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Rachel Reviews… 'The Withering' by N.K. Harrison

Note: Out of respect to readers who have not yet had the chance to delve into this book, I have kept this review spoiler-free. All details on character and plot mentioned in this review do not go beyond what a reader will already know from the blurb on the back of the book.

About the Book

Instinct and choice define a person, or at least Harrison Stone believes so, which is why he chose to become a warden. Despite his impressive efforts, however, it was always going to be his twin sister, Siljanna, receiving the admiration of their commander and father, Sampson Stone.

Living in her shadow had its advantages, until a tragic event and devastating fire changed his life unimaginably.

Forced to choose between Siljanna and one of his dearest friends, a recently exposed mage, Harrison follows his instincts and the consequences of that choice steer his life in ways he never envisaged.

About the Author

Developing the imagination one might expect of a fantasy author, Guernsey writer N.K. Harrison has always loved creating stories. Studying business, media and film at A Level but finding her ideal career in the travel industry, alongside writing novels, Nicki runs her own business as a travel counsellor.

Her travels and experiences strengthened her love for creating immersive characters and unique worlds, hoping to take readers on the only type of journey she cannot create in her day job. Supported by husband, Shaun, family and friends (and of course the dogs), Nicki hopes that her writing will provide a fresh escapism for every fantasy lover.

Welcome to the World of Encaris...

If there's one thing I can't help but admire in fantasy authors, it's their ability to create worlds. The world of 'The Encia Trilogy', Encaris, is a treasure trove of lore, religion, magic and all the other fantasical elements you'd expect from this genre... except it goes a step further. The dystopian twist means that fantasy blends with familiar- characters use swords and bows, while chatting and flirting in a modern dialect. Military commanders ride horses between castles, while messaging their generals on their pagers. It's a fun, quirky idea which blends far more easily than you'd expect, and it makes the whole world of Encaris just that little bit more accessible for the modern reader who might not be used to the fantasy genre. It may not be to the taste of purists who like their elves to speak like they're reciting lyrical poetry, but personally I really like it. It's a great balance of familiarity and escapism, and for me, it works.

Characters, Lore and A Pinch of Magic

I don't usually talk about things like the author's website and other creative material in reviews, but in the case of 'The Encia Trilogy', I'd be doing the series a huge disservice by not giving credit to what is a truly impressive feat of behind-the-scenes world-building.

From the moment I picked up 'The Withering', it became clear that this series is comprised of so much more than 'just' books. It's a celebration of Guernsey's creative talent, and testament to the beautiful things we can create when talented people work together. The level of development the author has put into this fantasy world is astounding, and a quick visit to the beautiful Encia Trilogy website (designed and developed by Jess and Vic from Guernsey-based Third Aye Studio) unveils a huge catalogue of lore, mythology and magic that add further depth to the books. There's a detailed map of the world, with charming details that fellow Guernsey lovers will appreciate such as a town called 'Pembroke', a coastline named after 'Saints Bay', and my personal favourite, a little island named 'Hermea' (Herm, eh?). It's a really lovely addition and helps the reader to picture the journey the characters make throughout the story. Do take a moment to click here or on the image of the map above for a closer look- it really is worth exploring.

Speaking of characters, another charming feature of the website is the excellent 'character profile' section featuring commissioned work by local artist Ryan de Haaff. I can't work out if it's thanks to the writer for her vivid descriptions, or a reflection on the artist for how well he brought those descriptions to life, but the characters look just as I'd pictured them from reading the book. For a fantasy series, which are notorious for being overwhelming due to the high volume of characters they tend to feature, having a bit of a 'visual aid' can really help a reader to keep track of who's who as the story progresses.

Here are a few examples of these beautiful character profiles. To see more, click here.

I know there's also more amazing creative media for the Encia Trilogy coming soon from local talent Dominique Ogier-Keltie (Design by Dom.O), so watch this space for more!

The Story

It's so difficult to review a story like this one without giving away spoilers... but I'm going to try!

The story starts with a fun and interesting concept that I personally loved- the characters in training to become 'wardens'. I won't give too much away, but the 'escape room' style challenges that the trainee wardens are put through create an exciting, fast-past opening to the book while introducing the main characters in a way that really showcases their individual personalities. After all, in real life we see who people truly are when they're placed under pressure- why should the same not be true for our fictional friends?

Of course, whether all of the characters' career choices work out for them remains to be seen. As in real life, wishes don't always come true. Even when they do, they're not always everything they were cracked up to be, as the heroes of this book soon find out. The action scenes are especially enjoyable- I do love a good swashbuckle- and manage to keep a riveting pace while avoiding the classic fantasy trap of becoming chaotic and hard to follow. The villains, too, are wonderfully ruthless and hateable, just as all the best villains should be. I won't say why- spoilers, darling- but trust me, you'll want to throw things at them as much as I did when you see how low some of them will stoop to get what they want.

It's not all pining and peril, though. There's a refreshing amount of fun and humour in 'The Withering', with character camaraderie often taking centre stage as they build rivalries and alliances which will later go on to shape the story. I'm already wondering what the jealous Noah has up his sleeve for the next book, and rooting for the adorable combination that is Spencer and Queen Nadia (and seriously, N.K. Harrison, if you kill either of them off in future books then we're going to have SERIOUS words).

Oh and as a little bonus... I LOVED all of the subtle little Guernsey references scattered throughout the book, from the concept of 'hedge veg' (English people still look at me like I'm mad whenever I try to explain it) right up to certain location and character names. If you're a Guernsey donkey like me, I challenge you to join me and play my new favourite game 'Bean Jar Bingo' as you're reading and see if you can spot all of the local references!

Verdict: A fun, action-packed dystopian fantasy with loveable characters and a compelling, original plot. I can't wait to read the next in the series!

To find out more about 'The Withering' and the Encia Trilogy by N.K. Harrison, please click here or on the button below.

BONUS: Are you local to Guernsey? New bookshop Writer's Block, situated in the Arcade in St Peter Port, is currently stocking SIGNED copies of The Withering by N.K. Harrison as well as my historical series The Musician's Promise. Click here or the button below to find out more!

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Disclaimer: Please note that I never accept money or any other type of payment in exchange for reviews, and always buy the books myself unless stated otherwise. I never publicly post any reviews for books I’ve rated lower than 4*, as not every book is for everyone and I believe it’s unfair to damage a hardworking author’s reputation over something that comes down to personal preference. This way, although my ratings may appear to average out high, you know that they always reflect my honest opinion.

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