Welcome to Exemplary Reads! In this series of posts, I will be building a reference log of books that I think do a really good job at particularly hard-to-define writing concepts, and then I’ll explain why.
It’s really easy to say in vague terms, “Do this,” “Avoid that,” “Write in this way,” etc. But without examples, a lot of writing advice can have a hard time resonating with its audience. I’m hoping this series can help bridge that gap. Fair warning, some explanations will contain spoilers so read on at your own peril.
This week, I discuss The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska. Cover designed by Nicole Hower with art by Helen Crawford White.
Evil witch steals the one you love and you risk your life for theirs. A classic, right? But what if the one in the het couple (i.e. straight) doing the saving is the girl? And she sacrifices herself for the boy—takes his place in the evil witch’s ritual—only to realize that, hey, maybe what she felt for him was never actually love? And what if the evil witch is actually really pretty and maybe not as evil as the girl thought and in the time they spend together before the ritual, the girl grows to love the witch? Jasinska builds an enemies-to-lovers tale out of this trope—with a sapphic twist.
All magic comes with a price. This book takes the concept and makes it literal. If a witch wants to perform a spell, they must give up a piece of themselves to do it. Sometimes a lock of hair or a bit of blood will do, but some spells are so powerful that they require more finite resources, like teeth… or the person you love. And while witches are potentially immortal, this fact has never quite been confirmed since witches are born with a certain amount of magic and, once it is used up, they fade out of existence. As such, most witches die relatively young, whether through choosing to perform spells or through non-magical people poaching them.
Similar to her well-written subversion of tropes, Jasinska also does a great job at naturally building the world around the characters. She spreads out the information, and you never feel like you’re getting an info-dump (even if you technically are!). Also, she times the info well so that you don’t only learn about things when they’re conveniently relevant to the plot. This is key in storytelling, as it gives your readers a chance to digest the information and make guesses about how the knowledge will become relevant later on. Do not fear your reader guessing future plot points because you built your world appropriately—the risk of this happening is a far better alternative to your audience being unsatisfied because they’re reading your story with no context. People abandon stories they cannot understand. Allow your readers to understand your world.