Series: The Shepard King #1
Published by Orbit on September 27, 2022
Genres: fantasy, gothic, romance
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.
The first time I saw this book sitting on the shelf at Chapters, I did not bring it home with me. The cover was pretty, the premise was interesting, but I had a pile of books twice my height to get through so I left it there.
Then the algorithm algorithmed, and I saw it recommended a couple of times.
Finally, I said dang, okay, win me over pretty book. But it was sold out online at Chapters (gasp, the horror!), so I quickly ran to my local one and picked up one of the last remaining ones perched on the shelf.
I’m being dramatic, but this book is dramatic, and it’s so fucking good.
The premise is original and interesting. You get enough backstory and lore sprinkled throughout without any of it feeling info dumpy. It’s just enough to explain what’s going on, while leaving you wanting more. The idea of the Providence Cards is fun, but what makes them stand out so much are the accompanying riddles. They were eerie and perfect. There wasn’t one thing I nitpicked about the plot, it all made sense exactly the way it was.
It’s been awhile since I’ve loved a cast of characters this much. Each one was dynamic and flawed, without being annoying. They all seemed like real, developed people with lives and thoughts beyond what you were reading on the page. Elspeth was an interesting POV to read from, and while she didn’t always know what was going on, it didn’t drag the story at all.
Ravyn was your classic dark-haired, brooding misunderstood softie. A hard exterior with a heart of gold. But he was delicious, and not annoying or condescending, and his characteristics did not change. The hard exterior, heart of gold reveal was done well.
Every side character was necessary, and there. Everything felt so alive. Even the Nightmare, who some might argue is not alive, still felt very much alive.
Anyway, the writing was superb, the atmosphere was superb, the characters were everything you could ask for. I found myself numerous times racing through pages so I could know what happened next.
Suffice to say, I’ve preordered the second book already.