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One Dark Window (The Shepherd King Series #1) by Rachel Gillig Review: A familiar fantasy romance plot done right

Read Time: 8 minutes
Published On: May 16, 2024
One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig

One Dark Window is a new adult fantasy romance by Rachel Gillig that is taking book communities online by storm.

About "One Dark Window"

Author: Rachel Gillig

Series: The Shepherd King #1

Publisher: Orbit Publishing

Genre: Fantasy Romance, Gothic

Page Number: 399 pages

Audible Listening Time: 12 hours 44 mins

Goodreads Rating: 4.31/5

My Rating: 3.5/5

Plot - 4/5

“One Dark Window” follows Elspeth, a young woman residing in the mist-shrouded kingdom of Blunder. She harbours an ancient spirit within her, whom she calls the Nightmare. In this realm, magic comes at a steep cost.

A curse of dark magic plagues the land. One day, Elspeth encounters a highwayman in the woods, propelling her into a world of deception and potent magic. She must navigate this unfamiliar landscape while concealing the monster within.

However, the monster's existence is a double-edged sword. While it offers power, the price Elspeth pays for its assistance may be too high. Though the plot of “One Dark Window” adheres to a common fantasy romance trope, the characters and execution elevate it to a captivating read. I was hooked from the outset; the story never dragged and held my attention throughout.

For readers who, like myself, often abandon books with slow-burning plots, “One Dark Window” is a breath of fresh air. It dives into the action swiftly, which is a major plus for me.

Characters - 3/5


Elspeth is a remarkably strong protagonist. Experiencing the story through her eyes was refreshing. She avoids the stereotypical damsel-in-distress trope; the author portrays her in a relatable and natural way. Placed in her situation, I believe I would react similarly. This grounded portrayal significantly increased my connection to her character.


Ravyn, the male lead, embodies the familiar archetype of the fantasy romance love interest. Despite being a well-worn character type, he doesn't feel out of place. His interactions extend beyond Elspeth, reaching out to the entire "found family" assembled to break the land's curse. To summarize, while he didn't spark intense emotions in me, his presence wasn't jarring either.

Worldbuilding - 3/5

Worldbuilding is where “One Dark Window” truly shines. The author masterfully crafts an eerie and gothic atmosphere. The mist-laden land seems to be slowly consumed by the encroaching fog with each passing day. The writing style perfectly complements this atmosphere. There's a jarring disconnect in some books where the world is dark and mysterious, yet the writing is light and cheery. Thankfully, “One Dark Window” avoids this pitfall. The writing is evocative, and it brings the world to life in my imagination.

Magic System - 3/5

The magic system revolves around twelve unique sets of "Providence Cards," each granting the user distinct magical abilities. However, this power comes at a cost – the user pays a price each time they utilize magic.

These are the 12 types of Providence Cards talked about in “One Dark Window”.

Card nameQuantityMagicThe Price of Overuse
The Black Horse12combat skillsweakness
The Golden Egg.11wealthall-consuming greed
The Prophet.10glimpses of the futureuser can’t change the future
The White Eagle.9couragefear
The Maiden.8beautymakes users emotionally dysfunctional
The Chalice.7compels anyone drinking from it to tell the truthif the person drinking tries to lie the liquid turns to poison
The Well.6ability to recognise potential enemiesgets betrayed by a friend
The Iron Gate.5provide calmness even when strugglingsteals lifespan
The Scythe.4control otherphysical pain
The Mirror.3invisibilitylifts the veil between worlds. so users can see the world of spirits and ghosts
The Nightmare.2allows speaking into one’s mindreveals one deepest fear
The Twin Alders.1allow communication with the Blunder’s ancient entity, the Spirit of the Wood.It’s not known

The magic system is initially intriguing. The granted powers and their consequences are seamlessly woven into the plot. Learning about the cards feels organic, not like an information overload. Overall, the magic system is well-crafted and complements the atmosphere beautifully.

The Romance - 2/5

While categorized and marketed as a fantasy romance, the romantic element in “One Dark Window” is more subtle. It functions more as a subplot within the larger fantasy narrative. This aspect is perfect for me, as I favour fantasy novels with a romantic subplot rather than those where romance takes centre stage. This approach allows for worldbuilding and plot development to create a foundation for a more complex and angsty romance. “One Dark Window” delivers on this aspect, and I have no qualms about the focus. Readers seeking a heavily romantic story, however, might be disappointed.

Enjoyment - 5/5

My time with “One Dark Window” was thoroughly enjoyable. Despite not actively being in a reading slump, I was quite busy. Yet, “One Dark Window” provided the perfect escape and the calming focus that reading offers. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Final Verdict - 3.5/5

Taking the internet by storm, Rachel Gillig's "One Dark Window" is a captivating new adult fantasy romance that blends fast-paced action with a unique magic system and a hauntingly beautiful world. Elspeth, our protagonist, resides in the mist-shrouded kingdom of Blunder, a place where magic comes at a steep price. Living a secret life with an ancient spirit named Nightmare dwelling within her, Elspeth gets thrust into a world of danger when she encounters a mysterious figure in the woods. This sets her on a thrilling quest filled with deception and potent magic, all while she desperately tries to keep the monstrous entity within her a secret.

What truly elevates "One Dark Window" is its execution. While the plot adheres to a familiar fantasy romance trope, the characters and the way the story unfolds make it a fresh and engaging read. Elspeth is a breath of fresh air – a strong and relatable heroine who avoids the damsel-in-distress cliché. Ravyn, the love interest, might be a well-worn archetype, but his interactions extend beyond Elspeth, forming a compelling "found family" dynamic with the characters assembled to break the curse plaguing the land.

The world-building is another highlight. Gillig masterfully crafts an eerie and gothic atmosphere, where the encroaching mist seems to slowly consume the kingdom with each passing day. The author's evocative writing perfectly complements this dark and mysterious world, bringing it vividly to life in the reader's imagination. The magic system, centred around twelve unique sets of "Providence Cards," each granting distinct abilities but exacting a toll, adds another layer of intrigue. Learning about these cards feels organic, woven seamlessly into the plot without overwhelming the reader with information overload.

While categorized as a fantasy romance, the romantic element takes a backseat to the larger fantasy narrative. This might not appeal to readers seeking a story centred around passionate love. However, for those who enjoy a well-developed fantasy world with a hint of romance simmering in the background, "One Dark Window" offers the perfect balance. This approach allows the story to breathe, building a strong foundation for a more complex and angsty romance later. Despite a subtler focus on love, “One Dark Window” delivers a satisfying experience, leaving the reader eager for the next instalment.

Favourite Quotes

“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.”

“To the quiet girls with stories in their heads. To their dreams—and their nightmares.”

“Nothing is free. Nothing is safe. Magic is love, but also, it’s hate. It comes at a cost. You’re found, and you’re lost. Magic is love, but also, it’s hate.”

“Except, in this fairy tale, the maiden has blood on her hands.”

“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.”

“Is this you pretending, Elspeth?" he said, the tip of his nose grazing mine. "Because if it is..." His breath stirred my eyelashes. "You're very good at it.”

Amazon Blurb of "One Dark Window"

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.

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