BookBrowse Reviews Never by Ken Follett

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


A Novel

by Ken Follett

Never by Ken Follett X
Never by Ken Follett
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Nov 2021, 816 pages

    Jun 2022, 816 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book



An action-packed thriller that imagines the unthinkable: The US on the brink of nuclear war with China.

Ken Follett's thriller Never outlines a chillingly possible path to World War III. Fifty-year-old Pauline Green is in the third year of her first term as President of the United States when a seemingly minor attack on American soldiers occurs in Chad, Africa. Pressured by political rivals and the hawks on her staff, she retaliates, setting in motion a tit-for-tat game with frightening stakes, one that has the potential to affect every person on the planet. On the other side of the world, Chang Kai, an ambitious intelligence officer, battles with China's old guard, who are more concerned with saving face than avoiding war. And in northern Africa, CIA operatives Tamara Levit and Abdul Haddad seek to head off warlords, terrorists and drug dealers who have their own agendas.

When we think about the history of a war, we often point to a specific event that's said to have started it, like the "shot heard 'round the world" that supposedly began the American Revolution, or the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that triggered World War I. In reality, though, a lot of maneuvering takes place before countries begin hostilities, and the ramp-up is seldom a quick affair. (The US didn't invade Iraq until March 2003, 18 months after the 9/11 attack for which the country's leaders were blamed.) What makes Never a standout is how brilliantly Follett captures that slow, almost invisible preamble. Small actions lead to larger ones, treaties obligate countries to intervene, personal biases influence decisions. The author's skill in depicting that build-up makes the novel utterly terrifying, and the actions he describes, taken by seemingly reasonable people, are incredibly plausible.

Follett's narrative unfolds slowly as he sets the stage for this roller coaster ride of a tale. He takes his time, carefully creating his characters before amping up the action. We learn, for example, about President Green's political views, those of her Trump-like rival, what life is like in the White House, and how her husband and 15-year-old daughter navigate the trials of being part of a world leader's household. Tamara, we find, is smart and resourceful; she's in love with a French intelligence officer; and she has a difficult supervisor, blind to the implications of events transpiring around him. Most of these little details aren't critical to the plot, yet they add a sense of realism, building a world that readers can relate to and characters we care about. Perhaps even more importantly, Follett shows us what the characters themselves care about, making even their more questionable decisions justifiable. He paints no heroes or villains here, just regular people trying their best to do the right thing.

Although the book is ultimately a high-octane page-turner, it takes a long time to get there. I absolutely couldn't put it down from about the halfway point on, but the first section was a struggle. I'm glad I persisted, but at over 800 pages, it could have used a little judicious editing. This is exacerbated by the fact that some of the early storylines that are important to the overall setup diverge wildly from the main plot, ending up in places that have nothing to do with the impending nuclear war. These side threads are entertaining, but I remain puzzled as to why some were included. And finally, although I appreciate Follett going out of his way to create strong, three-dimensional female characters, his emphasis on their love lives seems out of place in a novel about international intrigue and, frankly, kind of irritated me — not enough for me to pan the book, but certainly enough to solidify my four-star rating.

Overall, Never is another strong entry in Follett's ever-expanding catalog — one that's sure to appeal to his legion of fans. It's also a book that is likely to haunt readers long after they turn the last page, given its all-too-realistic premise. Book groups willing to tackle a doorstopper will certainly find many interesting avenues of discussion here.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in January 2022, and has been updated for the June 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Republic of Chad


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Never, try these:

Read-Alikes are one of the many benefits of membership. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Ken Follett
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Exiles
    by Jane Harper
    Our First Impressions readers were thrilled to return to the world of Jane Harper's protagonist ...
  • Book Jacket: Spice Road
    Spice Road
    by Maiya Ibrahim
    Imani is a Shield, a warrior who is renowned for her fighting abilities and for her iron dagger, ...
  • Book Jacket: A Mystery of Mysteries
    A Mystery of Mysteries
    by Mark Dawidziak
    Edgar Allan Poe biographers have an advantage over other writers because they don't have to come up ...
  • Book Jacket: Moonrise Over New Jessup
    Moonrise Over New Jessup
    by Jamila Minnicks
    Jamila Minnicks' debut novel Moonrise Over New Jessup received the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Nurse's Secret
by Amanda Skenandore
A fascinating historical novel based on the little-known story of America's first nursing school.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Once We Were Home
    by Jennifer Rosner

    From the author of The Yellow Bird Sings, a novel based on the true stories of children stolen in the wake of World War II.

  • Book Jacket

    The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise
    by Colleen Oakley

    A “wildly surprising, entertaining ride of a novel.”
    —Jodi Picoult

Win This Book
Win Last House Before the Mountain

Last House Before the Mountain by Monika Helfer

A spellbinding, internationally bestselling family saga set in a fractured rural village in WWI Austria.



Solve this clue:

R Peter T P P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.