*I received a copy from the publisher in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*
Elspeth Spindle lives with a monster in her head. She calls him the Nightmare, and in the mist-locked kingdom of Blunder — he is her saviour. When a mysterious figure attacks Elspeth, she finds herself joining a dangerous journey to protect the people of Blunder from losing any more people. Working alongside the people who should want her dead, she must gather the twelve Providence cards, each capable of dangerous magic, to stop the senseless killing of her people. But the Nightmare’s protection doesn’t come for free, and Elspeth might not be able to resist his control.
One Dark Window was the exact book I needed amidst my reading slump. This review was written up a few months after reading it, and I still think about this book to this day. Rachel Gillig, you will need to start paying rent for how much space this book takes up in my mind.
Mists have enshrouded the kingdom of Blunder for years as punishment for the Shepherd King, who bartered with the Spirit of the Wood for magic that formed into twelve different cards. Anyone who finds themselves lost in the mist is taken, and children can catch a deadly fever that, if they survive, will leave them with powers unique to them, even its aftereffects. Any child discovered with magic must be turned over to the King and put to death.
Elspeth barely survived the fever as a child, everyone assumes that nothing happened to her, and she is happy to live a quiet life with her aunt and uncle, evading the watchful eyes of the Destriers, a particular unit formed to deal with those affected by the fever. The truth is that Elspeth hides a secret spirit within her, the one named the Nightmare, who lends his strength in her moments of weakness. When Elspeth turns twenty, she is expected to return to the socialite life of Blunder, which brings her to the attention of the new head of the Destriers, who enlists Elspeth to help him recover the providence cards — find the cards, release the mist, he says. And with the help of the Nightmare, Elspeth can see the providence cards even if they are hidden. But finding the remaining cards proves to be a much more complex task than anyone expects, and can Elspeth and her new friends fix the problem, or the price of magic be too high to pay?
One Dark Window is an unbelievable story of secrets, magic and intrigue. From the first chapter, I was immediately hooked. Some readers might find the beginning relatively slow, especially until the highwaymen appear, where the story truly begins to flourish. But I loved it. I adored how Gillig took the concept of forbidden magic and made it her own. The use of a magic system inspired by tarot cards was unlike anything I’ve read. Elspeth is determined and strong; her relationship with the Nightmare was my favourite aspect. The yellow-eyed spirit who speaks only in rhyme does well to remind Elspeth that magic has a cost, and she would be wise to think before she accepts any offer from him. The found family aspect was a surprise to me but an excellent addition to the story. Even the romance, while predictable, grew naturally with each page.
Overall, One Dark Window was an absolute joy of a read. Gillig has a promising series on her hands that is reminiscent of old fairytales with evocative prose and atmospheric settings. I’ll eagerly be counting down the days until its upcoming sequel.
Below, I also drew some fanart for the book! I don’t usually do this, but after finishing the book, I really wanted to try my hand at making fanart!