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One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig – ARC Review

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. And the highwayman? He just so happens to be the King’s nephew, Captain of the most dangerous men in Blunder…and guilty of high treason.

Together they must 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 taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him.

Elspeth Spindle is cursed. Cursed by the mist that surrounds the kingdom of Blunder, and cursed by the voice that now lives in her head. She spends her life hidden away, knowing that if anyone finds out what she is, what she can do, that death would follow swiftly. But one chance meeting changes that. Thrust into a world of deception and shadow, Elspeth must make a choice. Trust those she has hidden from her whole life and maybe, just maybe find a way to end her curse, or go back to a life in the shadows. She doesn’t trust easily, least of all the Captain of the Destriers, the people tasked with catching and killing people like her, no matter how much they claim they are on her side. But trust she will have to if she wants the chance of freedom. Now she must use her power to help traitors to the crown find the last of the twelve providence cards, cards that once created cursed the kingdom and only when they are all back together will the curse end. But nothing and nobody in this kingdom is what it seems, least of all Elspeth. She is keeping a secret from her conspirators, a secret that is slowly but surely taking over her. Elspeth needs to find the cards to end her curse, but her curse might just take over her before she can end it.

Holy fuck this book was exquisite. It’e been a long time since a book has got it’s hooks in me that quickly, but I found myself picking this up in every spare second I had, desperate to carry on with the story. Gillig’s writing style is dark and lush and with One Dark Window she has brought to life the dark, gothic tale of my dreams, filled with monsters and magic and characters that are never truly what they seem. Elspeth is a girl used to hiding in the shadows. Cursed as a child, her family hid her away in the country knowing that if she was ever discovered she would be put to death. She is incredibly strong willed, she fights constantly for those she loves, but also would love nothing more than a normal life, a life without a voice in her head telling her stories and rhymes from the past. I thoroughly enjoyed following her through this story, seeing her slowly open herself up to those around her, slowly start to come out of her shell and trust, even if she did keep the biggest part of herself a secret.

As well as Elspeth, Gillig treats us to a tight knit cast of side characters who I loved and hated with equal measure. Ravyn, the Captain of the Destriers and the person who has asked Elspeth for help. He is loyal and determined, but carries a heavy weight on his shoulders. Elm, the youngest son of the King and another of Ravyn’s highwaymen turned conspirator. He doesn’t trust Elspeth, thinking she is carrying secrets, but he wants to end the curse and save his family and will do whatever it takes for that to happen. As well as these we have; Jespyr, Ravyn’s sister and member of the Destriers; Ione, Elspeth’s cousin and Prince Hauth, heir to the throne and despicable human being. We do meet plenty more members, of both Elspeth and Ravyn’s families, as well as members of the court, but Gillig keeps our main cast tight which means we get plenty of exploration of their characters, as well as plenty of interactions between them all which added humour, romance and heartbreak to the story.

Gillig’s world building is truly sublime, and her magic system was incredibly well built and easy to follow. The Kingdom of blunder was cursed generations ago, after a King entered in an agreement with the Spirit of the Wood creating twelve providence cards filled with magic that could create beauty, ensnare people’s minds, give men greater speed and strength. But as we know well, all magic comes at a cost. Blunder is now encased by a magical fog that infects any who enter it without a charm and, once cursed, they are seen as a threat to the kingdom and put to death. At least, that is the line that King want’s people to believe. The only way to end the curse is to bring all 12 providence cards together, a task that no past King has ever been able to complete. Anyone is able to use the providence cards, just three taps is all it takes to awaken the magic, but, as always, they remain with the elite, the royalty of the Kingdom. My favourite explorations of the magic was the voice that speaks to Elspeth. We know the voice only as the monster, nightmare, a voice that appeared in her head after she was cursed and has been both a blight and a blessing since. There’s a mystery that surround the voice, are they friend or foe, where exactly did they come from, and the scenes where Elspeth converses with it added both humour and a little horror to the story, as well as giving us a better understanding of the history of the world.

One Dark Window reads like a Gothic, dark fairy tale and it’s incredibly easy to fall into the story thanks to Gillig’s lush writing style. Thanks to multiple plot twists, as well as some top notch foreshadowing it moves at a steady pace and is extremely hard story to put down. It’s equally exciting and steady, there’s plenty of fight scenes to keep the pace up, but some of my favourite scenes were the ones where our characters were planning, interacting, the slower scenes. There was an enemies to lovers romance arc which I adored. It was slow burn and steamy and the characters were just meant for each other. Both broken in their own ways, both keeping secrets, both desperate to save the one’s they loved.

I think it’s safe to say I loved this book. I’ve read a few ‘dark’ gothic tales recently that never truly hit the mark for me, but this one did and then some. It ends on one hell of a cliffhanger that had me glued to the pages and I cannot wait to get my hands on the sequel.

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