Blurb from Goodreads:
The Wicked Deep meets A Curse So Dark and Lonely in this gripping, dark fairy-tale fantasy about two girls who must choose between saving themselves, each other, or their sinking island city.
Every year on St. Walpurga’s Eve, Caldella’s Witch Queen lures a boy back to her palace. An innocent life to be sacrificed on the full moon to keep the island city from sinking.
Lina Kirk is convinced her brother is going to be taken this year. To save him, she enlists the help of Thomas Lin, the boy she secretly loves, and the only person to ever escape from the palace. But they draw the queen’s attention, and Thomas is chosen as the sacrifice.
Queen Eva watched her sister die to save the boy she loved. Now as queen, she won’t make the same mistake. She’s willing to sacrifice anyone if it means saving herself and her city.
When Lina offers herself to the queen in exchange for Thomas’s freedom, the two girls await the full moon together. But Lina is not at all what Eva expected, and the queen is nothing like Lina envisioned. 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 a stunning fantasy YA debut from Australian author Alicia Jasinska and first in the self-titled series set on the moody atmospheric island city of Caldella.
Every year on the last night of winter during the celebration of St. Walpurga’s Eve, a Caldella native is selected by the Witch Queen to be sacrificed at the next full moon in order to keep the island safe from the tide that threatens to consume it and everyone living there. Two years ago, however, the previous Witch Queen Natalia made the shocking decision to sacrifice herself instead, leaving her sister Eva to rule in her place. After losing Natalia because she loved her chosen sacrifice Thomas Lin too much to let him die as planned, Eva literally removed her heart in order to keep herself safe from being hurt – but this interferes with the ritual, as the dark tide demands that the Witch Queen suffer through carrying it out.
It’s not a sacrifice if she doesn’t care.
Lina Kirk is overcome with anxiety that her handsome charismatic brother will be the next one chosen by the Witch Queen and in her efforts to keep him safe, she inadvertently draws Thomas Lin into Eva’s path. Viciously satisfied at the idea of completing the sacrifice he escaped at the cost of her sister’s life, Eva whisks him off to the Water Palace to await his execution. But she reckons without Lina’s reckless courage and stubborn determination to keep her loved ones safe as Lina storms the castle to confront Eva and passionately pleads to be taken as the sacrifice instead.
Why did some people not have the same love for themselves that they did for others?
There is so much to adore in this accomplished debut novel written in a compelling, lyrical style that effortlessly establishes a dark fairytale vibe. From the very first page, the reader is immersed in the magical plight affecting the residents of Caldella, which is brought vividly to life with its streets flooded by ink-black water lapping at the stairs of pastel town-houses, and grounded in the relatable fears of one of our heroines who is fiercely devoted to her brother and fears losing him to the Witch Queen.
Normally the latter would be the wicked villain who must be defeated at all costs, but in a delightful twist, The Dark Tide casts Queen Eva as another heroine. Being an equal protagonist means that her perspective isn’t automatically negated by being the villain and allows the author to delve into her amoral nature, contrasting it against Lina, who is the traditionally compassionate and morally virtuous character. YA fiction tends to romanticise self-sacrifice, especially in the name of true love, but Eva’s perspective casts a different light on that trope as we are privy to her ever-present grief over her sister’s death and the understandable bitterness at how Natalia chose to abandon her for someone she’d known for all of a month.
“No boy was worth my sister’s life. No boy is worth your life.”
Fans of the enemies-to-lovers trope will be ecstatic with this book as the author expertly weaves a gradual and convincingly hard-won bond between Eva and Lina in a beautiful, subtle romantic arc. A common pitfall with this trope is for one character to unrealistically compromise their beliefs or opinions in order to allow the romance to flourish, but both of our heroines have clear, defined goals and worldviews which they adhere to throughout the story, in spite of whatever tender feelings may be developing between them. The fact that this is the first book in the series helps since it meant the author could build up a slow-burn romance that will leave readers pining for more rather than rushing to cement an established relationship by the end of the book.
I really appreciated how the viewpoints of both heroines are respected and we’re shown how each of them is right from their individual perspective, no matter how starkly their opinions might clash with each other. Instead of a simplistic good-evil dichotomy, there is a lot of nuance and ambiguity built into the central conflict that provides food for thought and allows you to make up your own mind on which side you support. On one hand, it’s easy to sympathise with Lina’s outrage at the sacrifice conducted by the Witch Queen and how they use free magic as a lure to the townsfolk to join the celebrations, but Eva has an excellent point when she notes that it’s very convenient painting the witches as the villains when the rest of Caldella benefits from their ritual and doesn’t attempt to stop the annual festival where the sacrifice is chosen.
The island wasn’t just celebrating someone’s courage and sacrifice. It was celebrating murder. Glorifying death.
Why did they all go along with it? Was one life truly worth trading to keep thousands safe?
This world casually includes sexual diversity without any fanfare, which is just as it should be. There is background representation with Lina often mentioning her two mothers, and of course the main relationship that we’re rooting for is between Lina and Eva (there is no explicit mention of bisexuality, but Lina falls for both Thomas and Eva, so it’s implied). While the story doesn’t delve into this too much, characters are also racially diverse and follow different faiths – in case anyone is wondering why the residents of Caldella don’t simply leave their sinking home, it’s explained that it’s home to refugees who fled the mainland because of persecution for their beliefs or relationships, and the witches were forced to seek sanctuary away from mainlanders who would kill them for their abilities.
The Dark Tide offers an exciting and immersive story with a strong feminist slant that subverts common YA tropes and forges its own original path. The two heroines are well-rounded and each demonstrate believable strengths while grappling with their individual fears and pain, both sharing values like unwavering loyalty and strong familial bonds that make it easy to understand why they would be drawn to one another. Although there is a sequel to come, this is a self-contained story that will leave readers satisfied at the end instead of agitated by a painful cliff-hanger! I can’t wait to read more about Lina and Eva in future, and will be certain to re-read this beautiful story again to tide me over before the next release!
Personal Rating: 5 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.