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The Shepherd King #1

One Dark Window

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Elspeth needs a monster. The monster might be her.

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.

396 pages, Paperback

First published September 27, 2022

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About the author

Rachel Gillig

3 books805 followers
Rachel Gillig was born and raised on the California coast. She is a writer, 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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,393 reviews
Profile Image for Marquise.
1,709 reviews397 followers
September 27, 2022
I confess I was quite wary of this book because of someone telling me it was what "For the Wolf" was supposed to be and other details that both lowered my expectations and put me on alert for a negative outcome. But it surprised me pleasantly, and despite expecting the worst, I ended up liking it.

As a début book, it isn't as polished as it should be. There's plenty of "rookie mistakes" writing-wise, but I believe its positives outweighed them and made this a good story; better than I'm accustomed to seeing from debutante authors, in fact, and more so from YA debutantes that are more hype than substance. The plotline might not be all that original, no, it has vibes from "Vespertine," and the characters aren't all that unique either. Here, you must look at the story as a whole. I won't go into the comparisons with other hyped books nor the (mis)categorisation of genres that's bothered others, as it's splitting hairs at this point and I don't want to burden the book with the missteps made by the publicity dept. They should've been more careful precisely because it's a new author.

Anyhow, back to the story, the main reason I enjoyed this is simple: in this story, magic has a cost. I adored "Vespertine," which shares the same topic of possession with "One Dark Window," and has a much richer world and better characterisation (and banter!). But where Rogerson was building on the Catholic Church's rich lore for her worldbuilding, Gillig is playing more with her own creation from bits and pieces of cloth, and one thing where she outpaced Rogerson is in the price to pay for magic. In "One Dark Window," all characters that have magic pay an awful price, which could actually be far grimmer if this wasn't mild by genre restrictions. Were this Grimdark or adult instead of YA, we'd probably be looking at "The Exorcist" instead of "Vespertine" lite.

Why is this important? This is personal preference, but in recent discussions I've had with other Fantasy lovers, one complaint was that in books where "dark" magic is used, there's no price to pay for it, or the price is hardly more than a slap on the wrist. And in this case, we're talking about possession, for goodness' sake! A powerful, not exactly morally sound being enters your mind and cohabitates with your soul, feeding on you like a parasite and giving you powers... and you're supposed to not pay a price for such a thing? Every single real-life lore where the topic of possession exists, be it by demons or other beings, is clear about the risks, but in YA it's not always the case. Hence I'm happy that, in this book, it does.

The magic in this book is based on a deck of cards, likely inspired by the Tarot. There's over seventy Providence Cards that an ancient king with powerful magic granted by a primeval forest spirit created, magic that ended up causing a rift with the spirit, who cursed the land with a noxious mist that's slowly eating away at the kingdom's lands and infecting people with a fever. To stop the advance of this toxic mist, twelve of these cards are needed, the chief ones, and use them to break the curse. Unfortunately, one of them is missing and has never been seen, the rest are in possession of the kingdom's nobles, who use them for their own ends, good and bad, always paying a price for their use. The protagonist, Elspeth, had the fever as a child and her family hid it to avoid her being executed by the king, who hunts fever survivors that possess magic, but she accidentally touches one of the chief Providence Cards that results in her being possessed by the Nightmare.

The Nightmare and her have a complicated relationship. Unlike Artemisa and the Revenant, where she was educated on what the being possessing her was and knew better about his powers and his nature, Elspeth was never taught how to use her powers, she doesn't even know who or what the Nightmare is. Which accounts for her erratic feelings and attitude towards him, screaming for help when she's afraid and lashing out when she's annoyed. The age difference and the education level definitely account for this, so I'm not sure I'd call this poor characterisation. I do, however, wish they talked more naturally and had better banter, because sometimes the Nightmare sounds like your street's resident gossip doing live commentary on your behaviour. I do wish Elspeth knew how to reply to him without sounding like a brat so often.

As for the romance, it's slow-burn, but not particularly noteworthy. Maybe because they don't have that great a chemistry as a couple as they do as partners in crime. In fact, I was hoping Elspeth would end up with Elm. He's more abrasive and distrustful, but also so loyal and doesn't go about her with kid gloves. I also liked Emory better. Well, I liked all the other male characters far more than I did Ravyn, even the Nightmare was more likable for me. I'm basically liking this story for Elspeth and the Nightmare, I want his backstory, what made him a "monster," what his quarrel with the Spirit was like exactly, what his real name is, how can he come back if he can, why he's been like that for so long, did he know Elspeth would be born and waited for her, et cetera. So many questions! And the cliffhanger this book ends in wasn't helping.

To sum it all up, this first book is pretty much a set-up for a series, shows enough but hides enough to keep interest, and I'm going to read the next because I want my questions answered.

Thank you to Orbit Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Rebecca .
291 reviews306 followers
May 13, 2023
TREES! This was a great book!

One Dark Window is set in the wonderfully dark and gothic town of Blunder that is cut off from the rest of the world bc of a mist that keeps the townspeople trapped and threatened with dark magic. Anyone infected with the magic is believed to be evil or dangerous and is sentenced to death. Elspeth has hidden her infection since childhood not letting anyone know that she lives with another inside her own mind but when she meets a mysterious highwayman who holds his own secrets, she must risk her own safety to work together to possibly find a cure to the dark magic and save herself and everyone else.

This world and these characters were so lush and immersive. The writing is beautiful and engaging, there are no slow parts in this book, I was captivated on every page! Elspeth was an amazing main character, she was strong, witty and her banter with other characters was really funny. Ravyn was elusive and interesting from the beginning; I loved him so much and his relationship with Elspeth was developed perfectly! This did not feel YA to me at all btw! 😂 (in the best way)

The star of the show was Nightmare. I loved this scary psycho like monster so much and I am not even sure if I am supposed to but he was my favorite part. I like crazy and weird and he really checks those boxes.

Thank you to my darling bestie Deema for reading this book with me, we had so much fun going back and forth with all of our theories and thoughts!
Profile Image for Deema ♡ (tella's version).
154 reviews399 followers
May 11, 2023
“I’m just the wind in the trees, the shadow, and the fright. The echo in the leaves...the nightmare in the night.”

This is the easiest 5 stars I’ve given a book in a while. One Dark Window is a gothic fantasy that gripped me from the start and didn’t let me out of its claws until the very end. Actually, I’m still in its clutches. This is a story about a girl with a dangerous secret, a mist that threatens to destroy the Kingdom, cards that grant magic for a high price, and a quest that could change the lives of many.

This was a totally immersive book for me. The dark, eerie atmosphere and the action scenes made me gasp and gave me chills. The description of magic and its origins were easy to follow. The plot and reveals were tied in smoothly throughout the book.

The characters were flawed, a bit mysterious, and I absolutely adored them! Elspeth hasn’t had an easy life, trusts few people, and stays away from crowds because of her dark secret. That is, until she meets a handsome and mysterious highwayman who convinces her to help him on his quest. I love Elspeth, Ravyn, Elm, and Jespyr. This group of characters are witty, loyal, and so courageous. Last, but not least, The Nightmare. His character was intriguing, frightening, and surprisingly funny at times. Even when I wanted to dislike him, something inside me was just so attached to him and his story.

There’s a little bit of romance in this book that had me swooning, screaming, smiling (listen, there was even a too-hot-for-YA scene that I was very here for). I know the romance isn’t the main point of this story, but I love them so much together that I need more of them in the sequel!

The ending hurt—this cliffhanger almost made me cry. I’ll forgive it, because it’s meant to lead us into the next book, but I won't be able to forget it.

I loved every moment of buddy reading One Dark Window with my gorgeous queen Rebecca! 💖 Now we can wait impatiently for the sequel to publish.
Profile Image for jaymiej.
144 reviews
May 25, 2023
5/ 5⭐
1/5 🌶️


One Dark Window is a gothic fantasy. I loved the dark gothic fantasy atmosphere. I'm a sucker for creepy woods, fog, mists, and the dark magic. The writing is so lyrical, beautiful and poetic. One Dark Window was one of those books that hadn‘t been on my radar at all. If it weren‘t for FairyLoot, I might have not even picked it up. I was on a plane flight reading this thing and nothing else existed.

Ravyn is my new book boyfriend.

I definitely can‘t wait to read the sequel, and I‘m already counting the days until its release.

“There once was a girl,” he murmured, “clever and good, who tarried in shadow in the depths of the wood. There also was a King—a shepherd by his crook, who reigned over magic and wrote the old book. The two were together, so the two were the same: “The girl, the King… and the monster they became.”

"Be wary. Be clever. Be good."

"I looked at the rose, then back at his face. Trees, that face. Austerity and beauty. An imperfect, breathtaking statue."

“And with every kiss, every flick of his tongue, Ravyn was... pushing me toward an inevitable, ruinous fall. He did not let me fall right away. By his sighs, the muffled, contented growls, he was taking his time with me. Laying waste to me”

“It is not they who bring the reckoning, Ravyn. It is you. It is us.”

Profile Image for Kaven Hirning.
Author 5 books1,527 followers
November 23, 2022
This book is entirely an obsession and I am clawing at the floor for the next installment
Profile Image for Paige ♠.
284 reviews840 followers
November 6, 2022
So I finished this book in one sitting - I definitely thought it was pretty good 😆

🆗 BY THE END, I really enjoyed the magic system, with the Mist and the Providence Cards. I will admit that it was a bit difficult to follow at the beginning because it was different from most magic systems. But the fact that it was unique made me like it even more as I became more familiar with it!

THIS WAS FAST-PACED with the characters always going to new locations and trying to make progress in the mystery. I also appreciated that there was a steady release of information throughout because I find it so annoying when you’re left clueless the entire time until the very end.

GOOD AUTUMN VIBES with the somewhat gloomy atmosphere and all the mist. Not to say that fall is gloomy… I just felt like this it was a good time of year for this book 😅

🆗 THE ROMANCE WAS GOOD but did have a hint of instalove… but even with that, I still really enjoyed it. It was also “sort of” steamy for a YA book because there was definitely more than just kissing, which I always appreciate!

I REALLY ENJOYED the nightmare. I thought he brought some fun comedic relief at times and it was an interesting way to depict a decent into madness. Apparently, I’m a big fan of books where some dark being is inside the MC’s head because I’ve liked all the ones I’ve read

THE ENDING WAS exciting and I’m super intrigued to see how this resolves! It’s definitely a cliffhanger but not one that I was super surprised by

Overall, this was a pleasant surprise and I’m really glad I decided to pick it up. I feel like YA fantasy is definitely becoming a bit steamier with romances in general, which I’m super excited about 🥰 I would recommend this if you’re looking for a YA fantasy romance that has an interesting and unique magic system and a bit of a spooky vibe
Profile Image for Jorie.
281 reviews34 followers
May 1, 2023
Regrettably, One Dark Window wasn't it for me.

I have 2 reviews: a constructive one and a silly one. Here is my more sensible take (silly review at the end) ~~

Why One Dark Window didn't work for me

Worldbuilding (+ naming conventions):
The world of Blunder is very textureless. We learn that there's a Wood and a Mist, but little else. The upper classes all have tree-related surnames (Hawthorn, Yew, Rowan, Willow, Laburnum), presumably from the Wood's place in their culture, but the genesis of this tradition isn't explored. Why this fantasy world has the same trees as we do on our Earth isn't explained, either.

Author Rachel Gillig didn't go out of her way to create wholesale her own unique fantasy world, but so little gets described about Blunder's environment, time period, aesthetics (architecture, fashions), and culture (food, music, values) that I can't say she drew particular inspiration from anyone in our history, either. She did, however, use a variety of names from multiple real-world cultures - Elspeth (Scottish), Ione (Greek), Hauth (Anglo-Saxon), Jespyr (Dutch), Dimia (Russian), Nya (Norse), Emory (English). While these names are all equally uncommon, the lack of consistency renders Blunder's naming conventions arbitrary, further diminishing the worldbuilding.

So at least the world being named "Blunder" was appropriate...

The name 'Ravyn':
I'm sorry; I just can't get over this. This name is just too silly.
In keeping with Blunder's naming conventions of just being whatever, the love interest's name is Ravyn. With a Y. Mind you, there are other characters with inexplicable Ys in their names - Jespyr, Alyx, Tyrn - but it was Ravyn that did me in. I said before it's like an AIM username: ~*~Ravyn666~*~ or something edgelord like that. And just hearing it tells you all you need to know about him. Dark, broody, taciturn, hawt boi.

Too many moving parts (but they got rusted over from disuse so they weren't really moving...):
Creepy magical forest. Creepy magical mist. Creepy magical illness. Creepy magical playing cards. Creepy magical monster in head. Creepy magical undead king. There is also court intrigue, heists, and fake dating in the mix. While all of these plot points are more or less related, there are simply too many of them. This surfeit ensures none get explored fully, resulting in scenes like this:

Jespyr: We think this lord might have a super special trading card we need. Elspeth, see if he has it.
*Elspeth has lunch with that lord's daughter*
Elspeth: Say, your dad doesn't have any cool trading cards, does he?
Lord's Daughter: Nah, just a boring [EXACT CARD THEY NEED]
Elspeth: Lit
*Team proceeds to rob Lord of super special trading card*

Furthermore, many plots get sacrificed for one Gillig was clearly more invested in... that being~~

The Romance:
In theory, I do like forced proximity as a trope; I mean, propinquity was why Zelda Gilroy thought she and Dobie Gillis were meant to be 💕 But all intrigue gets lost when it's too obvious, and in One Dark Window, there is no ambiguity that Elspeth and Ravyn will get together. She thinks he's hot from the jump, and immediately gets butthurt when he resists fake courting her. When he holds her hand or helps her with her horse, she completely melts. And every situation in the book requires them to be together, like two animals caged together in a zoo in hopes they'll mate. No other love interests are introduced to threaten their being together. Sadly, they don't even have chemistry; the extent of their attraction is physical and trauma bonding.

The Reveal:
The Nightmare in Elspeth's head is This, unfortunately, comes as no surprise, as no other lore, history, or magic backstory is provided for it to be anyone but who it is.

I saw Gillig make a TikTok poking fun at how dense Elspeth is for not putting two-and-two together about the Nightmare's identity...but isn't that just a self-own? She chose to craft a mystery with only one possible suspect by virtue of the sparseness of her fantasy world.

Here's what I was hoping, though I knew it wouldn't come true:

The Ending:
Recently, I read Tracy Deonn's Bloodmarked, the sequel to the superlative Legendborn. Interestingly, One Dark Window comes to a very similar conclusion to Bloodmarked: In Bloodmarked, this event carries so much more weight. Being a book that challenges the oppression and perceived disposability of women of color, this is yet another attack on the autonomy of a black body by a white person with power. It's an injustice and rightfully horrifying.

What Gillig does with this similar situation is to...just use it as a spooky ooky ending? Perhaps if I cared more about Elspeth this would have been shocking, but, really, the Nightmare was already running that whole show. Everything interesting about her came from the Nightmare, so...maybe this is actually an improvement?

Final Thoughts:
Have you ever played Final Fantasy VIII? Do you remember Triple Triad, its extremely frustrating playing card minigame? One Dark Window is the Triple Triad experience. A bunch of cool cards, but vague rules, aggravating inconsistency, and an unnecessary experience (for me, at least).
And now here's my short, dum-dum review: Reading One Dark Window made me feel like One Dumb Bimbo for picking it up lol
Profile Image for Rachel Rowell.
126 reviews33 followers
January 5, 2023
This story threw me into a book hangover that I’m still not quite over…I loved this spooky, atmospheric tale and didn’t want it to end!

🖤 According to the author, this story was inspired by the beloved poem “The Highwayman” (which I was completely obsessed with in middle school). I think this book has more in common with the overall vibe and cadence of the poem, more so than the actual plot (besides a few key points). I LOVED the lines of poetry from The Old Book of Alders at the beginning of each chapter, and how the Nightmare that lives in Elspeth’s head is always speaking in rhyme.
🖤 Magic being outlawed is nothing new in fantasy, but the Providence Cards were a GREAT opportunity for unique worldbuilding to shine - and to showcase the political corruption, scheming and secrets afoot in the kingdom. (And on the flip side re: the Nightmare, I’m always a sucker for the Venom-but-make-it-fantasy trope 🙂)
🖤 The story featured a great cast of morally grey characters - including a tight-knit found family, and quite a few characters that you love to hate (looking at you, Hauth 😒)
🖤 The romance was sweet (and even a little bit steamy!), with slightly older protagonists which I always appreciate. Elspeth did read a little young to me because she was sheltered/in hiding for so long, but she had no problem taking the reins of her own life once the opportunity arose.
🖤 The adventure, life and death secrets, and tension you can cut with a knife (that truth or dare scene, anyone??) kept me on the edge of my seat! The ending was wild and left me with so many questions…how are we going to fix this??? I can’t WAIT for book 2 to release!

Major thanks to Netgalley, Orbit Books and the author for the opportunity to read an eARC in exchange for my thoughts!
Profile Image for ren ♡ .
312 reviews540 followers
May 4, 2023
The highwayman meets the hangman. Always.

Pretty solid debut novel!

I've been very wary of debut romance authors lately. Many have fallen into the trap of writing over-tropified garbage, so this book felt like a breath of fresh air... which isn't to say that it was faultless.

I really liked the lush writing. The world building and the magic system was well crafted in my opinion (albeit a bit too simple perhaps?). I loved the dark gothic fantasy atmosphere. I'm a sucker for creepy woods, fog, mists etc. so I found it really easy to immerse myself in the author's world.

Although the main characters are in their early twenties, this book felt very YA (except one kind of steamy-ish scene?), which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But for me, it made for a confusing reading experience because my expectations for YA vs Adult books are vastly different. Because I went in thinking this was an Adult book, I was expecting darker and spookier themes (this doesn't affect my rating - I have since adjusted my expectations).

The main characters, Elspeth and Ravyn, were kind of... bland? I just didn't really have much incentive to care for them. Personally I think the secondary characters outshone the main characters in this book by a mile. Elm and the Nightmare though? Easily the stars of the show. For those who love a good found family story... there's definitely elements of that too.

With that being said, the romance left little to be desired. I don't think I was ever really convinced of Elspeth and Ravyn's chemistry. I understood why they would be attracted to each other but I don't think it was conveyed in a way that was believable.

I really like the direction the story is heading, and I'm glad that this book was able to keep my attention. And that cliffhanger though?? So yeah, not bad for a debut! Will definitely be reading book 2 when it's released.

Rating: 3/5
Profile Image for Rae✿.
96 reviews58 followers
Currently reading
May 29, 2023
i'm so excited for this book
May 16, 2023
When I first started this book I wasn't sure if I was going to like it but once I had read the first 50-80 pages I started to see why people having been rating this so highly - I think there are some little writing/teething problems but nothing major.

The romance builds so nicely in this book, I aren't a massive romance reader and I prefer my fantasy books with less romance and more action but this romance was done so well and there is a far portion of action. The characters developed quickly, I would have like it to be a slightly slower burn, having said that though I did really like the characters by the end of the book.

This felt like a more original fantasy book than others that I have read recently especially for a YA, it didn't feel like a copy of another story, it felt well thought out for the most part and most importantly well executed. Towards the end of the book it got quite brutal and I loved it.

It is a darker YA fantasy and I hope we see more of these in the future because I thought this book was awesome it just needed a little more polishing. It was atmospheric and a bit creepy I can't wait for the next in the series.
Profile Image for ✩ Yaz ✩.
494 reviews1,299 followers
January 10, 2023
“I see you, Elspeth Spindle. I see a pretty maiden with long black hair and charcoal eyes. I see a yellow gaze narrowed by hate. I see darkness and shadow. And I see your fingers, long and pale, covered in blood.”

To say I was impressed by One Dark Window would be an understatement, I was astounded.

This dark gothic fantasy romance novel is an entrancing odyssey in the fantastical Kingdom of Blunder with a unique and intricate magic system based on providence cards, each has its own magical properties. Those cards are Blunder's greatest gift.

— Dark Fantasy Romance
— Heroine x Captain of the Guard
— Fake Courtship
— Found Family
— Fascinating Magic Systen and Lore
— Atmospheric World-building
— Highwaymen and Rebels
— Political Scheming and Court Intrigue
— Quests and Action
— Gothic Ambience

At 9 years old, Elspeth Spindle was struck by a strange infection born of magic, those with the infection always met a tragic end, either by the fever or the noose. The folk of Blunder had hated those who caught the infection as much as the infection itself. Elspeth's fever manifested itself into an eerie presence in her consciousness—she called it the Nightmare.

For 11 years, Elspeth Spindle kept her own dark, dangerous secrets and the ancient spirit—the Nightmare—who kept her secrets and protected her. But with magic, there is always a cost.

Elspeth meets a Highwayman and his companions on her way with her family to join the King's Equinox ball at the castle. Secrets and dangerous schemes begin to unravel, and Elspeth is at risk of being exposed as the child who had survived the fever and was kept hidden until her adulthood, and that equals to treason to the King.

Fever carriers are born with unique magical gifts, and to the king there is no true magic beyond card magic, everything else is an abomination.
Elspeth meets a Highwayman and his companions on her way with her family to join the King's Equinox ball at the castle. Secrets and dangerous schemes begin to unravel, and Elspeth is at risk of being exposed as the child who had survived the fever and was kept hidden until her adulthood, and that equals to treason to the King.

Fever carriers are born with unique magical gifts, and to the king there is no true magic beyond card magic, everything else is abomination.

To rid Blunder of the fever and the dark magic, Elspeth and her new companions must move against their King and dive into a dark past to find the missing puzzle pieces of the story of the Spirit of the Wood and the Shepherd King and the Old Book of Alders.

Time is running out for Elspeth, and the maiden may very well turn into the monster.

Nothing is free. Nothing is safe. Magic always comes at a cost.

As much as I found the lore and the magic system fascinating, the info-dumping strained the book for me and it prompted me to not give it one-star. It's not that it's hard to follow, I just felt it was a struggle to digest all that information especially when it's a new concept and a system the author is building from scratch, which again I loved but it needed to be balanced.

The romance blossomed slowly but beautifully. It always tugs at my heart strings when tension turns into tenderness.

Fantasy readers will definitely devour this book!
Profile Image for Ellie.
575 reviews2,119 followers
Want to read
June 14, 2021
'a gothic fantasy set in a mist-locked kingdom where a maiden joins forces with the king's treasonous nephew and his band of highwaymen, all whilst hiding not only her magic but the monster trapped in her head' [x]

Profile Image for Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘.
839 reviews3,758 followers
September 29, 2022
I can sum up my experience with One Dark Window with these 2 contradictory - yet both true - statements :
1) I thought I'd love it and I just didn't, but
2) Ultimately, I enjoyed it more than I expected after the first 30%.

Is it, again, a question of expectations, then? In parts only. Sure, if you had told me about the YA vibes (minus one sex-scene) before I started, I might have enjoyed the beginning more.

This said however, it wouldn't have prevented me from complaining about :
◼️ the weak world-building : there's a Village and a Forest and two Castles and all of it is so vague that I couldn't describe it for the life of me ; the magic system ("system" sounds like a stretch tbh) is very simple despite its undeniable potential ;
◼️ the "gothic" atmosphere if gothic means a Mist (I'll be randomly capitalizing it because I feel like it, alright) that we're told is Very Dangerous but has no impact on our MCs so who cares, really ;

I still would have felt meh about :
◼️ the okay writing, the siblings' banter being a definite upside and the little rhymes a boring downside ;
◼️ how predictable the plot was (it's nice to feel clever but I'd rather be surprised, okay)

A 3 stars rating is a positive one however so of course there were aspects I enjoyed :
◼️ the nightmare possessing the MC had its moments, even though I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't compared him to Vespertine's Revenant who is entirely superior and funnier (sorry) ;
◼️ the romance was superficial but I still rooted for them a lot so either I'm a basic bitch who lives for fake courting (I am) or I just love grumpy dudes with hearts of gold too much (also this) ;
◼️ as I mentioned earlier : siblings/cousins' banter always get my love 🖤
◼️ the ending was awesome!!!!! It thoroughly convinced me to read the sequel when it comes out!
Profile Image for Namera [The Literary Invertebrate].
1,193 reviews2,927 followers
June 2, 2022

As someone who ADORES 'The Highwayman', who memorised the entire poem when she was eight years old and can still reel it off, this is very disappointing.

Honestly this book is just so... boring. The descriptions are SO bland. The cover and blurb give the impression that it's an an atmospheric, perhaps even slightly creepy novel, steeped in violence and magic and romance, but everything is described in such flat terms that it totally failed to hold my interest.

I DNFed about 10% in.

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Profile Image for Esmay Rosalyne.
796 reviews
September 16, 2022
2.5 stars

I am going to have to start this review off by saying that I think I went into it with the wrong expectations. This was marketed to me as an adult gothic horror fantasy, but what I got instead felt more like a YA gothic romance fantasy… which was not what I signed up for. If the premise sounds interesting to you, I recommend you just check it out yourself, you may end up having a way better time than I did!

So, I really enjoyed the unique premise of this story and I think it had SO much potential… but it just didn’t deliver for me.
Magic is dangerous in this world, or so we are told. Firstly, there are the Providence Cards, which can grant magical abilities, but their powers come with a cost if wielded too long. And secondly, there is a magical plague that infects children and leaves them infected with dark magic, which will cause them to degenerate until they are dead.

Supposedly, the main focus of the story here is to gather all twelve Providence Cards, because together they can be the cure to the dark magic infecting the land. However, the plot was all over the place and the pacing was completely off for me. These characters seem to be doing everything BUT focusing on their quest and there is absolutely zero sense of urgency. That is, until the author decides that there is and then we are dumped into a whirlwind of unsatisfactory revelations and messy action.
Oh, and because of all the meandering, we leave off with a major cliffhanger, which made the whole reading experience even more disappointing.

Now, I could forgive all the things I said above if the character work had been good, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case for me either. Our main character Elspeth was honestly quite bland and just a little dumb (sorry not sorry). She was infected with the plague 11 years ago and has been living with a malicious entity, the Nightmare, in her head ever since. She keeps reiterating how dangerous magic is and that she will never let the Nightmare take over her mind. But, despite knowing that this entity becomes stronger when she asks for his help, she starts begging for him to aid her with his powers the moment she feels she is in even the slightest bit of danger.
And what’s more, I hated their interactions. The Nightmare either talks in rhymes and riddles or he spews cringy and supposedly snarky comments at her. Their interactions honestly felt like two pre-teens arguing and I couldn’t stand it.
The side characters were also very underdeveloped and felt more like caricatures than real, fleshed out characters to me.

And to top all that, we have a tropey, enemies-to-lovers, insta-love romance that completely takes over the plot. I mean, I can really get on-board with a good romance subplot in my fantasy stories, but this wasn’t doing it for me. The love interest is, of course, the mysterious and handsome guy that Elspeth can’t stand at the start of our story. But, you know, it really takes only one kiss for them to realize that they are actually madly in love, because that’s SO realistic and such interesting storytelling!
Also, everything about this book felt YA to me, but then we are suddenly slapped in the face with a pretty spicy scene that feels completely out of place in this story.

Now, to end on a bit of a positive note, I do want to say that I was really impressed with the author’s ability to create atmosphere. I like the whole vibe of this book and was quite immersed the entire way through.
Also, the worldbuilding here was quite unique and I enjoyed the whole set-up with the magical providence cards.

So, while this book didn’t entirely work for me, I would still recommend you give it a go if the premise hooks you! I think it will actually be a really enjoyable read if you are looking for a more YA/NA gothic fantasy with a strong romance element.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little Brown Book Group, UK for the eARC. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,034 reviews1,422 followers
January 20, 2023
This is the first instalment in The Shepherd King series.


This sentence was all I read to become invested in this story and, upon beginning the actual book, I knew I had made the correct call. This statement, combined with the gloomy cover design, gave a good indication of the mysterious and atmospheric contents this book contained.

Elspeth Spindle's body houses two voices inside of it. One is her own. The other came as a result of an infection that swept across her kingdom, leaving magical beings and, for her, mysterious voices in its wake. She keeps her abilities hidden, for fear of death, but soon finds she must learn to trust in order to heal and to share in order to find answers.

I loved how the magic system worked. It was intricate and detailed but never overwhelmingly confusing. Different cards provided the user with different abilities and many of them were used throughout the course of the novel so that, by the close of it, the reader got to see these differences in action. Elspeth's own abilities were another kind entirely and these were just as interesting to explore. Both were unique and added to the foreboding atmosphere and uneasiness that permeated the story.

The major reveal in this novel was one that I had long anticipated but the narrative was peppered with such an abundance of mysteries that this did not impact my enjoyment in any way. There was so much to unpack and so many puzzles featured that my mind was consistently whirring and trying to work through the information imparted. If anything, I felt joy at having been proved correct concerning the reveal and it had me even more excited for the next series instalment, which is sure to be just as emotional and exciting a read.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Rachel Gillig, and the publisher, Orbit, for this opportunity.
Profile Image for KayTheBookLover.
359 reviews92 followers
April 11, 2023
Oh this book was absolutely brilliant! The characters, the plot and the twists! All of it was so good!

Even though this book is considered a Gothic fantasy, it's not scary! It's dark as in the theme is dark but not scary dark.

I can't wait for the next book! I need it now!

Overall ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️/ 5
Spice 🌶 🌶/ 5
Profile Image for Krystal.
1,446 reviews363 followers
February 9, 2023
I really enjoyed this story but I'm a bit disappointed that the romance took the YA road with the whole,

Honestly, that seems more obvious than a spoiler to me but I tagged just in case you're a sensitive soul like me when it comes to spoilers.

Anyhoo, the PLOT is about a cursed town and Elspeth, a cursed woman. She has a Nightmare living in her head and he's the true hero of this story. But that's me getting ahead of myself.

The town of Blunder is surrounded by a dangerous mist, as penance for their ancestors' magical greed. Magic exists in the form of Providence cards, which grant specific gifts to the user, depending on the card. Then there's the infection - the infected are hunted down but if they somehow survive they end up with their own unique power. Actually, there's quite a lot going on, isn't there?

I really enjoyed how the elements of this tangled together yet it never felt overwhelming or messy. It did seem a little PG for me - I wanted more Nightmare action, more horror, more darkness, but it took a very YA approach. I hated that there was so much focus on the budding romance, and really just wanted more action. Why does there always have to be this monumental romance? Sigh.

The story itself though was quite fun and the Providence cards were a unique approach. I really enjoyed reading the card rhymes at the start of each chapter, and I'm definitely curious to know more about the Shepard King and the history of Blunder.

A fantastic story that was a little tainted by the Young Adult approach, but made up for it with the unique factors. I'll look for the second book and hope for more darkness.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
425 reviews182 followers
May 12, 2023
If you're going to name your characters after plants and have them swear by trees, you should probably a) know that trees and flowers are plants, and b) incorporate plants in your culture to a greater degree than as spooky backdrop. Your house tree, for example, should denote more than the color you wear to a festival, even if your heroine looks good in dark red. /crankybotanistrant

Even without the good use of plants, One Dark Window is kind of a mess. I came here because someone mentioned it in the same sentence as Vespertine, but if you loved the characters and culture of that one, the only similarities here are the possessed heroine and the spooky setting. And by spooky, Rachel Gillig mostly means crappy weather (dark and stormy nights!), inadequate repairmen (buildings falling into romantic disrepair), and big trees to cast appropriately gothic shadows.

The plot is ludicrously simple: complete a deck of cards (collect them all!) to lift a magical plague that seizes and changes children. The plot can't possibly fill 400 pages, so instead we have our heroine Elspeth, who doesn't have much personality beyond being possessed by an enigmatic spirit, getting into trouble and then screaming for said spirit to help her. There's also plenty of pointless and entirely chemistry-free noodling with her enemy (or is he?) Ravyn, the Captain of the Destriers who hunts down infected people like Elspeth (or does he?). My investment in Elspeth, her possession by Nightmare, her relationship with Ravyn, and her very vaguely imagined world (spooky!) remained approximately zero throughout.

It's technically adult fantasy, but it sure reads like YA with all the blushing, heart pounding, stomach churning, etc. I started bookmarking every sentence that made me cringe (yes, I am that kind of a hate reader), and the first half of my (paper) book bristles with sticky notes. I bookmarked less in the second half, which was either due to fatigue on my part or improvement on the author's.


The Nightmare hummed, his words slippery. The Captain of the Destriers is dark and severe. Perched atop yew trees, his gray eyes are clear. Be wary his magic, be wary his fate. The Yews and the Rowans do not ready friends make.

Oh yes, there's bad rhyming, too. And how scary can an ancient enigmatic vengeful spirit be when he a) speaks in rhyme, and b) uses dangling modifiers (eyes are perched atop yew trees? how'd they get up there?).

Glass formed over Nerium's eyes.

The hell does that mean?

He blinked, deep lines etching into his furrow.

That really doesn't strike me as the correct use of etch (transitive verbs, anyone?), and even if it were, is this sentence saying that lines appeared in his lines?

The ending is kind of okay, but there's no way I could be persuaded to pick up the sequel. 1.5 stars, rounding up because I finished it without throwing it across the room.
Profile Image for Lolina.
749 reviews53 followers
April 23, 2023
Was this a good book? Yes.

Would it have been better if the unhinged 500 y/o monster who lives in the head of h was the main love interest? Fuck yes 💀☝️.

'I blinked through the blur of tears. Do I have a choice?
My darling, you’ve always had a choice.'

But in all seriousness, this was a really good book. I was honestly so skeptical when coming into it, as I didn't really know what was going on- and it did have a slow start for me. And now looking back on it, I'm still not too sure about some of the logistics of the world- BUT

The way that everything came together in the end was so satisfying (in a painful way). This was one of those fantasies for me that you simultaneously really like but don't at the same time, but ultimately just say 'screw it' and enjoy it 😭.

I DON'T KNOW HOW TO EXPLAIN IT LMAO 😭. I don't think the writing was particularly amazing, but overall I think it was the plot that made it special.

I feel like there were a lot of really interesting character dynamics that had so much potential, but never really got the time to be explored. But this was a relatively fast-paced book, so a lot of the other scenes made up for it. But it still would've been nice to have seen more development in that regard (the father-daughter dynamic 💳💥 💳💥💳).


I even relatively liked the romance in this, which if you know me (I'm a picky bitch when it comes to fantasy and romance), means a lot. I still think we were robbed of the forbidden 500-year-old monster age gap romance 💀-literally no one can convince me that their banter wasn't the witty goodness we all need in a fantasy.

But all in all it was a good book. It definitely wasn't perfect and was very YA, and at times felt very reminiscent of other books I've read before in terms of the writing style. But I enjoyed this.

I would recommend going into this relatively blind, to just experience everything as it goes along (as confusing as it may be 💀☝️). The book definitely gets better as you read.


“Are you still pretending?” I said, reveling in his gaze.
Ravyn gave a surprised laugh and, in front of everyone, leaned in and kissed me.

“I never was,”
he whispered into my lips.'
Profile Image for Aleksandra (drawingandreading).
233 reviews267 followers
December 25, 2022
Did I obsessively binged this book? Did I completely fall in love with the world, magic, characters, and story? Did it finally - oh so finally - get me out of my reading slump (that lasted three months!)? Yes. Yes. YES!

One Dark Window was one of those books that hadn‘t been on my radar at all. If it weren‘t for FairyLoot, I might have not even picked it up. But the faeries knew better, and I stumbled upon a new favorite. That‘s right. One Dark Window easily became a new favorite of mine, and one of my highlights of this year. And I want everyone to read it.

In all honesty, I don‘t think I‘m capable of putting together a coherent review where I state everything I loved about this book. Because with this story, these characters, this setting it‘s all vibes, feelings, and a hell lotta fun! I already had high expecations for this story, because I knew that it would have one of my absolute favorite tropes. No, not enemies-to-lovers, not arranged marriage, though some sort of fake dating happens here, but that‘s not what I‘m referring to either. One of my favorite tropes is what I lovingly call the Venom trope, which basically is: monster takes up some space in a human‘s mind, and no one knows. They communicate in their mind, the monster is more sassy than it should be, and comes out to play frequently (and very often to protect its host). So basically, it’s a trope that includes posession. There are many different versions of this trope, and I‘m weak for them all. Really. All of them. However, this also means I‘m always, always very scared of a book including this trope not being able to deliver. But oh did One Dark Window deliver, and Elspeth and the Nightmare are my new favorite duo.

Add to the amazingly done trope that I adore, and the amazing relationship between Elspeth, our protagonist, and the Nightmare, the literal monster housing in her mind, a great dark and twisted setting, an intriguing magic system including cards (oh how I love this), and amazing characters (including a swoon-worthy love interest), and I‘m already falling in love. Rachel Gillig really crafted an incredible world with its own rules considering magic, a great protagonist who wanders through the eerie woods with fog that results in madness and a drive to survive despite knowing the kingdom‘s law wants her dead. I loved how the story progressed, how things got revealed, how Elspeth and the Nightmare fit into the grand scheme, the romance with an unlikely ally, and especially how the magic system worked. The fact that the Nightmare as well as the little cards at the beginning of each chapter spoke of some kind of rhymed riddles regarding the history was just an added bonus that fit the vibes of this story.

I definitely can‘t wait to read the sequel, and I‘m already countin the days until its release. The ending was just perfect, and I‘m eager to see what secrets will be revealed, because the Nightmare surely had plenty, and I already loved the glimpses we got in this book. This book is perfect for fans of Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson which I loved just as much, and should as well be on your TBR!
Profile Image for Samantha.
194 reviews430 followers
October 14, 2022
Update 10/14: Raising my rating to 5 stars because I honestly can't remember why I didn't give it five stars originally. This book has really stuck with me and has one of my favorite endings ever. I need book 2 ASAP.


Original rating: 4.5 stars

I really really liked this one. With a haunted forest and a royal traitor, I would recommend this book to fans of Defy the Night and For the Wolf. It has a lot of tropes common to the genre which could turn off some readers, but I was a huge fan. I think calling it an enemies to lovers romance is a bit misleading. Though technically they should be enemies they never really are. What this book DOES have is fantasy fake dating, or should I say fake courting. The romance is instant chemistry but slow to build with a heart-wrenching payoff.

I loved all of the characters in this. Elispeth was strong and determined. Her strength bordered on stubbornness, but other than one scene it didn't bother me. Her relationship with the various members of her family was an incredibly interesting subplot. Ravyn is the typical dark, brooding love interest and I fell head over heels for him. Ravyn's "highwaymen" were a refreshing group of characters and I hope we learn more about them in the next books. The story definitely prioritized Elispeth and Ravyn's interactions but I hope the next book fleshes out the other characters a bit more. In particular, Elm and Ione have a lot more to give to the story.

One of the strengths of this book was its world-building. I would not call this book a gothic fantasy. The kingdom has this dark fairy tale quality to it. Knowing that at all times the kingdom is surrounded by a haunting mist creates a constant eerie atmosphere. However, there is more to "gothic" than kind of creepy. The quotes from the Book of Adlers were woven throughout the story to hint at plot reveals and strengthen the sense of mystery. I won't say too much about the Nightmare because I think everyone should be able to discover his character for themselves, but he was honestly one of my favorite parts of the book. I am always down for a vengeful god/spirit and this book certainly delivered. The dynamic between him and Elispeth was so engaging. The magic system in this book was incredible. The limits and consequences of the cards lead to interesting situations for the characters.

My only critique was that it felt a bit slow at times. I wasn't really interested until the Highwaymen were introduced. And towards the middle it dragged a little bit. However, the ending definitely made up for it. An incredible final line that left me on the edge of my seat. I cannot wait for book two!

Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for the e-ARC

Links to my TikTok | Instagram
Profile Image for TheUsualBookworm - Evie.
279 reviews408 followers
May 9, 2023
4,85 stars

Spoiler free review:
I think I just found a new favourite book to add to my list! I´ve heard a couple good reviews about this one and since it was on my TBR, I decided I´d bump it up and read it asap. Well I was not disappointed! The story does start off a little slow, and I was wondering if it would catch me at all, but the premise is really well executed and about 1/3 in I was hooked! Elspeth has a lot on her hands, my poor girl, but I loved seeing her get stronger and more confident as the story went on. As for Ravyn, he just absolutely stole my heart! He´s such a great love interest, I loved that he is somewhere exactly between a soft guy who´d do anything for Elspeth and a mysterious broody Captain of the Destriers. The plot was interesting, unique and gripping, and by the end of the book I was screaming, hoping that I just got a faulty edition because I needed more! I can´t believe I have to wait 5 more months for the sequel! October can´t come soon enough!
Profile Image for Mere.
992 reviews26 followers
January 9, 2023
Thank you to NetGalley for an e-arc in exchange for an honest review.


Like what do I even say about this book??? I don't think I have any words for it. The beginning is a little slow at first and you're kind of scratching your head going... Is there a point to this/where is this going? BUT THEN you get to the amazingness that is the rest of the book. I just fell in love with the characters in this book, especially Elspeth and Ravyn. They're so... Ugh. Anyways this is somewhat of an enemies to lovers kind of book but not exactly. It's got a very gothic kind of feel to it, but it's a darker and more atmospheric fantasy. I found it very enjoyable. It has all the vibes that I could ever love in a book. I feel like this book was made for me.

I liked how the characters interacted, and I liked their character arcs. In tone I might relate this to Allison Saft books! It also gave me For the Wolf vibes. I can't quite put my finger on what else it felt like... But it kept me engrossed the whole way through.

The concept with the cards? SO GOOD. I loved it — obsessed with it in fact. I love the idea of Tarot, but it isn't something I know a whole lot about, but how it was weaved in through this book? Top notch.

I don't know why I thought this was a standalone — it isn't — but I am extremely excited for the next book in the series.

I felt the writing in this book was amazing and I couldn't get enough of it - the pace worked well for me. There were some funny moments thrown in amongst the more tense moments which gave a nice balance.

I loved the romance in this book. It was dreamy and done well. I wanted to smoosh them together. Ravyn’s family was also amazing, and I appreciated how this felt like a darker fairytale, perhaps a bit of a reimagined Cinderella? I quite enjoyed that. I want Ravyn's family in fact. I need more of his family. ALL OF THEM.

The world that Gillig has created fascinated me, and I want to know more about it!

If you like dark fantasy, atmospheric fantasy, a bit of gothic horror, tarot or anything similar then this book is absolutely going to be for you!

P.S. This is probably one of my favorite books of the year and I am begging you to read it.
Profile Image for Casey Bee థ.
224 reviews21 followers
January 20, 2023
4.5 stars! In the hidden away kingdom of Blunder, surrounded by a dangerous and magical mist, children fall ill with a fever. If their veins turn black, you know they’ve been infected. If they remain, they will retain magic in some form, but that magic will slowly eat away at them some how. Magic always come with a price. Infected children are force separated from their parents, never to be seen again. Magic is only allowed to be wielded by the King and those he chooses to bestow providence cards upon. There are other providence cards out there, but they are few and far between and one must be careful because people will steal them or hunt for them. (Think tarot cards but magical.). Elspeth has a secret. She was one of those infected children but she was not reported, she was hidden and cared for by her Aunt. Now, at 20 years of age, she has magic but it’s in a monstrous form. Elspeth may be the key to saving Blunder, but remember, magic always comes at a price and some prices are too steep to pay.

One Dark Window is a debut YA fantasy. Incredibly well done debut Rachel Gillig! Impressive. It is dark and creepy feeling, to some degree; atmospheric in a misty medieval vibe kingdom. I love the magic system with the providence cards and as Elspeth learns the history and story behind the creation of the cards and the magic, so do we as the reader. It’s a great history, how Blunder got to be in the current state it is in. I won’t give it away because it’s fun to learn as our main character does, but it involves the Shepherd King, who was the first king of Blunder. Hence The Shepherd King Book One—it’s my understanding that this is going to be a duology. THE ENDING IS INCREDIBLE AND ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOK ENDINGS EVER! The ending made this book go from 4 stars to 5, so I settled on 4.5. But seriously….the ending is everything and I cannot wait for the next book now! This is an excellent YA dark fantasy, highly recommend!
Profile Image for Karin Nott (page after page).
103 reviews13 followers
September 20, 2022
Thank you Netgalley and publisher for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
An ancient, mercurial spirit is trapped inside Elspeth Spindle's head - she calls him the Nightmare. He protects her. He keeps her secrets. But nothing comes for free, especially magic. In a world where falling ill with the fever, is a death sentence, Elspeth must keep her secret hidden at all costs, but when a chance encounter on a lonely road at night, Elspeth is thrust into a game of high stakes, where she could lose everything.

This book had so many troupes, but I thought it worked extremely well, and I loved the concept of the providence cards. While the storyline is supposed to be portrayed as Gothic, I think it is better described as a dark fairy tale, with its eery atmosphere and rhymes from the book of Alders.
One of the concepts to intrigue me was the relationship between Elspeth and the nightmare, they are together for 11 years before the start of the book, which would have made her twenty, and while she only used his power a handful of times in the 11 years, she still had a constant stream of consciousness with him, and I think this could have been explored more.

I’m giving this book a rating of four stars!
Profile Image for Books_and_Crafts.
267 reviews920 followers
November 10, 2022
It's not too often I finish a book in one sitting let alone a few hours these days BUT.. I opened this book and didn't close it until I was done! I was on a plane flight reading this thing and nothing else existed. Let me tell you it was perfect!

Dark, gothic horror esq fantasy with a huge mystery that kept me turning page after page. The magic system and overall plot was unlike anything I have ever read before! There is a bit of romance but it's sub plot and perfectly written in. Loved everything about this and cannot wait for book 2!
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