A dark academia fantasy novel

Book review of Curious Tides by Pascale Lacelle. Picture: ON FILE

By Christine Yunn-Yu Sun

Curious Tides, by French-Canadian author Pascale Lacelle, is a dark academia fantasy novel for fans of magic, mystique and moon-gazing.

Simply put, dark academia is an internet subculture concerned with ancient arts, classic literature, and Greek and Gothic architecture.

Wikipedia identifies the subculture as drawing on “idealised aesthetics of higher education and academia” and often featuring books, libraries and coffee shops, as well as activities such as museum visits and all-night studying sessions.

While it is said to have captured the imagination of a “maturing ‘Harry Potter generation’”, some have attributed its rise in popularity to the shutdown of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Which is fair enough, and Baz, one of the protagonists in Curious Tides, is certainly a book nerd who prefers reading and archival research over the use of magic.

In contrast, the other protagonist, Emory, is reserved and often feels herself unworthy of the prestigious Aldryn College of Lunar Magics.

Still, she is determined to uncover the truths behind the deaths of eight of the school’s best and brightest students.

Like the other characters in the book, Emory and Baz have magical powers that are decided by moon phases and tidal alignments.

The magical system here is complex and fascinating, based on the moon’s waxing and waning and the tide’s ebb and flow.

Not to mention the lunar and solar eclipses that produce variations of existing magics and even rare new ones beyond them.

As Emory and Baz investigate the mysterious deaths deep inside Dovermere Cove, they encounter secret societies and bloodletting rituals, drowned gods and missing pages of origin stories, underground archives and residential halls disguised by illusions, dream manipulators and nightmare weavers, covert actions to remove memories and bleed out life forces, mythical creatures and magical doorways, and plenty of conspiracies.

There’s even a motorbike!

Indeed, although the 530-page book is quite a long read, it’s also a thrilling ride through a magical world meticulously built upon vivid and vibrant imagination.

The dazzling array of magical powers are eye-opening, the setting atmospheric, the twists and turns unexpected, and the horrors enthralling and absolutely terrifying.

It’s true that the pacing can be more balanced throughout, but the flaw is minor when the book’s overall literary merits are taken into consideration. Particularly worth nothing is the stunning


Readers are advised to read the print book and enjoy the beautiful maps and illustrations of moon phases.

In a TikTok post in late 2023, Lacelle said she started writing Curious Tides in 2020, “inspired by the murder mystery and secret societies of Ninth House, the portal fantasy and book- within-a-book elements of The Starless Sea, and the magical college vibes of The Magicians”.

In another interview, she also mentioned The Ten Thousand Doors of January that inspired “the idea of stories and worlds that might be more real than they seem”.

While these books may help readers gain a better understanding of Lacelle’s work, there is no denial that Curious Tides is a breathtakingly original story.

Highly recommended.