Jen reviews Spirits of Vengeance, a stand-alone novel in Rob J. Hayes‘ Mortal Techniques universe.
Thank you to Rob J. Hayes for the ARC. Apologies for the delay in reading/reviewing.
|Series: #3 Mortal Techniques||Genre: Asian-inspired/fantasy|
|Date of Publishing: September 28, 2021||Trigger Warnings: death, violence, spirits, murder|
|Page count: 552||Publisher: Self-Published|
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?
The Mortal Techniques novels are a series of stand-alone stories that can be read entirely independently, set in the award-winning Mortal Techniques universe
“He looked up and saw lumps of webbing not far from the ceiling, giant cocoons dangling from webs as thick as rope, dozens of them. Suddenly he knew exactly what he was dealing with.
“Shit,” he whispered. Then he heard a woman’s laughter, soft and melodic like glass beads tinkling into a marble bowl.”
The Darkest Part of Me by Red
The Onryo, powerful spirits, have banded together, led by the Master, looking for the final prison of Orochi, the eight-headed dragon causing Haruto’s personal quest to be sidelined, in hopes of putting a stop to the Onryo’s plans.
I had such a good time with Pawn’s Gambit – loved the heck out of that book, so I had to return to this series when I found out Yamrei would be of part this story.
So, Spirits of Vengeance is kind of a mix of the first two books in style. I like this blend a lot – we have our group travelling with lots of action, and the very cool fight scenes, mixed in with some down-time, to give the characters and world time to grow. The beginning did feel a little slower to get going to me but I think that was more to do with my own impatience for Yanmei to appear.
I never actually read the summary and took Spirits of Vengeance on the strength of Hayes‘ writing, my love for his last book, and the fact that Yanmei would be part of the story. I assumed she would be the main focus much like Yu was in the last book so it did take me a bit to shift my attention past my expectations – at least until she appeared.
Anyway. Haruto is an Onmyoji – he travels the land looking to put yokais and other spirits to rest. His ultimate goal though is finding his wife’s spirit and releasing her from this world so she can be at peace. He has spent decades looking for her, even pledging himself to a God to accomplish this goal.
He is joined by Guang, a storyteller, and not-so-great poet. And also by Shiki, Haruto’s companion spirit; a gift from the God he worships and the cutest most kick-ass fluff ball ever. I want a Shiki.
Along the way they pick up Yanmei and Kira, after the school for gifted children is burnt down. I was really looking forward to seeing Yanmei again and a lot has changed since our first meeting with her, as her fire technique is now slowly killing her with its use.
Surprisingly, as much as I loved Yanmei, she wasn’t the character that caught my heart this time around – it was Kira (we met her in Pawn’s Gambit when she was rescued from her mirror).
Kira is struggling with her identity, as a yokai returned to life. As the world sees her – she isn’t all human but she is not completely a yokai either.
Kira feels like a lost little girl. She is enamoured with all the new things around her and as someone who has had no one to teach her right from wrong, until Yanmei, she is now walking a fine line between the human side of her and spirit side, looking to belong and do right by Yanmei, who she loves and respects. A lot of her journey is learning about the world around her and learning to accept who and what she is.
Acceptance of yourself is a theme and a very powerful message throughout the story. All the characters are grappling with making amends for their past selves, by coming to terms with what they can’t change and how it has shaped them to be the people they are today. And that those mistakes don’t mean they can’t do or be, better people from this point on.
Rob’s characters are a lot of fun and he is clever about his weaving of the story together. Some of the characters’ histories get told through tales by Guang (this reminded me a bit of Benedict Patrick’s Yarnsworld style) and it’s neat, the way the past stories – which are like folklores, interact with the present, giving you this feeling like you are actually seeing these legends in the making.
I really like and look forward to the way Hayes plans the sequences to these characters’ techniques too. He gives little glimpses throughout the story, planting the seed of what is possible, but not showing all, and even holding in reserve, some of their techniques until the finale. It makes for such exciting fight scenes that don’t feel stale from over-use while building and growing the character and story. I think this is one of the things that has impressed me the most over the last few books.
I did think there was a couple of side quests that could have been dropped, just to speed up things a little, the pacing was a bit up and down but does even out in the last half.
Some fun little easter-eggs to previous books if you have read the others, to catch along the way. I always enjoy that kind of stuff.
My takeaway is there will never be a shortage of Yokai for Haruto to put to rest with all the violent ways men can kill one another…
The scene-setting and characters are top-notch. The pacing was a bit off early on, but it’s a minor complaint in this complicated tale of revenge, redemption, and forgiveness, all wrapped up in this very cool mystic setting. Hayes is turning me into a superfan.