Book Review: One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig
Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Shepherd King
Publisher: Orbit (September 27, 2022)
Length: 432 pages
Author Information: Website | Twitter
It might be the spooky season, but just because the nights come earlier and there’s a chill in the air, sometimes a book needs a little more than mood to help get it off the ground. One Dark Window is certainly an ambitious debut that strives for those Gothic fantasy vibes and romantic allure, but the polish just isn’t quite there.
The story follows Elspeth Spindle, who survived a mysterious illness in her childhood which left her with magical abilities. Fearing persecution, she goes in hiding to live with her aunt and uncle, keeping the secret of monster trapped inside her head—an ancient spirit she calls Nightmare. Sometimes Nightmare controls her, but sometimes, it also protects her.
In addition, Elspeth gained the power to absorb the essence from the Providence Cards, twelve magical playing cards that give their owners special abilities. But this magic also has a cost. When the Providence Cards were created, this also destroyed Blunder, the world in which the book takes place. It’s a dreary existence, and nowhere is safe. One day, Elspeth runs afoul of a highwayman while in the forest, and discovers that the bandit is in fact Ravyn Yew, the king’s nephew in disguise. Ravyn also happens to be the Captain of the Destriers, the kingdom’s fearsome law enforcers and the very people Elspeth hopes to avoid.
Fate has other plans, however, as our protagonist unwittingly becomes the key to the Yew family’s mission to reunite the Providence Cards and cleanse the blight from Blunder. This unfortunately requires her to get close to Ravyn, to whom she feels a connection growing in spite of herself. Meanwhile, the Nightmare inside her mind is also becoming stronger, and Elspeth wonders how much longer before it takes over her mind completely.
No doubt with all these elements, One Dark Window had the potential to be the dark and eerie novel it aspired to be, but due to a few missteps and questionable stylistic decisions, it fell short of those expectations. Mainly, we have a story here that struggles with an identity crisis. For one, rather than Gothic, things felt more melodramatic. We’re clearly going for an atmosphere that’s dark, violent and bloody, yet this is somewhat sabotaged by the cringey Young Adult vibes not to mention the cheesy, riddle-me-this way the Nightmare speaks.
I also feel that while author Rachel Gillig is obviously talented and has a way with words, she stumbles with the narrative and pacing. Momentum was very slow to build, and even once we had achieved it, the plot struggled to maintain it. Then there was the slow-burn romance between Elspeth and Ravyn, which to its credit was a luxuriant and seductive, but it was also hard to see self-indulgence or shake the feeling that Gillig prioritized their romance arc even though it was only supposed to be a subplot. No other relationship between Elspeth or any of the other characters got nearly as much attention, and the glossing over of other parts of the story also made some the big reveals at the end very predictable.
Ultimately, my feelings for One Dark Window were as mixed and confused as the novel’s direction and themes. There’s a sense that it tries to be too much and so it doesn’t quite meet any of the goals that it set for itself, and as you know, books that are neither here nor there are always the hardest ones to review. Bottom line, I probably would have enjoyed this one a lot more had I been in the mood for a YA fantasy romance, which I’ve been known to crave on occasion. This time though, I’d been expecting something more mature and a lot darker, and while there were hints of that which came through, it just wasn’t enough.
Good to see your review! Didn’t pick this one up, but have been considering it. Might be a good read for me if I go into it with the right headspace, but shall proceed with caution!
Oh yes, you definitely have to be in the right frame of mind for this one, especially for a dark YA romance fantasy.
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YA fantasy romance.
I almost threw up. Thanks for the warning 😉
I wish I had known before going in, I probably would have liked it more if I had been prepared.
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I never want to feel confused. No Thank you
It does make things difficult…
Oh it’s too bad for this one. Sorry it wasn’t more than that.
Yeah, I wish I had been better prepared.
Melodrama can have its place but it can also get very old very quick if used too much. Sorry to hear this one just didn’t work out.
Yeah, the biggest frustration was the unfulfilled potential. Loved the ideas in it, just didn’t really care for the execution.
Being familiar with your tastes, I know that you appreciate a well-written YA story and don’t suffer from the bias toward the genre that usually colors my point of view, so once I read your sentence about “cringey Young Adult vibes” I knew that I’d better stay away from this one… 😉
Thanks for sharing!
Haha, I don’t know about that, YA has disappointed me too much lately, I might be started to develop a bias too 😉
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I am so behind and haven’t read this yet. I’m sad to hear it felt too YA for your taste, because I’ll most likely feel the same. That’s always a risk I guess😁
Yep, though if you’re prepared for it, it might be okay 🙂
Interesting. I DNFed this after barely 60 pages, but I just figured it was me. I’m hearing a lot of this though. Too bad it didn’t work better for you!
No, it wasn’t just you. Aside from it feeling a bit too YA, it just wasn’t paced well. I found my attention drifting in and out, it was just a struggle to push through some sections!
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Oh dear, pity this seemed a bit cringy and melodramatic:/
Yeah, I just couldn’t get over that, lol!
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Ooh no, I still have to read this, it’s one of my catch up books. Drat. I will keep an open mind but this doesn’t bode well.
I hope you’ll still get to check it out and that you’ll enjoy it more than I did if you do 😀