Review: One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig

 

Buy One Dark Window HERE
OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Rachel Gillig was born and raised on the California coast. She is an author, with a B.A. in literary theory and criticism from UC Davis. If she is not ensconced in blankets dreaming up her next novel, Rachel is in her garden or walking with her husband, son, and their poodle, Wally.


FORMAT/INFO:
One Dark Window was published by Orbit Books on September 27th, 2022. It is 392 pages and is told in first person from Elspeth’s point of view. It is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook form.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Eleven years ago, Elspeth became a monster. As a child, she was struck with a magical infection carried by the mist in the woods; surviving meant she was magically gifted in a land where unsanctioned magic is punishable by death. Even worse, her magic caused her to be bound to a dark spirit, one that has slowly been encroaching on her mind ever since. But when Elspeth meets a secret group that is trying to end the mist and its curse, she realizes her magic might be the key to helping them complete the ritual. All magic comes at a cost, however, and gaining the knowledge she seeks might mean her mind will be consumed by the spirit in her head.

One Dark Window is an atmospheric fantasy with a thrilling finale, though the story is undercut by its main character. This is a world where the land is encased with dangerous mist, where children’s rhymes pass on warnings and talismans ward off evil. It’s full of people conditioned to live under strict rules, whether it’s the traditions of how to stay safe from the mist, or accepting that only royalty, nobility, and a few hand-picked others are entitled to wield magic. You can imagine what happens to those who stray from the accepted path.

The “sanctioned” magic of this world is harnessed in cards that grant the user a specific power. With a finite number of cards in existence, the rich and powerful wield magic wield some truly horrifying powers, like the ability to compel a person to do anything they want. Those who develop powers through contact with the mist, however, are considered dangerous and hunted down and killed.

I admit, it took me until the second half of the book to finally find my rhythm with the story. The first half is gradually building up the lore of this world, while also introducing the handsome and brooding love interest. While I did come around to Ravyn in the end, his introduction leaned a little too much on the archetypes of the genre (right down to a broody/goth name) for me to invest in the relationship right off the bat. Once I hit the second half of the book, however, I was thoroughly hooked. It was the kind of finale where I ended up reading the final hundred pages in one sitting, racing to the ending to see how all the dominoes would fall.

While I ended up liking One Dark Window overall, I did have some frustrations with the main character that stopped me from fully sinking into this one. Over the course of the story, Elspeth is constantly put in dangerous situations where she begs the creature in her head (whom she refers to as Nightmare) for help, that he use his magic to help fight off attackers or survive a situation. When the dust settles, Elspeth expresses outrage at how violently the Nightmare has acted, saying she never meant for THAT to happen. Which would be a fine and understandable reaction if this wasn’t a cycle that happened over and over throughout the book. Elspeth will plead for help the second something goes wrong, then recant immediately once the danger has passed. I understand being conflicted about your powers, but this constant back and forth left me more bewildered than sympathetic.

(There’s also a point where the answer to a big mystery is exceedingly obvious, so when Elspeth finally reaches the same conclusion 50 pages later, it lacks the drama the author intended.)

CONCLUSION: Despite my reservations, I can’t help but find myself compelled to read the second book in this duology. One Dark Window pulls off a satisfying and dark ending, not so much a cliffhanger as an acknowledgement that it is part one of a two part story. One Dark Window may have faltered here or there, but overall I enjoyed reading it, and I’m fully on board to see where the story goes in Two Twisted Crowns.

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