This is a review of James Abott’s book “The Never King“.
Xavir is rotting in gaol. Sentenced to life in the worst gaol in the lands 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 comes bearing news of his old enemy’s treachery, plans are forged. A few are compelled to restore peace, but peace and vengeance make poor companions. And first, Xavir must make his escape.
The the world was well-thought out, it was difficult to get to know it because there was no map at all in the book. A small one of Stravimon itself would have been enough. There were forests and hills, mountains and lakes, and villages and towns and cities. There was history and different peoples. The Dacinarians with their giant wolves deserved a book of their own, and the Akero were magnificent!
Elysia was a strong female character, a bit innocent at the start but clearly developing throughout the story. Her mother, though only appearing in a few flashbacks, was equally as strong. Lupara the Wolf Queen was a great representation of a strong warrior and someone who wasn’t afraid of their sexuality. Cedius the Wise was one of the best kings that have recently appeared in fantasy fiction, and the start of the book was extremely well done and very strong.
There are a lot of bad things about this book unfortunately.
Xavir was convinced to leave prison with only a few words, no built-up, no real explanation, no real incentive. After spending six years in gaol that was a bit too quick and easy. Not only that, but throughout the book he mentions several times that they have to be careful and not let the enemy know they are opposing them, and yet he wears his old uniform with the very recognisable insignia and swords he was so famous for. He was also the only person who didn’t have any trouble in the battles. He didn’t stumble, he didn’t slow down, he didn’t feel tired.
For being a commander and career soldier, Xavir did a lot of things that were rookie mistakes, some were even down right stupid and ended up hindering his allies rather than helping them. At one point Elysia asked Xavir if the Solar Cohort used to do assassinations back in the day, and instead of giving her an answer, he gives her an entire speech about feasts he has been on. There is no logic in the progress from one to the other whatsoever.
The worst part was that Xavir could simply walk in anywhere without trouble. Not so much as a stumble. He needs to escape an apparently inescapable gaol? He walks out. He needs to infiltrate the home of the country’s military commander? He walks in. He needs to enter Golax Hold and assassinate two people involved in the conspiracy? He walks in to the town, he walks into the castle, and he walks into a feasting all full of people. He barely kills six people in his quest to get there, he doesn’t sneak around, and no one flees when he comes. The bad guys don’t attempt to flee even, they just ask him if they couldn’t talk in an adjacent room rather than in the full hall. Then they talk and talk and talk. There was no reason to remove themselves from the full hall where the deaths could have far more impact.
While we are on the topic of impacts, the lack of it when it was revealed who was the Red Butcher and the traitor, was painful. One memory of a single scene where the character had a dark look about them – and considering the situation they were in, that look was very much expected and nothing special – is not enough as a hint for the character’s true alliance. There was no shock value, there was no emotion at all because we didn’t get to know that character at all.
Landril’s remark of ‘stranger things afoot’ that he had no information about when two chapters earlier they fought monsters that were clearly inhuman. Although probably meant to signify just how little information the spymaster has about the subject, it sounded like the author had simply forgotten what he had written. He was also annoyingly naïve and innocent at several points from the start to almost the end of the book, and then suddenly he isn’t. The change was far too abrupt.
Valderon was surprisingly (and annoyingly) bashful for an old soldier who had spent time in gaol, and the romance between him and Lupara was beyond awkward. It never led anywhere as if the author realised that it was a no-go, couldn’t be bothered going back to change a few sentences, and then just as awkwardly finished it off. Birgitta spent far too much time berating Xavir for not taking on the father role and then berating him for doing it his own way. In general there was a lot of back-and-forth from each character.
The mystery surrounding the Voldirik people had a lot of potential. It is too bad that said potential never went anywhere. They were the perfect bad guys, they did truly horrible things, but it was impossible to feel anything for them. They were mighty, but couldn’t stand up against the hodgepodge army Xavir and his allies scrunged up. The mystery of their god was revealed three pages after the concept was introduced, and just how stupid are people for not realising what was happening in their capital what with the Voldiriks running around?
A lot of the book was composed of tell rather than show. People updated their friends about something in one sentence and one expects it to be over. But it isn’t. We get the entire conversation in full three sentences later. Xavier’s group of escapees were referred to as ‘the prisoners’ for more than half the book, even long after they had escaped. Then they were suddenly ‘freemen’. A little after that bit came an entire chapter about some sort of celebration Xavir once participated in that had nothing to do with the current story at all. Add to that a lot of useless info-dumping, and a lot of repetition of the info. The author is very fond of the following: supposedly, seemed to, presumably, appeared to. They were used over and over again in situations they had no business being. The author is also in love with the word ‘whilst’.
The second half of the book was definitely the worst one, and I cannot believe that any editor would let this sort of writing pass them by. It would have made a much better story had it been a duology, because as it stands it was badly written and rushed that made it ridiculously simple for the heroes to win over the supposedly unbeatable enemy. And a passable second-to-last chapter was not enough to save it at all.
I do not recomend this book at all.