Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale

by Holly Black
ISBN: 0689867042

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A Review of: Tithe
by Ian Daffern

Tithe, is a brilliant, sometimes scary young-adult novel, which lets loose faeries on America's suburbs. The story is Anne Rice meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, bringing together the lush gothic-romance of the former with the feisty female protagonists of the latter. However Black's vision is a lot dirtier than Rice's-call it fantasy-grunge as it's set in the mid-nineties era of ripped stockings and bad-hair dyes. Sixteen-year-old Kaye, band-brat daughter to a perennial Courtney Love-esque rocker-mom, has been used to a life of freedom on the road. However, after her Mom is suddenly attacked by one of her own band-mates, Kaye is forced with her back to the strict household of her grandmother's home in New Jersey.
This is where the real story begins. As Kaye adjusts to the boredom and listlessness of the teen-crowd around her, she also begins to recall vivid memories of play with imaginary friends. She soon learns that these mates were real, and that they had been planning a special destiny for her. Right in her backyard is the gateway to the world of fairies, including a full range of sprites, kelpies and other nasty creatures. Kaye also meets her own tall dark stranger, a wounded fairie knight named Roiben who she helps rescue from an attack in the woods. Roiben continues to run into her life, as an enigma, a romance, and possibly, a deadly enemy.
In Black's world, there are two opposing faerie kingdoms, those of the Unseelie and the Seelie, both of which frequent the hills of New Jersey. There is also a third group, free creatures that have no allegiance, but are sworn into fealty by the malevolent Unseelie court by means of a human sacrifice called the Tithe. Kaye becomes caught up in a power struggle between the courts, and even her old childhood friends, who are free faerie-spirits. Guess who has her in mind for the Tithe? If that wasn't enough, her knight in black armour also works for the court that plans to sacrifice her. But there is a twist: Kaye learns she isn't quite mortal (and thus not fit for the Tithe) when a pair of shimmering pixie wings pop out of her back.
The mortal world doesn't turn out to be so great either, with her mom threatening to drag her off to New York City and her friends wondering why she's so aloof. When the Faerie world threatens the real, Kaye has to make a decision and choose her destiny.
Thankfully, neither world is squeaky clean. What stands out is Black's attention to detail: the rust on the hinges, the dirt that stains Kaye's dresses after she rambles through the woods. Black skillfully juxtaposes Kaye's life of messy, ripped clothes and brambles with the excesses and depravity she encounters in the faerie court, making both appear more believable in the process. However, the detail sometimes runs to excess. Too much attention is paid to the clothing of the characters, the particulars of what kind of fabric a top is made of or a t-shirt's ironed on insignia. These signifiers may be of crucial importance to teen tribes, but in reading the book, at times all this information resembled a Faerie-Barbie fashion show.
Overall, Tithe is an enchanting tale. The adventure moves along at a good pace; the language is rich but not overwrought; and its filled with well-drawn characters, both magical and mortal, longing to escape their world.

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