Spirits of Vengeance by Rob J. Hayes

Rate: 3.5/5

Medium: Audiobook

Overview (No Spoilers):

First off, congrats to Spirits of Vengeance for being a semifinalist and SSN in Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO8!

My first Hayes novel was A Pawn’s Gambit where the action-packed scavenger hunt of godly proportions completely had me hooked. As Hayes’ novels are written to be standalone stories inhabiting the Mortal Techniques series, I was eager to pick up Spirits of Vengeance to continue in this literary world filled with mettling gods and corrupted spirits. 

Picking up shortly after the whirlwind ending of a Pawn’s Gambit, we see Natsuko’s influence on the Jade Throne, with lost things starting to return. While the tone of Pawn’s Gambit was one of competition, which differs significantly in Spirits of Vengeance where the pacing and overall feel is tense with vengeance, dread, and time running short. 

Spirits of Vengeance follows Haruto, who both drives the story goal of this novel, and the magnet that majority of the supporting cast is drawn to. Specifically, Haruto’s purpose charges him to put to rest maleficent spirits known as yokai though he derives nuances and lives by a code that his fellow Onmyojihe have abandoned. While it takes the majority of the novel to tease out the past of this broken character, we eventually discover there is a hidden, personal  reason he is so driven. As a main character Haruto garners ample amounts of sympathy, but as I reader I never crossed the line into connecting with him, as he was consistently surly. 

The supporting cast definitely carries the weight of depth as there is enough backstory for all characters to fill novels. A few memorable characters from Pawn’s Gambit make appearances, though it is not necessary to have read the aforementioned novel before Spirits of Vengeance. If anything, the familiar characters have exponentially layered in detail in the years that lapsed between stories. 

Guang was one of my favorite characters in Spirits of Vengeance as he weaves stories that take you effortlessly deeper into the literary world. During his tales, I would forget I was listening to a book, instead enjoying the story for itself. Guang contains parallels to Yanmei’s father as they both hold infamous names that haunt their children and at least in Guang’s case, himself as well. Trying to right wrongs, Guang swore oaths to the gods that if upheld would cleanse his bloody past. These oaths are routinely tested, but my absolute favorite is his non swearing oath that he flouts in the most health conscious of ways. The non-swears are infectious, especially as his party starts using them. I found this unexpected injection of levity to be crucial in lightening the mood of a story that is sparing in its happy outcomes. 

That said, there are other characters who are deliberately undeveloped and I would have to guess they will show up in future Mortal Technique installments. Really, other than a decisive and elaborately choreographed battle sequence that contains centuries of repressed feelings, many of the events in Spirits of Vengeance feel open-ended. At a high level, Spirits of Vengeance establishes that the world is actively changing with the new power hierarchy at the god level. By the end of this novel, every plot twist is layered back upon itself and linked such that it made outcomes rather predictable, though this pattern didn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the story as a whole. 

Overall, Spirits of Vengeance is a read that takes a while to warm up and holds minimal happiness, but sprints to the end with elegant battle sequences, ample world building, and rich characters whose broken backstories will leave you yearning for both healing and learning more.

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):

  • What would have Tian thought of the repentant Guang?
  • Where will the dragons go now?
  • Shiki the companion spirit is another high point of this novel, especially when she is grieving Haruto.
  • Can Haruto ever really be killed?
  • With Yanmei’s death we are able to see Yuu in her new role. What else is she impacting as the new God of War?
  • How could Haruto have defeated Daizen if he couldn’t have withstood the heat? 
  • With the destruction of the Heiwa Academy and Sky Hollow where will the elite go to be trained?
  • I liked that Hayes includes and explores the concept that not all spirits are evil. Haruto would even go out of his way to satisfy the spirits to move them on peaceably without forcibly removing them. 
  • The backstories of the five Onryo are increasingly horrible but also added a level of humanity to their overall evil personas. 

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