Last Updated on February 14, 2024
One Dark Window is the debut fantasy novel from Rachel Gillig. From Orbit Books, it is the first novel in a duology with gothic elements and some romance. Although not particularly grim, it is a dark fantasy so may hold some appeal to readers of Grimdark Magazine. I certainly enjoyed reading it, and it would probably also appeal to those who enjoyed Alexis Henderson’s The Year of the Witching or Naomi Novik’s Uprooted.
One Dark Window follows Elspeth Spindle, a survivor of a mysterious fever which has left her with magical abilities. In Blunder, hiding someone who has had the fever is treason and punishable by death. After surviving the fever one is deemed to be tainted, so death also awaits. As a result Elspeth and her family are understandably wary, hiding her away from society. As well as hiding their capital crimes the fever has marked Elspeth – she has an ancient mercurial spirit trapped inside her mind. The second, and legally sanctioned, form of magic in Gillig’s world is through the power of Providence Cards, a deck of magical cards with each card giving its bearer different abilities. However this magic also has a cost, and the creation of the deck of Providence Cards and their subsequent separation has plunged Blunder into ruin – with a mist blighting crops and driving people mad, as well as the ruinous fever. Elspeth accidentally becomes embroiled in a dangerous quest to reunite the deck and free Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. The question is, will she be able to do so before the monster in her mind takes over her completely?
I liked Gillig’s One Dark Window. I was intrigued by the idea of Providence Cards and really enjoyed learning more about them through the ornate chapter headers and Gillig’s lush writing. However I do think this novel as a whole is on the gentle end of dark fantasy, and even with the romantic elements of the plot I would not describe it as a romance either. I would put One Dark Window in the cosy section of my bookshelf; it is an easy read with characters I care about and a plot I was invested in. Gillig’s writing is atmospheric, undeniably beautiful and the world building and explanation of the magical structures is done very well. It definitely has some darkness, a gothic allure, and a fairy tale feel (Grimm not Disney) but none of these elements are particularly superlative. This is the sort of book I would look forward to curling up with on a rainy day with a warm beverage for an afternoon of darkish escapism. I am not sure if darkish fantasy exists as a subgenre (if it does it definitely has a time and a place in my reading life) but if someone is picking this up hoping for an adult gothic horror novel they will be disappointed.
I will admit that when I started One Dark Window I was expecting it to be a lot darker than it turned out. I had to adjust my expectations whilst reading and although I did end up liking it, over all I think I would have preferred to know in advance that this was a more moderate read. However I am still invested and am looking forward to the final instalment so all told it was worth the reading outlay.
Thank you very much to Rachel Gillig and the team over at Orbit for providing me with an ARC so that I can provide a review for Grimdark Magazine. 3/5.