The Never King by James Abbott

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The Never King by James Abbott

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: James Donald
Reviewed by James Donald
Summary: An enjoyable fantasy tale with imaginative world building and strong characters. This work does not challenge the reader (making it very accessible) and at times feels a little rushed but overall it is well executed and original.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: May 2017
Publisher: Pan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1509803118

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The land of Stravimon is in chaos. Cedius the Wise died leaving the traitorous Mardonius to ascend to the throne. In far off Hell's Keep (the most deadly and remote prison in the Kingdom; a place no prisoner has ever returned from alive) Xavir Argentum is contacted by Cedius' former Spy Master, Landril. Betrayal, intrigue, violence and magic follow as we travel across this strange but familiar land on a quest for vengeance, justice and freedom.

Whilst the synopsis sounds complex the plotting of this tale is not. Characters are introduced well and their names, motives and friendships are revisited often. Abbott (the new pen name for Mark C Newton) avoids too many Mr Exposition tropes yet still manages to keep us reminded of the most important information frequently. This style allows Abbott to throw at us some big and complex concepts without ever becoming too challenging as a read. Despite being a historical/fantasy fiction The Never King blends contemporary language with magical terms to produce a world you can immerse yourself in without ever feeling that you need a dictionary.

All of this made me feel I was reading a teen or all-ages drama. The gory violence and some of the big concepts thrown around belied this, but only so far. The earliest chapters felt to me a lot like some of the first season episodes of Torchwood; a) take an all-ages story b) whack some sex on top c) make people swear for the sake of it d) make the violence gorier and more gratuitous than is necessary.

I'm not 100% sure if the author finds his feet as the tale progresses or if I simply fall into step with his style. Either way every page turn pulled me in further and my initial concerns and problems with it vanished.

Game of Thrones this isn't. Big concepts like post-traumatic stress, psychosis, vengeance and guilt sit at the heart of this but where Gearge R R Martin uses these ideas to rip your heart out and beat you to a pulp with it Abbott is happy for them to just serve as simple motivators to drive the tale. This is not a criticism. Reading any of the books in the Song of Ice and Fire series is a commitment that will tax you emotionally and physically. The Never King is, by contrast, entertainment with a foundation of emotion rather than an all-encompassing quest.

As I started this book it seemed obvious that it was going to be only the first book in a series. Plot points and history were introduced and fleshed out with impunity and it seemed we would struggle to resolve them. Skillfully, however, Abbott then fooled us into worrying that there will be nothing left to explore! The stories we've been following end, the events we've been waiting for happen and it all seems neatly wrapped up…

…until we realise that we've been following the wrong protagonists all along… until it is revealed that the tale we've read only gives a superficial introduction to a far darker and more challenging fantasy to follow. In a way Abbott executes exactly the same trick that Martin did in Game of Thrones emotionally.

I liked this story and I came to respect and enjoy the company of many of its characters. I thought that this tale was engaging and entertaining throughout. All of that said this book is not without its faults. Background characters (and a few who briefly take centre stage) are painted in broad brushstrokes. Some plot points are left dangling in a way that suggests that they are not being left for the sequel but instead that they've simply been forgotten. There is a sense in a few places that a final edit may have been slightly rushed with the role of some characters changed, built up or played down. The modern language, whilst making it accessible, does sometimes jar; you can feel at times that you are in a modern political drama when terms like regime change are bandied about.

My biggest concern with the book was the overall theme that ran through it. The entire concept of the book is summed up on page 310:

There have always been foreigners, they bought our wares and put money into our cities.

Not this lot, though. They're violent. Bugger knows where they came from.

All of this is surrounded with tales of the invaders bringing a new God with them and destroying the old. Maybe I'm just getting old and too sensitive in my old age but I found it all a little uncomfortable.

As with my review for The Serpent Sword the further reading is fairly obvious; The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien (or any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) and A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin (or any other of the Song of Ice and Fire series).

Buy The Never King by James Abbott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Never King by James Abbott at

Buy The Never King by James Abbott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Never King by James Abbott at


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