5 Questions: James Abbott, author of The Never King

We quizzed James Abbott on his book The Never King, his favourite books, and his top writing tips. 

The Never King is a gripping gaol-break story by James Abbott. We invited the author to answer five of our burning questions. 

1. What's your elevator pitch for The Never King?

The Count of Monte Cristo meets Game of Thrones. It’s essentially a jailbreak novel set in a classic, heroic fantasy setting, with plenty of revenge, intrigue, plot twists and the body count is reasonably high. 

2) Where did you find the inspiration for the story of The Never King?

In many ways, it’s about me as a writer going back to basics and embracing the genre’s core. I’ve always written around the fringes of genres, cross-over aesthetics and themes, and so I wanted to strip things down to the absolute basics. In many ways, it’s going back to my genre roots as a reader too, looking towards the classic fantasy novels that inspired me longer ago than I care to imagine. 

3) Peace vs. vengeance is a major theme of the novel - why did you want to explore that in particular?

People change as they get older. I think the older you get as a writer, too, you become fascinated with things about your own past. Which is not to say I’m personally reflecting on issues such as peace and vengeance, but that backward-looking things become more interesting the older you get: and so vengeance, as a novel theme, is a natural extension of that; a product of reflection, of brooding on the past. It slotted neatly into the mindset of the lead character, Xavir. 

And I suppose in many ways, it’s a reluctant vengeance. Perhaps a question of what it takes to turn from a peaceful if unhappy existence, to one of proactivity and violence. 

4) Which book do you always recommend to people and why?

Now there’s a question! I’m probably a rubbish person to recommend books, because I’m one of those irritating readers who enthuse about the latest greatest thing they’ve read. Plus it can depend on what mood I’m in. Plus we need to talk about different genres too, so… Anyway, here are some go-to novels: 

Classics: Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers:

Barchester Towers

by Anthony Trollope

Book cover for Barchester Towers

Ranged either side of the unfathomable Victorian divide between the High Anglican clergy and their modern, evangelical brethren we meet the saintly Septimus Harding and the furious Archdeacon Grantly and, opposing, the fearsome bishop's wife Mrs Proudie and her oleaginous chaplain, Obadiah Slope. Exquisitely crafted, this classic tale of love amid ecclesiastical warfare from Trollope's series of Barsetshire Chronicles carries a benign and reassuring message - that the Church of England has always been a rich source of divine comedy.

Fantasy: China Miéville’s The Scar

The Scar

by China Miéville

Book cover for The Scar

A human cargo bound for servitude in exile . . .

A pirate city hauled across the oceans . . .

A hidden miracle about to be revealed . . .

These are the ingredients of an astonishing story. It is the story of a prisoner's journey. Of the search for the island of a forgotten people, for the most astonishing beast in the seas, and ultimately for a fabled place - a massive wound in reality, a source of unthinkable power and danger.

Modern(ish) Literary: Don DeLillo’s Underworld.


Book cover for Underworld

He speaks in your voice, American, and there's a shine in his eye that's halfway hopeful.

It's a vast and sprawling crowd that comes together to watch the Dodgers-Giants 1951 National League Final, and when Bobby Thomson hits the Shot Heard Round the World and wins the pennant race for the Giants, ripples are formed in the heavy undercurrent of time. Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, another historic shot is fired: the USSR's second atomic detonation. And so Underworld follows the threads that link a symphonic cast of characters: men and women, together and apart, whose search for meaning, survival and connection will spill out over decades.

That’s a fairly eclectic mix for now, I guess. 


5) What's your top writer's tip?

Write. Make time to do it. Time is the most precious resource, and the biggest barrier. There are more distractions than ever, more reasons to not write. But people will never get published, never get the next thing done, if they do not make the time. If you don’t make the time, you probably don’t want the gig hard enough. 


The Never King

by James Abbott

Book cover for The Never King

Xavir Argentum is rotting in gaol. Sentenced to life in the squalor of Hell’s Keep, punishment for an atrocity he didn’t commit, 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 infiltrates the Keep, bearing news of his old enemy’s treachery, plans are forged. A few are compelled to restore peace – an exiled queen, an outcast witch, and an unlikely alliance of rogues and heroes. But peace and vengeance make poor companions. And first, Xavir must make his escape . . .