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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig (reviewed by Shazzie)


Official Author Website
Order One Dark Window here (U.S. | U.K.) 

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Gillig was born and raised on the California coast. She is a writer and a teacher, with a B.A. in literary theory and criticism from UC Davis. If she is not ensconced in blankets dreaming up her next novel, Rachel is in her garden or walking with her husband, son, and their poodle, Wally.

An ancient, mercurial spirit is trapped inside Elspeth Spindle’s head – she calls him the Nightmare. He protects her. He keeps her secrets. But nothing comes for free, especially magic.

When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, she is thrust into a world of shadow and deception. Together, they embark on a dangerous quest to cure the town of Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. 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.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I've lately really enjoyed my fantasy romances, and they seem to be growing on me. When I first read the premise of this book, I knew I needed to give it a try because it reminded me of Rosamund Hodge's CRUEL BEAUTY, which I really enjoyed, and hoped that this would scratch that itch.

My assessment of this book is very independent of my initial expectation, since comparing a book with another that promises a certain atmosphere is extremely unfair, in my opinion.

"To the quiet girls with stories in their heads. To their dreams - and their nightmares."

I absolutely loved the dedication in this book, and cannot think of a more fitting way to let the readers know the potential target audience for a tale. This one in particular I really loved, because it felt like the author was speaking to me at the right time. I was a little burnt out by my August ARC pile just because of the innumerable number of releases there were. I picked up a few of my September copies to sample the prose and pick one based on my mood, and this one drew me right in. The prologue had a part to play as well. It promised magic, danger and action, and I just had to know if the rest of the book would deliver.

This book is set in the fantastical kingdom of Blunder that is in threat by the mist that surrounds it, which threatens to endanger everybody with its dark magic and put them to sleep forever. Throughout the story, we follow Elspeth Spindle, our female protagonist, who has been infected by a fever she suffered from in her childhood, one that is said to give those who recover from it magical abilities. These magical abilities are socially and legally sanctioned, and anybody caught with them is put to death by the king and his forces, along with the ones who harboured them. Elspeth is sent away to live with her aunt as her father re-marries, and when she discovers her magical ability, she ends up with a voice within her, that she calls the Nightmare. She eventually ends up teaming up with Ravyn Yew and his family, in order to collect all the Providence Cards created by the legendary Shepherd King, as he discovers her magical ability.

"My magic moves. My magic bites. My magic soothes. My magic frights. You are young and not so bold. I am unflinching - five hundred years old."

There were three things in this book that stood out to me, and two of them are with respect to the worldbuilding or the magic system. I believe that one of the hardest things that an author can accomplish in a fantasy setting is to introduce the reader gently to the lore and magic system in their world. Most fantasy books take me about 20-30% before I can confidently say that I understand most of the setting, but here, it was easier because of the introduction of lore through excerpts from The Old Book of Alders, as the reader starts to learn along with a young Elspeth. Did I mention that the only source of magic accepted in this society is based on the abilities provided by a deck of cards? There are excerpts that help keep these in mind at the beginning of every chapter. I can't resist them in any book, and given the detailed magic system in this one, I felt it rather convenient to have some context that grounded me as I kept reading. 

Elspeth's codependence on the Nightmare was definitely a point of interest for me. Initially, I loved their back and forth conversation in the recesses of her mind, but the Nightmare started growing on me solely because he spoke in riddle and rhyme. It is part of what gave this book an eerie, fairy tale-esque quality to it, and that is one of the reasons I eagerly kept flipping the pages.

If all an author had to do to make me buy a book that read like a fairy tale were the lore and the magic system, this would be a blanket recommendation from me. When I read a book with multiple characters, I expect sufficient characterization that display their perspectives and sway me toward them, based on their motivations. Since the whole book is written in Elspeth's point of view, I found myself struggling to relate to any of the others, or understand their difficult relationships. Partly because of this, I found that the romance involved wasn't executed in a manner that I found convincing. At some points in the book, I felt that certain revelations were rather predictable, and were exactly what I guessed considerably earlier in the tale, and found myself thinking that the characters simply missed something rather trivial.

This is a debut effort, and definitely a very intriguing one. This review is not to be read as discouragement for the consideration of this book, but rather one guide of many that are put up by my review peers that attempt to steer the right readers to this book.

While I cannot outright say that this book was for me, I liked the lore and the creative idea behind the magic system, and will gladly ask for a copy of the sequel when it is available. If you like books that read like fairy tales, and contain a clever magic system, along with a scattering of other similar elements, I encourage you to consider this. As for me, I need to see what happens in book two.



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