Merciless gods, vengeful spirits, immortal assassins, and empires at war collide.
Five years ago, Yuu made a mistake that cost her everything. Once a renowned strategist and general, now she is on the run, royal bounty hunters snapping at her heels. But what if there was a way to get back what she lost, a way to bring back a murdered prince?
Once a century, the gods hold a contest to choose who will rule from the Jade Throne. Each god chooses a mortal champion, and the fate of heaven and earth hangs in the balance.
On a battlefield full of heroes, warriors, assassins, and thieves can Yuu survive long enough to learn the rules of the game, let alone master it?
I want to start this review by saying that yes you can read the main three books in the Mortal Techniques story in any order, however, it is 100% best to read them in publication order. There are characters who are in multiple books and the payoff from reading them in order is heartwarming and wholesome, so listen to Uncle Benny and start with Never Die!
I’d like to firstly point out the fantastic artwork on the covers of these books. They’re consistent and all look awesome. I love how the characters who are in the book are on the front and I love the font and colours used on them. Really nice design to them all and I regularly find myself flicking to the front of the book to look at the characters as they are initially described.
I really enjoyed Never Die and adored Spirits of Vengeance so I was a little worried that Pawn’s Gambit wouldn’t live up to the hype. I shouldn’t have worried. This book is better than Never Die and helps to push Rob’s writing into the incredible stuff we find later in Spirits of Vengeance.
The story starts with a god called Nastuko who is the god of lost things and missed opportunities. She is looking for a mortal champion to compete in a scavenger hunt for magical items against other gods and their champions. The winner gets to challenge Batu, the god of war, and if they win, they become the Tianjuan, the god in charge of heaven and earth, for the next century.
The whole idea is just cool. Rob could have easily have done a Mortal Kombat style event but instead he took it to a different level having various champions searching for unique relics hidden among the lands.
The fact that the gods are in this book is a large piece of worldbuilding. You get to know some of them and by connecting heaven and earth the whole world of Mortal Techniques just got bigger and not just in distance either. This opens up a lot of potential future stories with interchanging dynamics between humans and gods, yokai (vengeful spirits) and shinigami (death gods). The possibilities are almost endless.
The characters are again the driving force in this book and steal the show. We follow Yuu as she tries to make peace with her past from Never Die. It is something that she is conflicted by and only by going through this journey can she get passed that which haunts her. Yuu and Natsuko make a great team too as Natsuko pushes Yuu to be better, dangling the thing that she wants most so that she herself, ironically, can get what she wants most, the jade throne. It’s a precarious relationship that is wrought with secrets being kept from Yuu.
This wouldn’t be a Mortal Techniques book without a cast of colourful supporting characters and brutal enemies and Pawn’s Gambit does not disappoint. There are bounty hunters, triad bosses, yokai, gods and others… They all play a part in moving the story forward with exciting interactions and revelations. It is always interesting to read about a new character in this world because any one of them could appear in a future work, further building their profile and the world by default.
I have enjoyed this story more than Never Die and I think this was because Yuu’s arc of redemption is great. She plays a much much bigger role than previously in ND and is an interesting and clever character to read about.
To roundup, Rob has created another amazing entry into The Mortal Techniques series. The characters are well designed, full of life and make appearances across the various books which is a lot of fun. One character who appears as a side in one book becomes the main course in another. The worldbuilding is again fantastic, especially if you like Asian fantasy settings and the ‘magic’ in the world, the techniques that some people have, creates heroes and villains that play into the dilemmas with clever storytelling. Rob has great vision and I cannot wait to continue reading the books in this series as it slowly becomes one of my favourite series read.