A Tale of Redemption, Honor, and Death.
Beginning with Ein, a small boy of perhaps 8 years of age on a mission from a God of Death, and Itami Cho, known as Whispering Blade, a warrior of renowned skill who wakes to find Ein apologetically explaining how it is she is alive (mostly) while she quite vividly recalls her own painful death seemingly just moments before. Ein must kill a man, The Emperor of Ten Kings, but to do so, he will need heroes. Many heroes. Ein claims a shinigami, a God of Death, has given him this power and quest.
Unfortunately for those he deems to be worthy and capable of doing so, they must die first. Once Cho accepts that the fate of the village she was protecting is a lost cause, she gives her Shintei oath to the boy and he quickly sets about raising Zhihao Cheng, known as the Emerald Wind. Zhihao, a captain with the bandits who attacked Cho, was killed in the same fight and both have a bit of retribution to hand out as a result to a bandit called Flaming Fist who burned of the village of Kaishi and slaughtered its inhabitants. Including Cho’s old friend and mentor The Century Blade.
Once raised from the dead by Ein, his mostly alive hero is bound to him. Of course this fact is quickly tested by Zhihao, as he immediately begins to put distance between himself and the boy, he quickly finds he is facing his death again. The same painful death Ein raised him from, and the only thing he can do is find the child, stay close, and resign himself to the fate of his role in Ein’s quest. Ein is relentless in his journey eastward, and he knows those he has brought back from death have little choice but to follow him or die, again.
There is a delightful story to accompany each of Ein’s acquisitions and each of the heroes he has acquired are bound to help him kill the next hero on the list. No matter who they are, or what their reputation in life may be. Some assistance in acquiring Chen Lu, known as Iron Gut, places another member into their group. A leper with a long rifle called Roi Astara, known as Death’s Echo. He joins them on their quest but denies the need for his own death as he is already dying a bit every day. This terrific ensemble cast is one of my favorites this year. The dialogue is very humorous at times and they must learn respect for one another or they are doomed.
Together they must travel a great distance to reach the city of Wu and the Emperor. They are beset along their journey by horrific beasts called yokai, a class of supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese folklore, they are evil spirit creatures sent by a vengeful shinigami to thwart their mission. Each attack becomes more deadly as they draw closer toward the east on this seemingly impossible quest, testing the heroes mettle at every turn. I greatly enjoyed reading about the incredible beasts they encounter and the battles they fight.
I had to look up some more yokai images and found some real stunning creatures in some very old tales from Japan. Inspiring aren’t they?
The Emperor of Ten Kings has taken all the kings in the land as hostages in the city of Wu, to ensure their lands and people cooperate and provide the men, the goods, and taxes he demands. He has bled the people and the land dry and as the journey brings them closer to him the amount of devastation that his rule has brought upon the common people, becomes more and more apparent to the heroes with Ein. There is a rebellion already brewing under the Emperor’s crushing reign of power and the band of undead heroes may find a way to reach their target within the unrest of the lands and people.
This Asian fantasy setting is full to the brim with folklore, and mythos. A great amount of detailed knowledge of the ancient weaponry, armor, and combat inspired by Chinese Wuxia. Rob J. Hayes builds his worlds through detailed characterizations and paces it with almost non-stop action throughout the book. There are equal parts horror and humor in places all through this story and the ending is an extremely satisfying twist.
A highly recommended, fast-paced fantasy stand alone, that I enjoyed from the first word to the very last. An advance ARC was provided for review by the author.
Rob J. Hayes is the SPFBO winner of 2017 with Where Loyalties Lie.
He has been a student, a banker, a marine research assistant, a chef, and a keyboard monkey more times than he cares to count.
But eventually his love of fantasy and reading drew him to the life of a writer. He’s the author of the Amazon Best Selling The Heresy Within, the piratical swashbuckler Where Loyalties Lie, and the steampunk heist caper It Takes a Thief to Catch a Sunrise.