its employees.