Pawn’s Gambit: A Mortal Techniques Novel by Rob J. Hayes

Presenting stop #2 on the Pawn’s Gambit Blog Tour

Yesterday we were delighted to see the first stop on the Pawn’s Gambit Blog Tour with Petrik Leo at Novel Notions.  Today, Grimmedian is proud to participate in the tour for Rob J. Hayes second book in The Mortal Techniques. Pawn’s Gambit – (Not a sequel to Never Die.) 

Artwork by Felix Ortiz Typography by Shawn T. King

Once a century, the gods hold a contest to determine who will rule from the Jade Throne. Each god chooses a mortal champion, and the fate of heaven and earth depends on the winner. Once a world-renowned strategist and general, Yuu made one wrong move, and the Steel Prince paid for her mistake with his life. Now on the run, she relies on her wits to evade royal bounty hunters. But what if there is a way to bring back her dead prince? On a playing board full of heroes, warriors, assassins, and thieves can Yuu survive long enough to even learn the rules of the game, let alone master it?. Pawn’s Gambit is a stand alone story set in the award-winning Mortal Techniques universe. It’s a wuxia adventure filled with heroes, gods, spirits, and magic.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rob J. Hayes’ first installment of Mortal Techniques, Never Die. It was a fun and entertaining wild romp through the world of Mortal Techniques he’s created. You can read my review of Never Die here. After his dark hair-raising adventure of The War Eternal, (review here), Hayes has returned to the universe of Mortal Techniques and has surpassed himself. The story is deeper and more complex. The characterizations are done with more depth and it features a protagonist that is relatable and memorable.

Gambit- defintion: A chess Gambit is an opening in the game which, when played correctly, can determine the outcome from the very first move.

The beginning of Pawn’s Gambit contains one of the best prolougues I’ve ever read. The tone is quite philosophical and remains so throughout, with fast pacing, and witty dialogue with generous dose of dilemmas that make one take a hard look at morality.

“A war starts small. An idea, a thought. A conception. Never quick, it takes time to gestate, to grow, to take form long before it is birthed into the world. And it is always birthed in blood.”

Pawn’s Gambit: Rob J. Hayes

Yuu’s story is a redemption arc that provides an opportunity for a lot of great character growth. Hayes delivers in spades with Yuu. She has a long way to go to shed five years of drinking away the memories that haunt her. Of fleeing the royal house that set a price on her head, and suffering a lack of purpose while she has attempted to evade her past.

Yuu has cast aside her mask as The Art of War. A master strategist, she now plays chess against any comers for the coin to buy wine and drown her sorrows. She wanders Hosa as a vagrant while avoiding those who seek the bounty on her head. Until she is approached by a Goddess and challenged to a game of chess that will decide both their fates and the fate of mankind as well.

Natsuko, is the goddess of lost things and missed opportunities. She and her twin brother Fuyuko have set a plan into motion to take the throne of heaven from the god of war, Batu. She has pinned all their hopes on Yuu, The Art of War. The relationship that develops between the two, is heartwarming, although Natsuko is irascible and Yuu is as stubborn as a mule. Their first companion is Li Bang, a rather simple seeming fellow that Yuu hires as muscle. As snarky as Natsuko is, calling him Lump, she cares enough to spare him as a sacrifice in Yuu’s long game. One she must play to win.

Batu has kept the realms of Hosa, Ipia, Cochtran, and Nash in the chaos of war for a century. Every one hundred years, the gods can challenge the king for the throne in Tianmen and Natsuko intends to end the reign of bloodshed. Thirty five gods come forward, their champions chosen, their artefact for the contest, a most precious possession, laid at the base of the Jade throne. Batu scatters the artefacts across the land and the champions must acquire them before the next moon cycle. The one with the most artefacts at the end, no matter how they came to have them, whether by skill, strength, or even murder, will challenge Batu for his throne.

The colorful side characters make this story rather unforgettable, as a mob run by monks hold a city hostage, an assassin more machine than man seeks Yuu’s death, and a terrifying army of soldiers from Cochtran, with Blood Engines, at war with Hosa plus Gods of every description which all vie for the coveted position of Tianjun, emperor of the Gods.

There is a strong vein of strategy within Pawn’s Gambit, in the allegory of chess. It is woven deeply into Yuu’s persona. A childhood of training at the hands of her grandmother, the first Art of War, that was begun with the game of chess. She was the general of armies standing next to her Steel Prince. What happens when your pieces have become your friends and allies? Who can be sacrificed? Can Yuu overcome her self crippling doubt and sober up to meet the challenge? Or will she perish, along with her and Natsuko’s hopes and dreams? Yuu is not the only one to grow and change, her companions must do so as well.

Present in this fast-paced tale, is a deep look into how people are motivated, how lives are shaped by innate talents or the lack of them, and the devastation wrought on generations by war. By using her unique skill set, Yuu is able to look at each challenge from every angle and find a strategy for the weaker, smaller and downtrodden to triumph above overwhelming odds. It’s an intricate way to create tension within the story. The monsters in this installment are not spirits, but the worst and deadliest of both humans and Gods alike. There is value in each person, whether seen or unseen, which can make them heroes in the truest sense. Not for glory, but for what is right, and they can possibly save humanity from destruction.

Pawn’s Gambit is a well crafted, and well rounded stand alone book with all the best of what we loved in Never Die. Pawn’s Gambit possesses an emotional hook and sympathetic players which explore the basics of the human condition. It demands careful consideration with a depth that some readers may have been looking for in Never Die It’s brilliant. Highly recommended. I know I will be eagerly awaiting the third installment that’s due out within 2021 as well, called the Spirit of Vengeance.

Official release date: 26th January 2021

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US

This is part of a blog tour hosted by Fantasy Book Critic. An ARC was provided by the authur for review. Watch out for the Pawn’s Gambit review tomorrow at Out of This World SFF Reviews.



Publication date : January 26, 2021

Language: : English

Print length : 315 pages

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy my love letter to martial arts films, anime, and video games. I had a blast writing it, and there’s more from this world on the way! – Rob

You can find me on: Facebook: Twitter: @RoboftheHayes  Amazon author page:

4 Replies to “Pawn’s Gambit: A Mortal Techniques Novel by Rob J. Hayes”

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