Spirits of Vengeance by Rob J Hayes: Review

This is the third entry into Rob’s ‘Mortal Techniques’ series but can be read as a standalone, same as the previous two. This book is literally everything you can want in a story…

Some information about this book:

  • Release date: September 28th 2021
  • Published by: Self published
  • Pages: 552
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Series: Mortal Techniques (#3)

Blurb:

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?

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Wow. Where do I start? Maybe with the basics: Spirits of Vengeance is the third book in the Mortal Techniques series but as I’ve said previously, can be read as a standalone. It could be thought of as the fourth book technically as Rob released a short story in this series, The Century Blade, on August 29th which acts as a prequel to some of the story in this book so if you’ve not read either, quickly read that book (29 pages) to give yourself some background knowledge.

“Victory is worth any cost. Defeat is a coin with no value,”

I won’t post any spoilers in this review but you will see some names of characters. These names are either mentioned in the blurb or are seen very early in the story. The story follows a man called Haruto who is an onmyoji. An onmyoji is kind of like a spirit hunter who works in the same kind of way The Witcher does. Haruto has a companion called Guang who is a poet and the two of them stumble across an old lady, Yanmei and a young girl Kira. Together they go on an ever-evolving quest to save the world from five onryo (onryo are half yokai, half human but only one side can exist and these are created when someone has died in an unnatural way) who are intent on releasing an ancient evil upon the world.

Haruto put a hand on Guang’s shoulder. “She said don’t you dare die!”
Guang smiled. “I’m not planning on it you little radish.”

I knew from the cover that this would have some Asian Fantasy elements and that was something I was really up for but when I started reading this book I really didn’t know what else to expect. I’d heard great things about the other two books in the series and so when I saw Rob offer an arc on Twitter I jumped on the chance and promised a review by release date and here we are, over two weeks early.

“I’m willing to suffer a bit of pain if it saves others from worse.”

What Rob has created here is nothing short of scintillating storytelling. The world he has created is one that you can feel come to life around you the further you delve in. Everything is described in perfect detail without being overbearing or info-dumpy. He really sets the scene for Haruto and the others, wherever they go, so that you constantly have a visual image in your head to play alongside the words he has carefully placed onto the pages. The lore of the world, such as the story of The King of Rock and Sky and his Paper Army, will help to make you feel more enveloped into this world as they bring the history, the people and the cultures alive.

“Not justice. I am not justice. I am a spirit of vengeance.”

The characters are the standout attraction in this story. Hands down. They are alive, believable and have real personalities you get to know and enjoy. It’s wonderful. There are great dynamics between them too. Haruto and Guang have a Doctor Strange/Wong relationship. The sarcasm is executed perfectly but the love they have for one another is a permanent undertone so that you can relate to their friendship with one of your own.

“Enough!” Haruto said quickly. “I’ll find some more work. Just… no more poetry, please.”

Kira and Yanmei have a great mother/daughter relationship that evolves as the story does, despite them not being biologically related and what’s interesting is Yanmei and Guang are almost like her parents. Guang and Yanmei using Kira to fill in their own voids respectively, and Kira finding a balance with her unconventional guardians providing her guidance and teachings she hasn’t had before. Yanmei and Guang themselves are almost like an old married couple as they are both atoning for sins. Guang through abstinence by not doing something and Yanmei paying a toll every time she does. It’s really well written stuff.

“Damnit Yanmei, you old fool,” she snarled at herself. “Be faster.”
“Yes!” Guang said as his left knee buckled and he dropped to kneel on the ice. “Please do.”

The characters all have a backstory that is either drip fed inside of believable conversations or is shown in short but fascinating flashbacks. These droplets of information about their history complete their past allowing us to get a complete picture of them without the risk of losing pace or interest in the main story.

Guang laughed. “They make us better, you know. If you let them. Children.”

It’s not just the heroes that are great either. Like most comic books, a hero is only good as his enemies and these are no exception. The ‘villains’ they face are interesting, cool, devious and well crafted. They have their own personalities which at times rival those of our heroes. It then creates it’s own dynamic as you learn about them and their place in the world. I want to talk about this a lot more but it would spoil it.

“This is the only plan.” Kira shook her head. “It’s a really bad plan.”


Rating – S/5 This is an S rank book. If you’ve played games you’ll know what that means and if you don’t well consider it a 6 out of 5. I’ve only given this (in my head) to two other books before – The Hobbit and Ready Player One. This is for those books you recommend to everyone whenever you’re asked if you know any good books. This is for those books you need to have special editions of. This book is nothing short of extraordinary. It made me excited to turn the page and that is special. Rob has created a living breathing world with characters who I felt I knew everything about. It’s a world I can’t wait to get back into and a world I can’t wait for others to explore. I couldn’t put this book down and for good reason. To me this is one of the best books I’ve ever read and I implore you to get a copy when it’s released. I can’t wait to see where Rob is taking this world next. This is what fantasy writers should aspire to and what fantasy readers deserve. Did I mention it’s also self published?

You can add this to your Goodreads TBR here.

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