Retro Book Review: Tithe


Happy Wednesday! As I announced last week, I thought writing some “retro” book reviews would be a fun summer goal for keeping the blog going. Last week, I did a re-read of Dark Visions by L.J. Smith (review here). This week, I’m reviewing Tithe by one of my new favorites, Holly Black.

Tithe is the first book in Black’s Modern Faerie Tales trilogy, originally published back in 2002 (which is very nearly 20 years ago? oh my…). Recently, the Modern Faerie Tales have been reissued with some gorgeous new covers. I would have been in middle school when Tithe first came out, but for whatever reason, Holly Black was not on my radar back then. The first book of hers I read was The Cruel Prince, and after that, I was hooked on her beautiful, brutal faery world and its characters.

Tithe is also excellent, although not for the faint of heart, I suppose. It’s a fairly dark, gritty urban fantasy, and, although it is a YA series, the Modern Faerie Tales deal with some pretty heavy issues. Black’s spin on the world of the fae is equal parts beautiful and cruel, pleasurable and painful. Its teen MCs are imperfect, its parents range from being selfish to downright neglectful, and no one is safe from the capricious, deadly fae.

At the beginning of Tithe, Kaye Fierch is on the road with her mother, a musician who survives paycheck to paycheck, and gig to gig. But a nearly fatal clash with one of her mother’s bandmates sends them packing for Kaye’s grandmother’s house in New Jersey. Kaye hasn’t been to school in years and, despite her grandmother’s insistence, isn’t about to go back now. She smokes, stays out too late, and is generally a bit aimless. In New Jersey, she reconnects with an old friend, Janet, and Janet’s loner brother, Cornelius (Corny) Stone.

Their New Jersey is one of abandoned warehouses, dark alleyways, and underground raves. But it’s also a world many of the solitary fae – faeries who have been exiled from the Seelie or Unseelie courts – call home. Kaye remembers some imaginary friends she made as a kid. In Tithe, those once imaginary friends turn out to be all too real and know the truth about who Kaye really is. Kaye’s journey is one of self-discovery, of survival as the human and fae worlds collide. And of new love in the form of white-haired Roiben, a Seelie knight who has been traded to serve the Unseelie queen as a show of peace between the two courts.

I am giving Tithe five stars. I love to read (and write) imperfect characters, and Kaye certainly fits the bill. I think some readers, and some perhaps concerned with what teens are reading, balk a bit when the character isn’t some sort of role model. But I don’t believe all characters, even those in YA books, are obligated to be role models. In fact, there are likely many teens out there who may relate to Kaye, a girl from a poor family, with a somewhat neglectful parent and a poor track record at school. Those teens have stories, too. And those teens need to see characters like Kaye who are overcoming odds and discovering their own strengths.

Also, Roiben sounds hot. So there’s that.

If you’re a fan of the fae, urban fantasy, and don’t mind it with a large helping of romantic horror, I recommend Tithe! In the coming weeks, I will also be reviewing the second two books, Valiant and Ironside. I am officially hooked on Holly Black!

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