By Rob J. Hayes
He’ll die as many times as it takes.
The Ipian Empire was once a land that welcomed dragons and spirits alike, but a century of war and bloodshed saw them all but vanish. Now, the lost things are returning and the Onryo have gathered. Five legendary spirits with mysterious powers, bent on freeing an ancient evil that would wreak havoc on humanity.
Haruto swore his soul to the God of Death for the chance to hunt down the vengeful ghost of his wife. Now an onmyoji, he’s tasked by the Imperial Throne to hunt down monsters and malicious spirits. But he knows not all spirits are evil and not all deserve the peace of the sword.
Kira is a student at Heiwa, an academy for children with dangerous techniques. But she has a secret, she’s not like the other students. When the school is attacked, she flees with one of the tutors, determined to hide both from those who would kill her, and those who would use her.
As a plague of spirits sweeps across the land, the Onryo leave a bloody trail for Haruto to follow. But who’s hunting who?
An epic story that’s both bloody and full of feeling.
Rob J Hayes has created a wonderfully rich and detailed world of fantasy in his Mortal Techniques. The Asian setting is a refreshing change from most medieval sword and sorcery. The culture is so different that even simple daily living is an adventure in reading and Hayes does it so well, but, it’s his beleaguered heroes and his terrifying monsters that make these books really stand out.
I’m an avid follower of Hayes, and here you can find my reviews for Never Die and Pawn’s Gambit. The Mortal Techniques novels have stunning covers with art by the amazing Felix Ortiz and design by Shawn T. King. They are simply stunning.
Within Spirits of Vengeance we meet Haruto, an imperial appointed warrior who hunts and kill evil spirits, and set free the souls of those Yokai he can. His companions are Guang Meng, a self-proclaimed poet and bard of dubious talent, who has a mysterious past. The two make a strange pair and their constant ribbing of one another is a delight. Speaking of delights, Haruto has a spirit companion named Shiki who appears as a fuzzy ball of black fur with spindly legs. Her playful animosity and antics possessing other creatures belie the fact that she is a deadly force when she is possessing Haruto’s sword. The trio make their way across the lands, with Haruto displaying his seal for the villagers to know his presence and sell his services.
A group of horrifying onryo, are seeking the prisons of the dragons, and are destroying villages and murdering innocents to get the information they want. Onryo are rare and powerful yokai, and for them to band together in their purpose is dangerous beyond imagining.
Soon, Haruto and Guang are drawn in by the destruction and death the onryo leave in their wake. They join with Yanmei and Kira, survivors of a vicious attack which also takes the life of Guang’s son. Yanmei is a repeat appearance that has a terrific story line. Together, they must find a way to stop the destruction of mankind and deal with their own curses and blessings. Each of them seeking vengance in their own way. Haruto seeks the yokai of his dead wife. Yanmei, must find a way to stop her own technique from killing her. Guang is tested over and over to keep the vows he swore in his own blood and Kira seeks her own identity and how to come to terms with her past.
All of the characters, their depth and mystery, combine with a terrific tale that is full of great fight scenes, magic, and monsters. And…let’s not forget the DRAGONS! They are both wondrous and deadly. I loved the dialogue and was emotionally connected from start to end. I love that both Yanmei and Kira’s tales originated in the first two books in a small part. It’s no wonder they made their way into this book, they left quite an impression and have powerful voices. This is the longest book in the series and more epic in proportion, spanning decades and for some conflicts even centuries.
Rob Hayes always provides some really good introspection on politics, mortality, friendship, and strength of heart. Spirits of Vengeance satisfies on all levels for me. The setting, the rich folklore it’s based upon, the meddling of gods, the terrifying onryo, the power of qi as a magical basis for mortals, all fill an epic story that’s both bloody and full of feeling. It’s wonderfully immersive, and that’s why we read fantasy.
Be sure and check out this short story, Century Blade, by Hayes, either as a prequel treat or a delightful dessert after the feast of Spirits of Vengeance.
Having served in a hundred different offices as a keyboard monkey Rob J. Hayes finally decided to follow his life long passion of daydreaming. After writing a small horde’s worth of short stories, he released his debut dark fantasy trilogy “The Ties that Bind” in 2013 as an indie publication and followed it up with the steampunk caper “It Takes a Thief to Catch a Sunrise” in 2014. In 2017 he released his piratical duology, Best Laid Plans, and in 2018 the first book, Where Loyalties Lie won Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. Rob has now tried his hand at Science-Fiction (Drones, 2018) and Military Fantasy (City of Kings, 2018), and even East-Asian influenced fantasy (Never Die, 2019).