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Ken Follett has discovered a road map to our darkest fears in the form of NEVER. This weighty book, hitting the scales at a whopping 800+ pages, does not waste a single sentence to tell this hopefully fictional tale of how close we are as a planet and species to a third World War that would obliterate everyone.

It is said that if the handful of countries in possession of nuclear weapons launched them all at the same time, the whole world would be erased in under an hour. This is chilling stuff, and even more frightening because every fact that Follett utilizes to create this tense piece of fiction is firmly based in our present reality. All the while, his plot will keep your wheels spinning as you sit up in bed, wide awake when you should be sleeping, wondering if what you just read was for entertainment purposes or a primer for the destruction of mankind.

"NEVER is not for the faint of heart as we are in extreme global warfare mode, like a Tom Clancy plot on steroids. Let’s all just hope that these events remain confined to the pages of this intense work of fiction."

U.S. President Pauline Green is touring a secret government location nicknamed Munchkin Country, a reference to The Wizard of Oz, as it is a blast-proof shelter that can sustain a number of high-ranking officials and their families for an entire year. At the start of NEVER, we are at DEFCON 5, which is the standard defense setting representing the lowest state of readiness.

The book could have benefited from a glossary of characters as dozens of them pop up throughout the story, each playing a role in the nightmare circumstances to follow. One is Abdul, a U.S. agent posing as a cigarette salesman on an undercover mission to get intel from a group of highly dangerous jihadists. Green has plenty to keep her time occupied, one of which involves fellow Republican James Moore, who plans to challenge her for the nomination in the next election. Moore likes using the media to forward his own agenda, namely that the current administration is not equipped to protect its citizens from terrorism.

Meanwhile, China, once poor and weak, is on the verge of becoming the richest and most powerful country in the world. Their nuclear arsenal has grown considerably and, with global tensions being what they are right now, could find it triggered even in response to a minor skirmish. The first hotbed area exists in Chad, North Africa, a spot where the U.S. has sent a counterterrorism force of a couple thousand soldiers. That kind of U.S. presence anywhere will not go unnoticed, and suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of Middle Eastern terrorists, as well as Korea and China heightening their interest in the outcome of this conflict.

An effort to cool things down for negotiation purposes leads to the creation of a temporary DMZ (demilitarized zone) where U.S. forces and intelligence in the Middle East can work to diffuse the situation. If only it were that easy. Even with these efforts, the U.S. raises defense limits to reflect a move to DEFCON 4. There is also concern that matters taking place in South Korea will result in a move to DEFCON 3, a level we have not been at since 9/11. Green is getting intel from every direction, and one member of her staff actually walks her through the hell that would be the consequences of a nuclear attack.

We also follow the efforts of CIA agent Tamara Levit, who personally foils an assassination attempt. Reading this book made me feel like I was in an episode of “Homeland.” However, Tamara is not able to prevent a much larger conflagration that occurs when terrorists steal a number of U.S. drones to attack a base in China, which leads to over a hundred casualties. China immediately retaliates by sinking a U.S. ship, killing a handful of innocent citizens. At this point, the tension meter is hitting the top of the scale, and readers will turn each page dreading the horror that is to come next.

From the point where we officially hit DEFCON 3, there will be no turning back. Follett continues to ratchet up the suspense to insane levels as we can only sit on the sidelines and play witness to what is about to become World War III. NEVER is not for the faint of heart as we are in extreme global warfare mode, like a Tom Clancy plot on steroids. Let’s all just hope that these events remain confined to the pages of this intense work of fiction.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 19, 2021

by Ken Follett

  • Publication Date: June 7, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 0593300033
  • ISBN-13: 9780593300039