Never Coming Home by Kate Williams
Publication Date: June 21st, 2022
Hardcover. 320 pages.
About Never Coming Home:
"Everyone knows Unknown Island—it’s the world’s most exclusive destination. Think white sand beaches, turquoise seas, and luxury accommodations. Plus, it’s invite only, no one over twenty-one allowed, and it’s absolutely free. Who wouldn’t want to go?
After launching with a showstopping viral marketing campaign, the whole world is watching as the mysterious resort opens its doors to the First Ten, the ten elite influencers specifically chosen to be the first to experience everything Unknown Island has to offer. You know them. There’s the gamer, the beauty blogger, the rich girl, the superstar, the junior politician, the environmentalist, the DJ, the CEO, the chef, and the athlete.
What they don’t know is that they weren’t invited to Unknown Island for their following—they were invited for their secrets. Everyone is hiding a deadly one, and it looks like someone’s decided it’s payback time. Unknown Island isn’t a vacation, it’s a trap. And it’s beginning to look like the First Ten—no matter how influential—are never coming home."
I'm not one to make and strongly stand by book comparisons, but Never Coming Home is 100% Fyre Festival meets And Then There Were None. As soon as I got maybe 10-20% into this book I couldn't think of any better comparison, and it is a truly thrilling pair. I also really think that when people say "beach read," this is the exact sort of thriller they mean.
In Never Coming Home, a place known as Unknown Island creates a huge marketing campaign to catch the attention of the internet and go viral as one of the hottest vacation spots for influencers. It advertises itself as a luxurious beach island paradise with the catch that only those elite few who are invited to visit can go. Only influencers under 21 can be selected, and it's also an all-expenses-paid inclusive trip. People are left with mixed emotions after finally seeing who the first ten people are that Unknown Island has invited to the soft opening of the vacation location. And unfortunately for those lucky ten chose to visit Unknown Island, things aren't quite what they anticipated and they soon discover that they were brought there on account of some of their own deadly secrets that are about to cause some problems.
Because there are ten influencers chosen, that also means that we have a cast of ten characters to follow right off the bat. I'll admit that there were maybe two-three characters that I continuously mixed up, but the rest were all pretty well-developed and had very strong personalities that I liked to getting to experience the events on the Island through. Since there are so many characters, I won't try to get into too much detail about any of them, but I will say that I appreciated that we had a good amount of diversity and people from various walks of life to go on this journey with and which I think really helped keep the story fresh and absorbing. Over the course of the book, due to the reveal of some secrets at the start of the book, each character shares some information about their background and reasons that they think they were invited to the island, which also helps to develop each character and get to know them better. I will say it was a bit weird at first to see so many young people dying since I feel like these types of thrillers/mysteries are usually about adults, but I did eventually fall more into the story and enjoy it normally.
One way in which I think Williams excelled in crafting her characters is in showcasing the different ways in which they reacted to the reality of the island and the fact that their fellow vacationers were starting to drop like flies around them. You see people start to sort of lose their patience and cool as things get more and more traumatizing, as well as see how these effects cause them to view and interact with the other people around them on the island. There's also plenty of time to get super frustrated with some of the characters and their stupid decisions that you just know are going to end up badly and you wish you could yell at them through the pages of the book.
I loved the creeping sense of dread that lingers throughout the story and slowly increases as things get worse and worse on the island. It's really easy to put yourself in the shoes of the characters and imagine what it'd be like if you showed up to a random island that was barely put together, people started dying around you, and you had no way to contact anything else. It's a little terrifying to consider. Because of that, the story does remain pretty tense in atmosphere, but there are brief moments of levity as a result of the characters' interactions with one another and occasional reactions to things that are going on. The setting itself was also really finely executed, as you get just enough imagery and description to picture the terrible set up for the vacationers on Unknown Island, but there's not too much time spent on the island and descriptions since it's not necessarily the point of the story in the end.
I obviously won't go into any details about the ending, but I will say that I found it both delightfully frustrating and immensely satisfying. I was so worried that all of this build-up would splutter out at the end, but Williams showed I had nothing to worry about by bringing in an ending that I did not see coming and that left me with so many more questions than answers (although we definitely do get some answers!) in the way that any great thriller often does. There are definitely a lot of moments in the story and with reveals where the main suspense is simply in the reader not being privy to information that characters do know, but since that's pretty common in mysteries and thrillers, I didn't have too many problems with it.
Before I started Never Coming Home, I didn't realize that it was going to be as much of a retelling of And Then There Were None as it is, but I really did love it and think that it was a fun modern, Gen-Z type of take on the classic. Kate Williams has a lot of creativity up her sleeve and seems to have had a lot of fun with this one. I really liked a lot of the themes and commentary this book touched upon, such as on influencers and the ways in which people are perceived by others versus the reality of who they are and the things they've done. This book had the perfect balance of being both serious and fun at the same time; it's a story you take seriously, but also are able to have a lot of fun with the thriller aspect of it. I couldn't wait to pick this story back up while I was reading it.
Overall, I've given Never Coming Home 4.25 stars! If you're looking for a highly entertaining and page-turning summer thriller, then look no further because Kate Williams has delivered it.
*I received a copy of Never Coming Home courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*