ARC Review: One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig

Today’s review is about ONE DARK WINDOW by Rachel Gillig, the first book in a duology. This atmospheric, dark fantasy story follows one young woman grapple with the literal monster inside her head. As she tries to mentally fight this Nightmare, she also finds herself scooped up in quest to rid the land of dark magic.

Author: Rachel Gillig
Series: The Shepherd King Book 1
Age Category: Young Adult
Publisher: Orbit
Publish Date: September 27, 2022
Print Length: 432

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Official Synopsis

For fans of Uprooted and For the Wolf comes a dark, lushly gothic fantasy about a maiden who must unleash the monster within to save her kingdom–but the monster in her head isn’t the only threat lurking.

Elspeth needs a monster. The monster might be her.

Elspeth Spindle needs more than luck to stay safe in the eerie, mist-locked kingdom of Blunder–she needs a monster. She calls him the Nightmare, an ancient, mercurial spirit trapped in her head. He protects her. He keeps her secrets.

But nothing comes for free, especially magic.

When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, her life takes a drastic turn. Thrust into a world of shadow and deception, she joins a dangerous quest to cure Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. Except the highwayman just so happens to be the King’s own nephew, Captain of the most dangerous men in Blunder…and guilty of high treason.

He and Elspeth have until Solstice to gather twelve Providence Cards–the keys to the cure. But as the stakes heighten and their undeniable attraction intensifies, Elspeth is forced to face her darkest secret yet: the Nightmare is slowly, darkly, taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him

My Review

I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

It’s been a while since I inhaled a book so quickly. But ONE DARK WINDOW was the book my soul needed amidst the late summer bookish bustle. This is a story for fans of dark fantasy, grim fairy tales, and treason.

The synopsis of the books is on point, so I won’t belabor what someone has already professionally summarized. Usually I launch into what themes are present in a book, but ONE DARK WINDOW is nearly pure escapism. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. There are certainly themes of power/propaganda/fear, trust, and love/sacrifice present. But I overwhelmingly found this story to be like an old friend, as far as dark fairy tales and monsters trapped in one’s head go.

In addition to the escapism aspect, I appreciated that it was easy to understand the magic system and its history. There was one section that contained a lot of information regarding the purpose of each magic Providence Card as well as its detriment. While I felt that information could have been better incorporated into the story, it didn’t detract from the book. It was also evident the author devoted a lot of effort developing the verbiage of myth that is the backbone of ONE DARK WINDOW. We’re privy to the actual verses everyone in the story learns when they’re children, that they pass down with each generation.

One of the more powerful themes espoused in the legend is that of balance. Too much of one good thing may yield unintended consequences. This applies to the use of the Providence Cards as well as their origins and the kingdom’s current state. Prior to the Providence Cards’ existence the people honored the spirit of the forest and its magic. But the introduction of the cards bestowed the people with magic at their own fingertips. And, in a tale as old as time, greed began to set, tipping the balance.

Though I loved this book and its tropes, I do feel I need to shove those emotions to the side for the sake of objectivity. I felt that some of the plot progression was a little too convenient and predictable. There were a number of times where I found myself wondering how Elspeth and the Captain kept escaping suspicion. In general, I prefer a little more plot tension and intrigue, but nonetheless I still enjoyed this book.

Contrary to the synopsis, I wouldn’t classify this story as a gothic read. However, it’s squarely in the dark fantasy realm and has vibes reminiscent of FOR THE WOLF. Those seeking a waking reverie in a foreboding fable will find their appetite whetted with ONE DARK WINDOW.

Rating: 3.75
Content warnings: blood, fight scenes, consensual sex
Reading format: Kindle e-book

6 thoughts on “ARC Review: One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig

  1. I really loved the magic system in this one too, especially the inclusion of all the verses about each card at the beginning of the chapters. It was a nice touch that added another layer to the storytelling. Excellent review, as always!

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