By and in large, the pacing in this novel is good. We are quickly introduced to the main character and Hayes sets the hook right off the bat by leading with the premise of the novel early. The main character is a master strategist approached by one of the Gods to represent her in a magical scavenger hunt with rulership of heaven and earth at stake. I rather enjoyed that basis of the story and think it’s pretty hard not to be intrigued by such a fun, fast-paced story. There were a few moments here and there where Yuu, the main character, spent a little too much time in introspection, but this is a common complaint of mine, and my ideal proportions are likely different than most readers.
There are a couple parts where the story arc felt like it was getting in the way of the adventure. Honestly, I wasn’t super invested in Yuu coming to terms with her past. I was more interested in the outcome of the plot level contest of the gods. But, in the end it all came together quite nicely, with the emotional stakes coming to a head just before the final contest. The climactic battle was very well done in my opinion, matching not only Yuu's personal arc, but her technique as well, intertwining themes of gameplay, sacrifice, chess, personal loss, and war. The final action sequence was very memorable and enjoyable.
Yuu and her band of recruits travel from one episode to another, collecting strange and wonderous artifacts on her quest to win the Gods' contest. The different items had a variety of villains attached to them all vying for possession of the magical items. It created an entertaining atmosphere full of colorful characters and well-imagined scenes.
I really enjoyed the characters in this novel, which is not to say that they are deep character portraits, they're not. Probably the strongest selling point for this series is the character styling. This novel is true to it's genre, giving us relatively simple characters with strong aesthetic individuality. All the major players in this world have their own technique, a unique martial art ability/magical ability that they alone have mastered. It makes each character stand out in a fun way, and allows Hayes to create some of the best and most memorable action sequences I have read recently. The main character is a disillusioned former master strategist, whose ruthless dedication to winning war at all cost finally cost her the love of her life. These days she whiles away her hours hustling drunks at chess and drifting from town to town to stay one step ahead of the bounty hunters chasing her. I enjoyed her character and her arc. It was well suited towards the tone of this book, which isn’t super heavy or deep, it’s fun and fast-paced and has a unique feel to it a lot like watching a good kung fu movie.
That is what really works about these books. They are fun, quick reads that evoke all of the best parts of a good kung fu flick. So if you like fantasy books, and you like kung fu movies, this shouldn’t be a hard decision. Go out and grab a copy of Never Die or Pawn’s Gambit. They are both a lot of fun.