One Dark Window

One Dark WindowOne Dark Window by Rachel Gillig
Series: The Shepard King #1
Published by Orbit on September 27, 2022
Genres: fantasy, gothic, romance
Pages: 396

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.

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor BennThe Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides
Series: Kingdom of Grit #1
Published by Orbit on October 1, 2020
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 729

Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.

When a priest hires him for the most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he'll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers, and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known.

But it soon becomes clear there's more at stake than fame and glory -Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization.

This is a hard book for me to rate.

We’ll start with the plot. Fabulous, chef’s kiss. There was stealing and hijinks, costumes and manipulation, tricks and obstacles to overcome. Each significant part of the plot seemed very well thought out, and it was entertaining seeing the process of how the characters worked through issues. They actively used the skills that had been brought up beforehand (Quarrah wasn’t just labeled a thief for the sake of it and then never shown using those skills, for example).

The downside is, there is so much plot. The book is loooong, and I felt like there were 5 books with their own separate plot lines all shoved into one. The plot lines themselves were wonderful, but one barely finished and you were on to the next. Not only that, there wasn’t a lot of build up to any of them (except the first, really), since there wasn’t the space. It felt very action movie-esque, where you’re forced to just say “well, I guess this is what’s happening”. I don’t know what I would have wanted instead, except maybe some space to breathe.

Now, the characters. I liked Ardor and I liked Raek. I don’t think we got enough of them together, which I understand due to the circumstances but I still wanted to see more of them exchanging banter. Quarrah I also liked, but I have some issues with how she’s portrayed. Which I will put below in a spoiler section that you can choose to read at your own peril. The side characters were all okay, but they mainly existed for the plot. Which isn’t always a bad thing, but you could clearly see them exiting stage left until they were needed at exactly the right moment again.

Really, I think exploring King Pethrodote and High Isle Chauster’s motivations more would have been interesting, as I think there was some moral greyness to be explored. But we really only got that when Ard was about to blow them up, or something.

Now for some spoiler talk: View Spoiler »

Anyway, the dragon’s were cool. Grit as a system was interesting, and I like that it wasn’t over-explained but you still knew how things worked. And the setting was pretty good, it felt like a classic(ish) high-fantasy world.

Ultimately, I will probably pick up the second. Is part of that because of the covers? Yes. Am I going to cry at the sheer mass of the final two books in the series? Also yes.