If you’re like me and love books (almost) as much as physical objects than you do as stories, Curious Tides by Pascale Lacelle should be on your to-buy list. A dark academia story about class, arrogance and magic waits for you within the pages. On the outside, it is one of the prettiest books on the market. Its astrological themes influence the design, and decorations adorn the pages, drawing you deeper into the story. In that regard, it’s picking up much of what makes dark academia stand out, and combining it with a celestial aesthetic that is a trend in its own right.
At Aldryn College of Lunar Magics, students are divided into houses based on the phases of the moon – and then, there are the Eclipse-born, powerful but often outcast. Emery is a healer, member of house New Moon at Aldryn. Or at least, that’s what her mother told her father before disappearing. She’s reserved and often feels inadequate in the company of her wealthy peers. She’s always relied on her friend Romie to be her social catalyst, to make sure she’s included. But Romie’s dead, along with seven of Aldryn’s best and brightest. Emery is convinced she can find out what really happened – no matter what it costs her. Soon she’s embroiled in secret societies, deception and powerful but forbidden magic.
Curious Tides has many strengths. Characters come alive and none of them can truly be perceived as good. Lies, whether from good intentions or malicious ones, dominate the story. It was refreshing to see Emery be nothing special. This evolves over the course of the story, of course – she does have to go from “ordinary girl” to “main character” after all. But she starts out struggling, is often called out when she misses the mark. Because she’s always been next to someone people consider special, she never considered whether she may not be quite as mediocre as she’s believed. I loved seeing her evolution, gaining confidence and power. Obsessed with her mission, Emery lies and cheats, considering her aims more important than the rules – and perhaps even other people. But, she’s not the only interesting character. I loved bookish Baz especially, dealing with a complicated past and trauma. Romance is not central to the story, as Curious Tides puts the focus on character development for their own sakes.
I did feel like the magic system could have been more developed. It is more vibes than facts, loosely inspired by the phases of the moon. And it does work – as long as you don’t question it. It compliments the story and at times works as a bit of a deus ex machina. The reader, however, who pays attention will soon notice that it doesn’t continue past the basics needed to tell this particular story. Question don’t lead to answers, and I felt that I did not get a sense of how magic influences the society at large, how it functions on a more theoretical level.
As a whole, Curious Tides was a lovely and captivating read. An ambitious debut, promising much more to come. I look forward to reading more in this world, and would especially recommend Curious Tides to fans of A Study in Drowning.