Never: A Novel

Image of Never: A Novel
Release Date: 
November 9, 2021
Reviewed by: 

“The most disturbing part of this story is how close it could be to reality. One can only hope the appropriate leaders read this book and ask the question: ‘Could this really happen?’”

DEFCON 5 – Lowest State of Readiness

DEFCON 4 – Above Normal Readiness; Heightened intelligence watch and strengthened security measures

DEFCON 3 – Increase in Force Readiness; Air Force able to mobilize in 15 minutes.

DEFCON 2 – One Step from Nuclear War; Armed forces ready to engage in less than six hours

DEFCON 1- Nuclear War is imminent or has begun.

In his latest book Never Ken Follett takes the reader through these five steps in a matter of weeks. It is an “unputdownable” book, in spite of how many times the reader breaks out in a cold sweat and tries to bury the book. It will continue to resurface until the reader is finished.

One would think that a book of just over 800 pages would be a daunting read, but if you have a week that you’re not doing anything with, you will want to pick it up and start with page one. You will reach page 816 and The End before you know it.

Follett takes the story on a nonstop trip from Chad in northeast Africa, to Washington, DC, to Beijing, China, to North and South Korea, neatly tying each location to the next and to the previous in a tight circle.

The main characters in Chad:

  • Tamara Levit, a tough CIA operative and Tabdar “Tab” Sadoul, an attaché at the European Union, both assigned to N’Djamena in Chad. Their initial assignment is to coordinate with a murky character, Abdul, at a small town, Lake Chad.
  • Abdul John Haddad, an undercover CIA officer searching for Hufra, the hideout of al-Farabi, the terrorist leader of ISGS.

The search for Hufra leads them to a terrorist camp, al-Bustan. Their information results in the destruction of the camp, but not the discovery of al-Farabi.

  • Kiah, a young widow whose greatest desire is to take herself and her son, Naji, away from Chad to France and find a better life. She finds a means to escape Lake Chad but she will have to pay a human trafficker, Hakim. For a woman, this is a major risk, but she is up to it. Before long, Kiah finds herself on the bus headed toward freedom, and her seat companion is Abdul.

From here, Follett takes us to Washington, DC, where the next set of characters surface:

  • The first female president, Pauline Green, is meeting with members of her staff and discussing the destruction of a terrorist camp in Chad. And thus, Follet ties together the first two strings of the story.
  • At this point he also introduces the beginning of a failed relationship between the president and the first gentleman, Gerry; and we meet their angst-ridden teenage daughter, Pippa.
  • Gus Blake, head of the National Security Agency, and close confidante of the president—almost too close.

Moving back to Chad, Follett begins to develop a relationship between Tamara and Tab that is fraught with uncertainty on Tamara’s part. It should be noted that Follett does a good job of putting the reader in a given character’s point of view, and not diverting from it, so we get to know many of these characters and some of their deepest thoughts.

And Follett also creates strong tension that is to be expected in North African and Middle East countries with gunfights and retribution that only serve to move the story into the next DEFCON stage.

And soon the story moves to Beijing, China, with the next players:

  • Chang Kai, vice-minister for international intelligence in charge of the overseas half of China’s intelligence operation. Kai, at 45, is young for such a responsibility, and of a more liberal thinking than many of his cohorts.
  • His father Chang Jianjun is vice-chairman of the National Security Commission and an old line communist, at odds with his son.
  • Ting, Kai’s wife, is a popular actress in Chinese TV, and disliked by her father-in-law.

The opening salvo for the entry of the Chinese into the story is an American resolution to the UN presented as anti-Chinese propaganda. At this point Kai’s enemy, Li Jiankang informs Kai that his wife, Ting, has been critical of the party—a situation that Kai realizes was only a rumor designed against him, not his wife. And now Kai must deal with an American UN resolution and an attack on his wife.

Although North and South Korea will play a massive role as the story moves forward, the main characters are not developed until later, but should be identified:

  • Kang U-jung, Supreme Leader of North Korea
  • No Do-hui, President of South Korea

With all the characters developed and waiting in the wings, Follett now moves the story across three continents, back and forth, and the situations begin to elevate.

Take the situations: an American resolution designed to embarrass the Chinese, an attack on American forces in Chad, heroin being smuggled from Chad to Europe, a stolen American drone used in an attack in Sudan, the discovery of a camp where gold is mined by enslaved humans, and human trafficking, mix those with cultural issues between the Chinese and the Americans, and then spice it all up with an arrogant little supreme leader just chomping at the bit to use his nuclear power against rogue fighters in a coup against him. Can the end of the world be far away?

With the coup against the Korean leader, the Chinese unable to control him, the internal struggle in China between the old-line communists and the younger more liberal leaders, an unworkable clash is looming. Retribution for all of the actions climbs toward an uncompromisable ending. And each action taken by the two Korean countries escalates drawing the Chinese and the Americans toward the abyss.

There are so many well drawn scenes in this 800+ page tome, that it is difficult to cover everything, but suffice it to say, every scene on every page in every chapter grows tighter and tighter until Follett plays out the final struggle with the inevitable ending.

The most disturbing part of this story is how close it could be to reality. One can only hope the appropriate leaders read this book and ask the question: “Could this really happen?”

If there is any drawback to the story, it is trying to keep all of the many characters straight. Names and positions sometimes become blurry, but on the whole, the reader will understand who is who.