Page Count: 352
Release Date: January 26th, 2021
Series: MORTAL TECHNIQUES, Book 2
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars – Liked it!
Note: I was provided a free ARC of the book by the author in exchange for my fair and honest opinion.
Once upon a time, Yuu was the known as the great strategist, the Art of War. But when faced with impossible circumstances, Yuu made a move that angered many, even though it helped secure the overthrow of the Emperor of Ten Kings. In hiding from the nobles who would see her executed, Yuu is content to spend her days getting drunk and playing chess. But Yuu’s quiet life is interrupted when she is sought out by Natsuko, the goddess of lost things and missed opportunities. Once every 100 years, the gods have the opportunity to compete for the throne of heaven by choosing one mortal champion to seek out and claim as many hidden divine artefacts as possible before the competition ends. Natsuko is determined to dethrone Batu, the god of war, who has been stoking conflict between the nations. And who better to defeat the god of war than one who knows war so well?
PAWN’S GAMBIT is a string of clever tales about a woman who claims her victories not by skill with the blade, but with cunning. Yuu goes through a series of adventures as she tries to recover the hidden artefacts, frequently facing situations where she is either too outnumbered or underpowered to tackle a situation head on. She instead must weigh the pieces she has to figure out how to outmaneuver her opponents and emerge victorious. It’s a very episodic journey, with Yuu encountering a variety of scenarios, from temples guarded by warrior monks to rooms haunted by vengeful spirits. In some ways, it feels like Yuu is dancing through the lives of others, popping into events long enough to find what she needs before moving on to the next artefact. Yuu is playing to change the balance of the gods themselves, making even large events like a war seem trivial to her task of finding a divine coin.
For those wondering how PAWN’S GAMBIT compares to its predecessor NEVER DIE, I will say PAWN’S GAMBIT is a fairly different beast. NEVER DIE was a tale of epic heroes, of sword fights and monsters, duels and large battles. While there are flashes of those elements here, PAWN’S GAMBIT is a more intimate story. Yuu does get into a few clashes with larger-than-life figures, but her best scenes are the ones where it’s simply her and an opponent staring at each other across a table, each trying to outwit and defeat the other without ever drawing a blade.
Whereas NEVER DIE was about building a crew of heroes, Yuu largely operates on her own, picking up allies for a few days and then leaving them behind. This is Yuu’s story. She might be in a contest of the gods, but the heart of this story is about Yuu’s reconciliation with all the pain and abuse of her past and how she moves forward with her life. It’s a cathartic moment indeed when Yuu makes an emotional realization that allows her to recontextualize much of her past and upbringing.
PAWN’S GAMBIT has been marketed fairly heavily as “not a sequel” to NEVER DIE, and for the most part that holds true. Although Yuu was a notable character in NEVER DIE, you can very much enjoy this book on its own. The story makes small nods to people and places from NEVER DIE, but they felt more like Easter eggs than key information. I did, however, find the narrative a bit too vague in describing the events from NEVER DIE that led Yuu to need to go into hiding in the first place. I cobbled together a rough idea of what had happened from PAWN’S GAMBIT, but had to go back to my copy of NEVER DIE to confirm what had ACTUALLY happened. It may seem like a small nitpick, but given how many times Yuu mentions the Steel Prince and the grief she feels about her actions, I would have liked a bit more clarity at some point in the book, especially if this is truly a standalone adventure.
Whether you are going to enjoy PAWN’S GAMBIT will depend on your preference of story. I had a great time with PAWN’S GAMBIT, but personally preferred the more duel-oriented adventures of NEVER DIE, which focused on battling warriors. Not every battle needs to be decided with a blade, however, and many will enjoy a hero who wins through brains over brawn! And while PAWN’S GAMBIT is a standalone adventure, there’s an excellent tease for a third MORTAL TECHNIQUES book, which I will definitely be checking out!