We all have a monster within us. It’s trapped in the dungeon of our mind and tapping its claws behind our kind eyes. It whispers dark thoughts that we do our best to ignore until we realize that they are all true. And that’s not always what we want to hear, but it’s what we desperately need to.
In Rachel Gillig’s “One Dark Window,” we enter the kingdom of Blunder through the eyes of Elspeth Spindle. Elspeth is a common girl who has a monster of her own called the Nightmare in her head, and she speaks to him constantly.
In this kingdom, unregistered magic is illegal, but traded amongst royals like cards– Providence Cards to be exact. Similar to J.K. Rowling’s depiction of Horcruxes in “Harry Potter,” Providence cards harness specific forms of magic trapped within a leather deck of cards.
The King of Blunder’s undying mission? Other than ensuring the death of every infected, unregistered magic user, his goal is to find the last card and complete the deck. This specific card, the Twin Alders Card, is hidden by the mysterious Shepherd King and is the last card to be found. With it, magic can be permanently expelled from Blunder.
As the reader, you might be thinking, “If there’s a card in my pocket that can make me the most powerful, the most intelligent or the most beautiful person in the entire kingdom, then why give it up?”
A theme reoccurs through every chapter, “With great power comes even greater consequences.” The theme shows that the concept of overindulgence is extremely human and that we often take more than we need for our own selfish gain. The cards, if used too often, lead to degeneration; a sickness with no cure. Unluckily for Elspeth, her magic is trapped within her head. It is inescapable, like many of us can understand and even relate to.
Throughout the story we follow Elspeth as she cowers behind closed doors, doing her best to hide the powerful affliction many have been killed for. During Blunder’s Equinox celebration, she catches the attention of the King’s Head Guard and Captain of the Destriers, Ravyn Yew. Pulled into an elaborate scheme to collect the Deck of Alders before the King, Elspeth and Ravyn must fake a courtship. Their time with each other slowly drags them together, despite the Nightmare’s dark warnings and sharp claws holding her back.
From the very first chapter, Gillig takes you through a metaphorical window, landing in a dark misty forest with only the long winding roads and dark oak trees to keep you company. If you’re a fan of the Dark Academia aesthetic, then this book is perfect for you. Every scene is painted perfectly, leaving nothing to the imagination. Poetry and riddles are intertwined between the descriptions, adding that Poe-like eeriness that’s so hard to find in today’s fiction. And finally, we have a female protagonist who can not only fend for herself but not waste chapters on self-pity.
If sappy love stories bore you, then you’re in luck. “One Dark Window” heavily relies on the plot rather than the intense slow-burning romance between the characters. The thick tension between Ravyn and Elspeth would have been enough to push me through chapter by chapter. But in truth, it was the suspense alone that drove me to pull out this book and hide it under the desk of one of my longer classes. Thanks to Gillig’s immersive world-building and unique character arcs, I wasn’t able to put the book down. Even her battle scene descriptions are accurate, proving that word choice is definitely one of Gillig’s strong suits.
With other dark fantasy books, there seems to be a lot of unnecessary fluff which stalls you to get to the juicier parts. But in “One Dark Window,” every sentence has a purpose, and I genuinely believe this book is perfect. Even writing this review makes me envy the next person who gets to experience it for the first time, especially since the cliffhanger devastated me in the best way.
If you’re a fan of Sarah J. Maas, J.K. Rowling, or Sabaa Tahir, you will adore “One Dark Window.” And If you hate cliffhangers as much as I do, then you’re in luck. The next book in the Shepherd King series, “Two Twisted Crowns,” is coming out in October of this year.
As a fellow procrastinator, I must warn you: if you’re not prepared to daydream endlessly throughout your work day, deeply consider skipping classes, or spend every minute of your spare time in your schedule drooling over a book, then brace yourself for “One Dark Window.”