A girl and white-haired boy with antlers stand surrounded by trees and branches with eyes.

About the Book

Title: Where the Dark Stands Still
Published: 2024
Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cover Story: Montell Jordan
BFF Charm: Destiny’s Child
Talky Talk: Inspired By
Bonus Factors: Polish Mythology, Magical Forests, Sentient Houses, Loyal Pets, Magic
Anti-Bonus Factor: Small Villages
Relationship Status: My Dream Friend

Cover Story: Montell Jordan

GIF from Montell Jordan's music video "This Is How We Do It"

I totally judged this book by its cover the first time I scrolled past it; Liska’s outfit, the moody colors, the attention to detail in the drawing completely caught my eye right off, and I’ve been slightly obsessed with wanting to read it ever since.

The Deal:

There’s nothing more that Liska wishes than to be “normal”, to not have to hide the flutter of magic in her breast that threatens to cause irreparable damage when she feels strong emotions. After an horrific incident that could lead to banishment from her small village, Liska decides to do the most reckless thing she can think of: sneak off into the dangerous, magical wood and make a wish on the mythical frond to rid herself of her magic.

Liska finds the frond, but the myths prove to be false; instead, she’s offered a deal from a devil: spend a year in the warden of the wood’s employ at his decaying manor, and he’ll rid her of her magic when the year is up.

BFF Charm: Destiny’s Child

BFF charm featuring the members of Destiny's Child

Liska had to endure a lifetime of making herself small and unnoticeable so people wouldn’t realize she had magic, and it’s definitely stifled some of her personal growth. It would be hard to be close friends with everything going on in her life – also, how would I even GET to the Manor to hang out with her, as it’s right in the middle of a haunted forest? – but I admire her courage nonetheless.  

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

This rating feels low for this kind of book, because I feel like the romance was written to be a bigger draw than it turned out to be for me. I could see the parts where I was supposed to be feeling it, and it was fine, but as certain relationship moments progressed I was more unmoved than anything. I didn’t connect to the Leszy as a romantic lead but I do think some of them will come down to personal preference, so YMMV. The waif-like, fragile, pale boy Poranek kept describing the Leszy as is not what twinges my nethers. There’s also a 700-year age difference, and like, look, I’m not that precious about age-gaps in my fantasy novels, but the author repeatedly makes reference to him being “a boy” when it’s like—respectfully, I DON’T SEE HOW. Combined with some whiffs of insta-love (lots happens in only a few weeks of book-time, but she’s supposed to have an entire year there – would it have been so hard to spread that out for believability??).

Talky Talk: Inspired By

I’d already had an idea of what I thought the writing-style comps for this book would be, so it tickled me when I read the author’s acknowledgments and she listed her literary inspirations as Naomi Novik, Margaret Rogerson, and Diana Wynne Jones – exactly! I’d also add that parts felt very reminiscent of Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, with the little village wavering between paganism and Christianity, the house spirits, and the girl with too much magic catching the interest of an immortal/gray character.

So in that respect, it seems Poranek did exactly what she set out to do; the book’s prose feels lyrical and the story feels classically timeless (with the occasional exception where a line of dialogue felt a bit too “of this world” to me). There some moments here and there where this felt like a debut – some pacing issues, the magic system, and the relationship was “nice” but it didn’t quite grab me the way I wanted it to – but if you love this subset of fantasy, then it’s going to scratch that itch and do a pretty darn good job of it.

Bonus Factor: Polish Mythology

A depiction of Leszek the Black’s Dream, an figure with wings riding on a white horse next to fallen soldiers.

The author clearly has a deep love of all things Polish, and while I personally don’t know what bits of the book are original work or possible retelling of a more famous story, I felt like I was learning and immersed in a new and richly layered world. I’d recommend downloading Polish to your e-reader or having Google Translate open nearby, because if you’re anything like me, you’re going to stop a lot and play the “guess what this word means” game and then want to see if you’re right.

Bonus Factor: Magical Forests

A forest of tree trunks with glowing lights all around near the ground

Definitely one of those “it’s better in books” bonus factors, because lord knows I would NOT want to be wandering around the Leszy’s demon-riddled forest where I’d need to give offerings to potentially pass through safely.

Bonus Factor: Sentient Houses

A row house with unique designs

I desperately want to live in a magical, sentient house like in Encanto and this book.

Bonus Factor: Loyal Pets

White cat crouching outside

Perhaps not pets in the traditional sense. Liska can see house sprites, and she eventually coaxes the Manor Under the Rowan’s sprite to come out of hiding and be her crotchety advice-giver, which is always a plus for me!

Bonus Factor: Magic

Open book with moving pages in front of a glowing blue sphere and twinkle lights

Liska has buried her magic for so long, afraid of what she could do, and sometimes, I was like, yes—what CAN you do? As her powers were very important to some plot points, I could’ve used a tad more explanation of the limitations or abilities of the magic in her world. It was treated more “incidental” than I expected (perhaps because the author considered the romance more of the focus?), especially when a good portion of time was dedicated to Liska learning to embrace who she is.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Small Towns Villages

A yellow sunset on the main street of a small town

The close-minded judgment and witch-hunting that comes about when people live too-small lives and feel the need to Other that which doesn’t “fit” in their narrow world is exhausting to live and read about.

Relationship Status: My Dream Friend

There was an ethereal quality about you, Book, that made our time together seem dreamlike and hazy. I probably won’t remember that much once I awake, but we lived lifetimes during our brief time together.

Literary Matchmaking


Naomi Novik’s Uprooted has probably inspired many authors since it came out.

An Enchantment of Ravens

Very similar vibes in Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens, about a painter who captures the true essence of a faerie and gets kidnapped by them.

Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle #1)

I think most “girl lives with a weirdo sorcerer” stories have gotten their inspiration from Diana Wynne Jones’ iconic Howl’s Moving Castle.

FTC Full Disclosure: I got my own copy of this book from the library. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Where the Dark Stands Still is available now.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.