one dark window review

A Review of One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig

📖 GenreFantasy, Adult, Gothic, Romance
📃 Number of Pages399 pages
🪴 Average Goodreads Rating4.32⭐
🌻 My Rating3 ⭐

What is One Dark Window About? 

One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig is part one of The Shepherd King series. The story follows Elspeth, who was infected by magic as a child and now shares her mind with an immortal demon who sometimes helps her get out of sticky situations. She lives her life cautiously and is constantly scared of getting captured and killed. But then she goes to the King’s big Equinox party, and there she meets Ravyn, the mysterious Captain of the Destriers who wants her help. Together, they have to cather the twelve Providence cards in order to save the kingdom from the ominous mist that infected Elspeth in the first place. 

One Dark Window made quite a splash when it came out. Perhaps not as big as the other books released at the time or since, but still — it was almost impossible to avoid it on social media. 

I wasn’t particularly interested then, and probably would have remained indifferent, had I not seen Leonie’s video mentioning this book. It seemed like such a fun premise, with a sprinkle of romance (which I was promised would be good), that I decided to give it a go. 

My expectations were not high. I’ve been having bad luck with the more traditional fantasy lately, not to mention books in general, so I was curious but cautiously so. 

And it started so well. I loved the first hundred pages or so. The prose was fantastic, despite being in the first POV, which, as I mentioned before, is not my preference. One Dark Window reads like a dark fairytale. It’s so atmospheric, so vivid — the author’s choice of words was beautiful. It was like coming inside after a day in the snow and someone reading you a story by the fire while you sip your tea and doze off. 

Even the verse was great and only added to the repetitive, fairytale-like vibes. 

The plot was slow, sure, but I didn’t mind because the world was interesting. The very concept of a tree-based religion system, as well as a card-based magic system is so good. The fact that magic is dangerous and could kill you if you use it too much was amazing. The mist, the imagery, the overall creepiness — all of it was brilliant. 

But then the action, for the lack of a better word, begins. 

Elspeth goes to the big Equinox party, meets Ravyn, and everything I loved about the book disappears. What began as a great gothic fantasy, turns into a generic YA fantasy at that point. 

Here we arrive at my main issue with One Dark Window. The romance that develops between Ravyn and Elspeth, pretty much immediately, is too much too soon. 

Now, a little insta crush makes sense, right? They’re both attractive people stuck at a party they hate, so a crush developing is only natural, right? Well, of course!

… But maybe not for these two. 

Elspeth has spent her entire life being hunted by and fearing the Destriers. Destriers are the king’s elite soldiers whose job is basically to capture and kill people like Elspeth, who are infected by magic. And Ravyn is the captain of the Destriers, not to mention related to the king.

Now, I know that pretty quickly, he explains that he means no harm, won’t kill or report her, and is pretty much in the same condition she is. But it’s not the same — the king knows of his powers, he would be pardoned no matter what he did. Elspeth, on the other hand, doesn’t have the luxury. 

Yet she trusts him, very easily in my opinion, and even worse — she begins finding him attractive even before they come to some sort of an agreement. She’s practically angry when he’s unsure whether fake-courting her would be a good idea. 

See what I mean about YA? 

Overall, this book reads very much like a YA novel, except there’s a spicy scene at one point. 

Elspeth starts off interesting enough. She has an immortal monster stuck in her head, shares fun banter with him, has some powers that come from that monster. She seems wary of magic, seems rational. 

But all of that goes out the window when Ravyn enters the scene. 

She just follows along — yes, she will help him collect the Providence cards, yes, she will move in with his family for the duration of their mission, yes, she will pretend to court him. 

I think it would be more of a fun story if Elspeth decided to collect the Providence cards and end the mist on her own. Like, “screw it, I’m tired of this monster in my head, tired of being hunted and scared, I’ll just finish this myself and then get a normal life”. And then if Ravyn was doing the same to save his brother, they would have a very interesting dynamic there. More chemistry, perhaps? 

Elspeth would definitely have more agency. And sure, Ravyn is a wet blanket, but he has potential. In a slightly different story, they would have worked. 

After Elspeth moves in with Ravyn’s family, nothing much happens. It’s mostly about her and Ravyn — which is why this book gets stretched out into a duology. They have only three cards to collect and very little time, so I don’t understand how this couldn’t have been just one really good, tight book. 

There are other issues here too. For example, the mist is meant to be this dangerous, terrible thing that can make you go insane. But then we find out that it doesn’t work on Elspeth or Ravyn, so you kind of stop caring, it loses its significance. We are supposed to care that this mist is choking out Blunder and still infecting people, but none of the characters we meet are in danger, so again, you kind of don’t care. 

See what I mean — the stakes are really not that high. Even the boy our characters are trying to save isn’t that big of a deal in the book, Elspeth barely interacts with him or cares about him, so there’s no sense of urgency. 

Overall, One Dark Window is not a bad read. I would definitely recommend it if you love gothic fantasy, but prefer it lighter, perhaps more YA. You might even like it if you don’t read YA. It just didn’t work for me. If you’re interested in some of the books that I did like, check out my go-to recs, fantasy section.

Will I pick up part two, Two Twisted Crowns? Not likely. But I’ll be on the lookout for anything else this author publishes because the writing was really good and in a different book, I might enjoy it more. 

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