Welcome to Blunder, a kingdom cut off from the rest of the world by a strange mist. Here magic is real and dangerous. There is sanctioned magic connected to providence cards that are allowed and “wild” magic that comes from the mist and is outlawed. Most people live in fear of the mist and the wild magic but some think that the fear is unwarranted and want to change how things work. Into this volatile political state comes Elspeth. Elspeth has a huge secret and it could save the whole kingdom if she’s brave enough to share it. Rachel Gillig’s tale of magic, deceit, and rebellion is at once fun and dangerous. One Dark Window is a quick read that I definitely recommend.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by the publisher Orbit for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig contains some spoilers!]
A world of magic in One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig
Five hundred years before our story begins, the first king of Blunder, the Shepherd King, bartered with the Spirit of the Wood for magic that he could control. Each time he traded something of himself and received a type of card from the Spirit.
In the end, he bartered for twelve different types of Providence Cards. The cards allow anyone to wield their power. The Black Horse turns the user into a master of combat. The Golden Egg brings wealth. The Prophet grants glimpses of the future. The White Eagle grants courage. The Maiden bestows great beauty. The Chalice creates truth serum. The Well helps identify enemies. The Iron Gate grants serenity no matter the situation. The Scythe gives control over others. The Mirror grants invisibility. The Nightmare gives the user telepathy. Finally, the Twin Alders allows users to speak to the Spirit of the Wood.
But magic always has a cost, so use the Black Horse for too long and become weak. Try to get too much wealth with the Golden Egg and overwhelming greed consumes you. Look to the future too often and become powerless to change it. Depend on the Eagle’s courage too often and become fearful. The Maiden’s beauty turns the heart to ice. Truth becomes poison if pushed too far. Look for enemies too often with the Well and a trusted person will betray you. The constant serenity of the Gate steals years from your life. The Scythe cuts both ways and causes the user pain. The Mirror reveals the hidden world of spirits and the Nightmare exposes one’s deepest fears. And no one knows the cost of the Twin Alders because as far as anyone knows, it has never been used.
On the other hand, the Spirit of the Wood created the mist to punish Blunder. Anyone who gets lost in the mist is taken by the spirit. Further, children can catch “the fever”. If they survive they end up with magic powers that are different for each child. Fever magic also has a price but it is different for each person. This magic is outlawed in Blunder. The children must be turned over to the king and put to death.
Elspeth and The Nightmare
Elspeth is a quiet girl who is happy living with her Aunt, Uncle, and cousins in the woods around Blunder. Why does she live with her Aunt and Uncle? Because when she was nine she caught ”the fever”. In Blunder, when children catch the fever they gain magical powers. Parents of children who succumb to the fever are expected to turn them over to the Destriers, a special set of knights who deal with these children. Hiding a child who has caught the fever results in the entire family being sent into the mists to die.
Elspeth’s father was the head of the Destriers when she caught the fever but he couldn’t bring himself to turn her in. So he sent her to her Aunt’s with the hope that she would avoid detection. And it worked. Helpfully, everyone thinks that she escaped the fever with no magical gift. The truth is a bit different though.
The truth is that she has a presence in her head that she has never told anyone about. She calls him the Nightmare and mostly he’s just a presence that crouches in her mind. Until her twentieth birthday, that is. Elspeth is thrust into social life in the main city and the Nightmare begins to awaken.
As she’s put into dangerous situations the Nightmare lends his strength to her, which brings her to the attention of the new head of the Destriers, Ravyn Yew. Luckily for Elspeth, Ravyn doesn’t think that the infected are inherently bad. In fact, he is working on a way to end the curse of the mist and infection once and for all. The dangerous part is that he is also working against the king.
The way that Ravyn plans on dispelling the mist is simple. There are twelve types of providence cards that were created by the original king of Blunder, the Shepherd King, back before the mist. Legend says if a person can collect one of each type of card and unite a full deck then the mist will lift and the infections will start. Here is where Elspeth comes in handy. Because the Nightmare can see the providence cards, even when they are hidden and Elspeth sees what the Nightmare sees. Ravyn asks for her help finding the cards. Wishing to be free of the Nightmare, she agrees.
But things are never that simple. As they try to collect the three remaining cards that Ravyn needs to complete the deck Elspeth is put in danger and has to call on the Nightmare to save her. It becomes obvious to Ravyn that she is hiding something but he doesn’t know what. And he doesn’t know if it matters because he’s falling in love; So is she. A bigger problem is that magic always has a price. Elspeth doesn’t know what the price is until it’s too late. To save her kingdom she’ll have to sacrifice herself, can she pay that price?
Secrets worth learning in One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig
One Dark Window is all about secrets. The entire kingdom of Blunder is locked away from the rest of the world, a secret kingdom in the mists. Nearly every character in the book is hiding at least one secret and most are hiding multiple. As these secrets are revealed the plot becomes more intricate and the characters and I were drawn in deeper and deeper. I really enjoyed uncovering all these different secrets and coming to know the characters better through the story.
My main problem with One Dark Window was that it is the first book in a series and instead of giving a full and complete story before moving on to the next in the series, it left the story on a cliffhanger. I hate when books do this.
I understand why Gillig did it from their point of view, hook a reader and leave the story unresolved and they’ll keep buying books. However, my thoughts are: write a compelling and COMPLETE story and I’ll want to read the next one anyway. Still, I loved the story and recommend it to anyone who likes magic, fantasy, or romance (don’t worry, it’s not a romance novel, it just has a love story woven in). There’s a healthy dose of action as well. It’s really a well-rounded story.
My rating for this book: 8/10
One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig is available on September 27th. For more information, please visit Hachette Book Group.
NEW 2/19/2024: Check out my review of the sequel to One Dark Window, Two Twisted Crowns!
If you haven’t already, check out my review of Secrets in Scarlet: An Arkham Horror Novel!