The Never King by James Abbott
Publishing date: 18 May 2017
I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
The Never King is the newest novel from Mark Charan Newton, who is writing under the pseudonym James Abbott. I hadn’t read any of Newton’s books before diving into this one, but was intrigued nonetheless.
Xavir Argentum is rotting in gaol. Sentenced to life in the squalor of Hell’s Keep, punishment for an atrocity he didn’t commit, the once legendary commander is all but forgotten. His elite band of warriors are dead – and the kingdom he was poised to inherit is oppressed by the tyrant who framed him. For half a decade now, Xavir has ruled nothing but a prison gang.
Yet vengeance comes to those who wait. When a former spymaster infiltrates the Keep, bearing news of his old enemy’s treachery, plans are forged. A few are compelled to restore peace – an exiled queen, an outcast witch, and an unlikely alliance of rogues and heroes. But peace and vengeance make poor companions. And first, Xavir must make his escape . . .*
Overall, I really enjoyed The Never King. It can be split into two parts: The Plan and The Revenge. The book’s back copy does make it sound like a prison break novel, but this just isn’t true. The book is about far more than Xavir’s escape from Hell’s Keep, which happens within the first third of the novel. Because it has these two fairly distinct parts, it does feel a little like two novels smashed together, however I felt that it was still well-executed. Abbott keeps your interest beyond the prison break, the part I was most excited about, and continues to build an interesting world and exciting situations for our heroes through the end. I really liked the world he built and the various people and places he touches upon. Abbott balances the descriptions of the societies and cultures within his world without going on overly detailed tangents.
The novel is more plot-driven than character-driven, and I felt like character development and character arcs were a weakness of the book. We get to know Xavier and Elysia fairly well, but they feel a little flat. Neither has much personality and I really wish they did — they had so much potential to be great characters. Even their dynamic was a little lacking, and it could have been the best part of the book. I actually thought that Elysia was supposed to be a sort of fantasy sociopath because of her complete lack of feeling, particularly when it came time to take a life, which honestly would have been a really cool twist.
I found the secondary characters to be much more compelling than these two. Lupara was phenomenal, and I want her to have her own series. She has such a strong presence in the book and I found her and her background absolutely fascinating — she’s the exact kind of strong female character that I love. Valderon and Tylos were also favourites because of their intriguing histories and the way they commanded your attention on the page. There are other secondary characters that I really liked, but these three in particular were the most well-written and interesting. I’d love to have seen Xavier and Elysia given the same sharp writing that these characters got.
The Never King is a great summer fantasy read and the start of a promising new series. A rollicking adventure story packed with warrior men and women, powerful witches, creepy villains, danger around every corner, and political backstabbing, it is the perfect book to sweep you away on a sunny day.
Have you read The Never King? Are you intrigued? Let me know!
*Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan