Representation: F/F, Bi or Pansexual, possible demisexual, very minor nonbinary character
on 4th August 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
A fast-paced, well-plotted fantasy retelling of an ancient Scottish fairy tale ballad, this exciting debut will appeal to fans of Stephanie Garber's CARAVAL, Shea Ernshaw's THE WICKED DEEP, and Kendare Blake's THREE DARK CROWNS.
Every year on Walpurgis Night, Caldella's Witch Queen lures a young boy back to her palace. An innocent life to be sacrificed on the full moon to keep the island city from sinking.
Convinced her handsome brother is going to be taken, sixteen-year-old Lina Kirk enlists the help of the mysterious Tomas Lin, her secret crush, and the only boy to ever escape from the palace. Working together they protect her brother, but draw the Queen's attention. When the Queen spirits Tomas away instead, Lina blames herself and determines to go after him.
Caught breaking into the palace, the Queen offers Lina a deal: she will let Tomas go, if, of course, Lina agrees to take his place. Lina accepts, with a month before the full moon, surely she can find some way to escape. But the Queen is nothing like she envisioned, and Lina is not at all what the Queen expected. Against their will, they find themselves falling for each other. As water floods Caldella's streets and the dark tide demands its sacrifice, they must choose who to save: themselves, each other, or the island city relying on them both.
The Dark Tide is perfect in every way.
That’s it. That’s my review.
…No? You need to hear a little more than that? You need to be convinced?
Darlings. The magic is right there, waiting for you. All you have to do is reach out and touch it.
And hold on.
The Dark Tide is well named, because this is a book that sweeps you away, pulls you under like a riptide into a world that is so beautiful, so wondrous, so enchanting that it leaves you breathless.
Can you call it drowning when you never want to surface?
This is a book woven of red string and witches’ hair, pulled into a cat’s-cradle that will ensnare you between dancing fingers. This is a book born as witches are born; after dark, out of dreams, magic made manifest. This is a book with your heart’s delight waiting between the pages.
The Witch Queen comes on wings of night.
The Witch Queen has your heart’s delight.
Hold him, hold him, hold on tight.
Hide him, hide him, out of sight.
The blurb describes The Dark Tide as a retelling of an old legend, and those who know the myth will know which it is from the blurb alone. But it’s not a fair comparison, or description. The Dark Tide isn’t a retelling, or a reconstruction, or even a recreation. It is completely itself. It stands on its own two feet – and walks in silver slippers upon a storming sea, in a direction, to a destination, no other story has. No one but Alicia Jasinska could have cast the spell that is this book.
I’ve heard and used the term ‘wordsmith’ before, but it simply isn’t enough to encompass Jasinska’s skill: she’s not a wordsmith, but a wordwitch. If a smith takes up metals and turns them into beautiful and elegant things, then Jasinska’s wordmagic is like the magic of Caldella’s witches: drawn from within, spun out of the very self, a power of blood and breath and hair braided and cut away. Intrinsic, the raw materials mined from inside, the words not hammered and beaten into shape but cast, spun, danced into being.
I’m sure…well, almost sure…that Jasinska has spent years honing her craft; I don’t want to lessen or dismiss the work and practice that goes into becoming this skilled a storyteller.
But honestly? It feels as if she really is a Witch Queen of Caldella; appearing full-formed from the midnight shadows, magic incarnate, with a spell on her fingertips to make you see your heart’s desire when you open the book in her hands.
That’s how it feels.
What can I tell you? The plot? The blurb does that just fine; any more would be spoilers. The characters? You need to meet them for yourself, not hear my take on them. The writing? Have I not made it clear that Jasinska spins language like her witches spin their strings and ribbons and hair, into magic that can calm a storm, summon a sea serpent – save a city?
And the rest? How can I tell you what it feels like to step into Caldella, and find it a city where queerness is so normalised, they don’t even seem to have a word for it? How do I describe what it’s like to be girl-shaped, and find an island where that doesn’t matter; where girls can be soft and hard, fiery and cold, loving and vicious? How do I put into words what it’s like for a narrative to acknowledge and value every kind of love, even the loves you outgrow, or that change?
How am I meant to convey to you that this is a magical book, and a book about magic, and a book of magic?
The magic in this story actually feels like magic. It is magical magic, not scientific/mathematical/’hard’ magic – which always feels like magic with the wonder sucked out of it. Jasinska’s magic, the magic of Caldella, is nothing but wonder – raw and beautiful, otherworldly and strange, the kind that snatches at your heart and doesn’t let go. And as this is a story that is fundamentally about magic, that wonder has seeped into every aspect of the book, enchanting every single word.
Every single word. Gods. Every word of The Dark Tide is a jewel, exactingly placed. Every sentence is the Platonic ideal of itself. What’s the term for something greater than a masterpiece? A gamechanger? A paragon of modern fantasy? Maybe we need a new word.
In Greek myth, when a mortal created something better than a god could, it tended to earn them divine wrath. And that’s the closest I think I can come to telling you about The Dark Tide; it’s a book, a story, a spell, that feels like no mere mortal could have written it.
Only, rather than being overcome by wrathful jealousy? If the gods saw this, read this? They’d fall under its magic too. They’d make it a constellation, like they did with all their greatest loves.
(And like I said: I’m not convinced Jasinska isn’t secretly a Witch Queen, and not a mortal at all.)
This is one of the best books of 2020, without question. And if I’m still blogging in nine years, it will have a spot on my next Best of the Decade list ready and waiting for it.