As a critic, you really do develop a preference for novelty. This is subjective, of course, and a lot of great books and shows use time-tested frameworks to deliver strong acting, emotions, and great fight scenes, but when you go through media at the clip I do, it’s the weird stuff that sticks out. Everything Everywhere All at Once’s rock scene still sits in the back of my head. This book is similar. There was a point when I was reading it where I realized that the entire story was going to be on that beach. Setting a cosmic horror story—a genre known for a grand scope—with such a limited perspective was really unique and has kept the book relevant in my mind.
Originally Published: June 29th, 2022
Black Tide Uses A Strong Framework
Black Tide was a different sort of book than I expected. The premise of a cosmic horror-style alien invasion was interesting by itself, but Black Tide marks the first “bottle episode” book I’ve ever read. I’m sure other examples of this exist—especially in horror—but it also didn’t reveal itself for long enough to essentially trick me.
For those unaware, a bottle episode is a television term where the entire story happens in one place. The tale is “in a bottle,” so to speak.
And how this manifests in Black Tide is that the story introduces our characters, their arcs, and some of the basic plotlines, and then they go to the beach. And they don’t leave that beach for quite a long time.
This leads to both the strength and weakness of Black Tide. The strength is how the story remains engaging for as long as it does. There’s a real thriller element here, with the tension and action never letting the characters breathe for more than a few moments. The most significant contributor is the vast array of monsters that seem hell-bent on wrecking humans. We get a lot of cool alien designs. There’s even stuff we don’t see that help prop up the cosmic horror aspect of the plot.
The weakness part is that, after a while, the tension dissipates. Moments boil down to life and death so often that I stopped believing the main characters could die. With such a limited cast, the character arcs and story arcs would deflate the moment one of them got turned into chowder. It becomes a guessing game of if the author is ready to let a solution work or not.
And maybe if the characters were a little more interesting, it might’ve delayed my pattern recognition. But that’s not this book. The chapter titles list the current narrator, and I wouldn’t have been able to tell without it. The author’s voice is too uniform between a younger woman and an older, depressed man. Only when one of them was talking about sex or their specific traumatic relationships did they feel distinct enough. They both have emotional pain beyond my ability to speak on its accuracy.
This brings me to something that may determine your interest in Black Tide more than anything else: the subject matters discussed. Horror commonly has taboo or triggering topics. It’s basically a staple of the genre. But this book isn’t going lightly. Things discussed/described include suicidal ideation, attempted suicide, self-destructive tendencies, alcoholism, and gore and mutilation. There are multiple scenes of child endangerment. It also heavily implies a dog dies, and we definitely see the dog suffer a lot.
This Book Might Just Fully Eject Certain Audiences
My point is, even if you like apocalyptic horror or find the bottle episode aspect intriguing, the book is not for the average horror fan. I almost stopped reading it early on because of how dark it was getting. Even things like The Nothing That Is, which explores heavy topics including suicide, or The Night Will Find Us, which has similar if not more extreme levels of brutality (and talks about suicide), don’t hit the reader so quickly with sheer nihilism.
Thus, my final verdict is probably not shocking: I don’t recommend this book outside hardcore horror fans. If you can’t comfortably read about all the topics I mentioned above, it’s not worth it. If you’re okay with the heavy darkness, its monsters and apocalyptic scenario are cool and creative, but the book also has structural flaws. The first few moments on the beach were excellent as the true scope of what was happening sank in. But Black Tide becomes a generic and mostly predictable thriller quicker than you’d expect and doesn’t break out of that mold for most of its remaining page count.
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