The Never King

Grade : B-
Reviewed by Jenna Harper
Grade : B-
Sensuality : Hot
Review Date : May 6, 2024
Published On : 02/2022

This book may quite possibly be the hardest one to grade in my career as a reviewer. Given the level of pure misogyny, the sex acts that I (me, myself and I) found very distasteful, and a screaming plot hole that kind of renders the whole book moot, The Never King should receive a flat F. However, I was… entertained? Plus I discovered a new book trope, so, educational!

Imagine, if you will, that instead of being simply the boy who never grew up, Peter Pan is a cruel king who kidnaps all of Wendy Darling’s descendants on the night of their eighteenth birthdays and spirits them off to Neverland where he breaks them so badly, they are returned mentally damaged? This is the hook of our story (no pun intended), a dark spin on Peter Pan and his Lost Boys.

Winnie “Whore” Darling has known her entire life what awaits her on her eighteenth birthday. Sort of. Her mother has tried to protect Winnie from what happened to her and all the Darling women for centuries past: Peter Pan kidnapped her, took her to Neverland, did something unspeakable, and returned her now suffering from what resembles schizophrenia. Winnie doesn’t believe this will actually happen because her mom’s always been short on the specifics; however, she lives very much an ‘I’m going to die soon’ life by banging all the members of the boys’ basketball, baseball and football teams. Sex is just what she does.

Sure enough, the night of her eighteenth birthday, Pan arrives in all his dark (and hot) glory and the next day, Winnie wakes up on a tropical island, chained to a bed. She’s not alone. A pair of hot twins, Kas and Bash, are charged with guarding her/keeping her from running away/fixing her food, and a very ominous (and hot) dude named Vane is on hand to scare the living crap out of her. Peter Pan is asleep in a tomb because he will die if he’s exposed to sunlight. No, he’s not a vampire.

It turns out someone stole Pan’s shadow and along with it, the magic he uses to keep Neverland flourishing. Not only is Pan on a downward trajectory, the island itself is dying. But apparently, Darling women have the ability to pass down memories to the next generation, so it could very well be that Winnie has the location of Pan’s missing shadow buried deep in her psyche. She is to undergo an invasive mind reading to suss out this information, a process that will most likely leave her brain a pile of gray mush – as it did to her mother and the women who came before her.

However, Winnie is not going to take all this lying down, at least not metaphorically. Her superpower is sex. It’s right in the nickname she’s earned, Winnie Whore. She determines her best hope for escape is to fuck anyone (and it turns out everyone) she has to. I’m not quite sure what she thinks this will accomplish but… just don’t think about it too much. Not that this is a fate worse than death because Winnie really likes sex. And Pan, Kas, Bash, and Vane are really, really hot.

So. This is where I learned about the Why Choose trope. As in, why choose just one hot guy from a pack of many when you can have them all. And Winnie does. Sometimes at the same time. If you don’t like group sex (I don’t) and dubious consent squicks you out (it makes me shudder), the sex scenes in this book are tough to get through. While no consent is ever sought or given overtly, making every sexual encounter a rape for all intents and purposes, Winnie LOVES smashing these guys, so no harm no foul, I guess. (Side note: my discovery of this long-existing reverse harem trope simply proves that I am far from cool and not a BookTok-er.)

There is not one positive female character in this book. Winnie’s mother is a hooker. Winnie herself is beyond sexually promiscuous (an issue I’ll get to next). The girls who hang around the Lost Boys are groupies who are mentally, emotionally, and sexually abused. The fae queen has evil motives. Tink(erbell) was a traitor. Even the woman who served as Winnie’s life coach was a prostitute. The open misogyny in this book is staggering.

And while Winnie’s love of sex is sold as some kind of boss ownership of her sexuality, she’s a very damaged young woman. Her mother was negligent at best, abusive in her crazy efforts to protect her daughter from abduction. Winnie is malnourished, and because of financial insecurity, they’ve moved from house to house, town to town. The girl has serious emotional damage and is not acting from a place of mindful choice but rather dysfunctional coping. In fact, author St. Crowe sends out a crazy mixed message in putting forth the premise that Winnie embodies the concept of Sex Positivity while at the same time using the term “whore” as both a nickname and a cruel taunt. So, which is it? Woman + lots of sex = Girl Power, or Woman + lots of sex = Whore?

Wherever you land on that equation, Winnie is The Special Girl that all the guys fall for and desire above all others, even though she’s pretty one-dimensional. Winnie likes sex. And she’s bone-thin. That’s it. That’s all there is. But the fellas love her.

Pan and his Lost Boys are sold as very scary, very dark, and very bad. They smoke (oooh) and look menacing, especially Vane. The one rule they have is “Don’t Fuck the Darling”, except they break this taboo pretty quickly with absolutely zero repercussions. And while they do come off as guys you don’t want to mess with, especially Vane, really there is nothing truly evil about them. We get a gratuitous fight-with-intent-to-murder scene to underscore the claim of badness, just in case.

I mentioned that there is a major plot hole that renders the whole premise moot – which is why any Darling woman who had undergone this horrible situation would ever go on to have children, possibly a daughter, who would suffer the same thing. This is never addressed.

In the end, on paper, I should have hated this book. And yet I didn’t. I loved the overall premise, even if it isn’t executed quite the way I would have liked (as in with much, much less pointless, abusive sex). I loved the concept of shadow magic and the worldbuilding of this dark, more adult Neverland. It was a very quick read – it took me less than three hours – and I do plan on reading the next installment because I’m intrigued enough to want to know what happens to this dysfunctional crew. So… yeah, I give it a wobbly, hesitant recommendation, but proceed at your own risk.

Please note that this book contains many potential triggers that I will not list here but which can be found on the author’s website:

Jenna Harper

I'm a city-fied suburban hockey mom who owns more books than I will probably ever manage to read in my lifetime, but I'm determined to try.
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