In Gillig's fantasy debut a young woman has to hide the magic she wields, and the monster that gives it to her, or else find her life forfeit.
In Elspeth Spindle's country of Blunder, there's a fever that can give people an ability to wield magic. In order to maintain control of that magic, Blunder's rulers have ordered that those infected must be put to death. Elspeth was infected as a child, and though she was sent away by her father, her family did hide her infection to save her life. A chance encounter with a Providence Card (a magical relict that imparts powers) leaves Elspeth not only with new abilities, but now carrying another entity inside her head. The Nightmare, as she thinks of him, talks to her and when she's in danger, protects her. No one knows of his presence, not even her family. Elspeth has been able to keep her secret by keeping to her home and the small town nearby. Now though, her uncle has found another Providence Card, one that is highly prized. He intends to use it to make a powerful connection for his daughter, Elspeth's beloved cousin. To that end, Elspeth is forced out of her safe world and into one with political maneuvering and treasonous plots.
Gillig has a sure hand in this debut. Magic doesn't happen lightly and while characters may gain great power when they come into possession of a Providence Card, so too must they pay a grim price. That fact and the dark, foreboding tone of the novel make this read almost as a dark fairytale. If I found the romantic pairing a little bland, the author more than made up for it with the dark, foreboding tone and the immersive world she's build