THE TIES THAT BIND series is set in the same universe as the BEST LAID PLANS series and technically comes first, though you won't lose anything by reading the latter first. Whereas the Best Laid Plans series dealt with pirates, this is a somewhat more traditional fantasy tale that takes place on a Hyborian-esque mainland. There's city-states with magic, mystery, political intrigue around every corner but it's all covered in the grim of a harsh pitiless world.
The protagonists are Jezzet Vel'urn, Thanquil Darkheart, and a mercenary called The Black Thorn. Thanquil Darkheart is an Inquisitor who ropes the other two into helping him investigate a case of infernalism by appealing to the greed of the other two as well as flat out lying to them. It's a case of Bad vs. Evil and the conflict among the main characters is one of the book's most entertaining factors. Can they work together long enough to save the world or will they kill each other before they even get to the bad guy? Unlike in many books, the answer may not be an optimistic one.
My favorite character of the main trio is Jezzet Vel'urn who, I suspect, will be a somewhat controversial one among fans. She's a blademaster but one who has been known to use her body to get out of fights which she knows she can't win. Being the world's most famous swordswoman, she's been sought out plenty of times by killers and believes there's generally two ways out of a battle with people full of too much male pride. She reminds me a bit of the historical Julie d'Aubigny, though Jezzet appears to be straight and doesn't have much of a singing voice. In a way, she's a bit of a deconstruction of the Red Sonya ideal as she's a survivor who takes every advantage she can.
I like how Jezzet is also contrasted against Henry, who is the Black Thorn's chief lieutenant and notably one of the other most dangerous women in the world. In Henry's case, she actively resents Jezzet from the moment she meets her and makes her a rival despite the fact she has nothing to gain from such. Henry is a character who gets expanded in future volumes of the series but is just lovably psychotic here.
Thanquil Darkheart, aside from having a somewhat ridiculous sounding name, is my second favorite character as he's a man who does a great job of pretending to be far less dangerous than he is. In a society where the strongest are also the biggest targets, he Clark Kents his way through life while being willing to do anything to accomplish his missions. That's a rare thing in fantasy and when the story is over, you believe he's one of the most cunning men in the world.
The Black Thorn is a character who plays off well against the others. A bit of Bron, a bit of the Black Dow, and some Conan mixed in--he's a walking animal. Want, take, and have are all the things he cares about. His honesty makes him a breath of fresh air in a society that drowns itself in hypocrisy. He's also not nearly as smart as Thanquil or Jezzet but has a cunning that comes through in a number of surprising ways. You've got a love a guy who offends the most dangerous organization in the world and then decides to simply go to war with it. I think of him as the Wolverine of this world.
The world which Rob J. Hayes has created is fascinating and while he doesn't waste unnecessary page time on world-building, you get a real sense of how this place functions as well as what its attitudes are. The conflict and prejudices feel authentic while not drowning out the more fantastical elements. I also love how Rob is not inclined to shy away from the horrible things his protagonists are willing to do and have done. They've all done terrible things in their professions and are suffering from the consequences of such.
The action in the book is bloody, violent, and short with the emphasis being on the fact our heroes are very good at killing versus fighting. Well, Jezzet is good at fighting but prefers killing to fighting since that implies she's not up against someone who can fight back. There's a bit of Geralt of Rivia in the protagonists in they can do amazing stunts as well as duels but they'd prefer to just win. That kind of fighting "style" says a lot about the characters and helps develop them versus being fanservice for the readers.
Are there flaws? Yes, a couple. I wouldn't say the book ever reaches quite the same heights of originality and fun as the Best Laid Plans duology. It feels, at times, a bit familiar if you've read Conan the Barbarian or its many pastiches. The R-rated stuff versus the watered down material. Still, I found this to be a great work overall and picked up the sequels immediately after finishing.