Pawn's Gambit by Rob J. Hayes review

Pawn’s Gambit by Rob J. Hayes

Pawn’s Gambit is the second stand-alone novel in the Mortal Techniques universe. The first is the SPFBO 5 finalist, Never Die.

Huge thank you goes out to Rob J. Hayes for the digital copy in exchange for an honest review!

About the Book
Series: Mortal Techniques #2 (stand-alone)Genre: Fantasy/Wuxia
Date of Publishing: January 26th, 2021Trigger Warnings: blood, gore, mirror ghost, bugs
Page count: 315Publisher: self-published
Book Blurb
Pawn's Gambit by Rob J. Hayes

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.

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?

Pawn’s Gambit is a stand alone story set in the award-winning Mortal Techniques universe. It’s a wuxia adventure filled with heroes, gods, spirits, and magic. 

Quote of the Book
Quote Background

“No war can take place without love. Be it love for a person, love for power, love for money, love for a nation. Wars grow, expanding beyond the boundaries of their initial conception. As more participants join a war, they add their own purposes to it, muddy its waters and change its flow. Wars grow, and as they grow, they change, consume, spread. They are lonely things, seeking company, spawning smaller conflicts.”

Song of the Book

SiaCourage To Change
It took me forever to find a song for Pawn’s Gambit. This still isn’t quite what I was looking for but at least some of the lyrics are closer to some of my other choices.


The Gods gather every hundred years to choose who will sit upon the throne for the next century. Daiyu is Natsuka’s choice.

I’m just going to say this upfront – Daiyu has moved up into the ranks as one of my favourite women characters in fantasy.


A disillusioned strategist, Daiyu is rolling in guilt for the choices she had to make to overthrow the Emperor. Choices that sacrificed the honor of the one person she admired and cared about – the Steel Prince. Now wanted for his murder, Daiyu, spends her time drowning her feelings in alcohol and keeping a low profile.

That is until Natsuka, The Goddess of Lost Things, appears and gives her a purpose – a scavenger hunt hosted by the Gods. Victory will benefit them both; Natsuka will oust the god of war from the throne, and Daiyu, can have the one thing that she has lost and wants most in the world.

Daiyu’s character the Art of War was a huge highlight for me in Never Die. Not only did she have the coolest magic but she had a connection to the Steel Prince that made me very interested in learning her story. Never Die was a fast-paced, and very fun book but Pawn’s Gambit has given me the balance and heart that was missing for me in Never Die.

Daiyu story is everything I wanted. Not only do we learn her background and how she became the Art of War. We also gain an understanding of her relationship with the Steel Prince and why she is still so tied-up in his loss, five years later. More than that, this story is a journey of healing for Daiyu. A coming to terms with her past, her present, and finding her center again. It’s a journey that can be painful, but the hard truths she has to face about herself and the awareness that comes, make it worth every page.

And if I scared you off with that, don’t worry, this isn’t just a story of self-reflection. We also get to see Daiyu in action doing what the Art of War does best; out-thinking her opponents.

The crisp writing allows you to sit back and enjoy the story-which has that bit of a fun scavenger hunt vibe as the characters track down and collect each God’s item in a race to be the first back to the meeting point. The world is full of cool ass magic, neat battles between overpowered characters, and some great scenes with creepy creatures (Yokai and other spirits/demons) straight out of lore. I said it in my review for Never Die but I loved that there is this whole air of mysticism to the world that lets you believe that interaction with Gods could happen. It’s so much fun.

The quirky cast is small but memorable, lightening up the mood when needed.
Lump stole the spotlight in all the scenes, and I loved the interplay between Natsuka, and well… everyone. 

Fun, exciting, and full of heart, Pawn’s Gambit is a stand-out story in this series.

Other notes

I am left wondering if it mattered in the long run, how many artifacts were collected by yourself compared to being gained through the death of another collector. (I also was interrupted about fifty-times during the last few chapters so I might have missed it)

Minor complaint – it’s been long enough and a whole lot of books read since Never Die, and though this definitely works as a stand-alone, I did wish for a few more hints about the Steel Prince’s fate a little sooner.

I also now have a new, ”would be interested to know more about” character, and that’s Yanmei, the teacher and protector of the children with techniques. I loved all the moments between her and Yu.

Daiyu is not a warrior, and I appreciated the challenge of keeping her story full of enough action to satisfy in a tale that revolves around a treasure hunt where the rules allow you to kill-off your opponents and the other players have all chosen some of the best fighters in the realm.

Our Judgement
They Shall Be Remembered - 4.5 Crowns