NEVER DIE is a stand-alone novel by popular grimdark novelist Rob J. Hayes (The Ties That Bind, Best Laid Plans, Drones). I've always been a fan of Rob J. Hayes and will recommend all of his books to those who want an awesome dark fantasy story. I think he stands up there with Ben Galley and Mark Lawrence for stories that are just plan good. Never Die isn't quite up there with the Best Laid Plans series but is certainly as entertaining as Drones. I also applaud the book for having a non-Western setting with this having a Chinese/Japanese fantasy kingdom as its premise.
The premise is a young boy has the power to raise the dead. The shinigami (Death Note) have given him the power to restore a person to life once and heal them once. He makes the offer to a pair of warriors who died both attacking as well as defending a town. From there, he proceeds to recruit a number of other SEVEN SAMURAI-esque heroes before setting out on his quest: to kill the corrupt Emperor of the Ten Kingdoms.
Rob J. Hayes clearly enjoys his homages and you can pick up his love for both wuxia (Chinese martial arts) and chambara (wandering samurai) films. I enjoyed all of his characters in the book ranging from Itami Cho (The Whispering Blade) to Zhihao Cheng (The Emerald Wind) to Iron Gut Chen. They are a fabulous mixture of heroes, villains, and amoral mercenaries that play off of each other in an ever-entertaining way.
This isn't quite as grimdark as Rob Hayes other works and the protagonists include some genuine heroes. It's just they're balanced against some genuinely awful people in the party. Itami Cho is a character who could easily be a non-Western version of a paladin. Really, you can tell the author is a bit more comfortable writing The Emerald Wind because he's the same sort of amoral scumbag who headlines the majority of his work. Nevertheless, I liked Itami a great deal more.
The action is wonderful with elaborate descriptions of each protagonist's specialized skill against demons, monsters, humans, and fellow super warriors. This reminds me a good deal of an anime with a master monk, a leper with a rifle, super swordsmen, and a necromancer boy. That isn't a criticism, though, because it's a very good anime. Whole sections of the books are taken up by fight scenes that remain beautiful and exotic.
The book ends in a fascinating and bittersweet way which I think precludes any sequels but is still a satisfying emotional conclusion. About my only problem with it is I'm not sure how to justify a few elements about the timescale given The Emerald Wind meets with an ex-girlfriend and her father early on but to talk about that more is to potentially judge in spoilers.
So, do I recommend Never Die? Yes, very much so. It's a book I finished quickly and found to be a lot of fun. It's not an especially "meaty" book and a lot of it is really just a straight forward journey to the Big Bad and then a fight with him but that's sometimes all you want from a story.