Written by Holly Black
Published April, 2004 by Margaret K. McElderry
Genres: Faeries, Urban Fantasy
Purchase: The Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia
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Sixteen-year-old Kaye is a modern nomad.
Fierce and independent, she travels from city to city with her mother's rock band until an ominous attack forces Kaye back to her childhood home.
There, amid the industrial, blue-collar New Jersey backdrop, Kaye soon finds herself an unwilling pawn in an ancient power struggle between two rival faerie kingdoms - a struggle that could very well mean her death.
Tithe was Holly Black’s first YA novel and unfortunately, it shows. Published in 2004, what was once a gritty and edgy urban fantasy for teens now pales in comparison to newer stories in the genre such as those by Sarah J. Mass and Julie Kagawa. Re-reading this one after all these years was a little disappointing.
“Kaye watched as he calmed somewhat, thinking that she should stop trying to anticipate what was going to happen next. After all, when you were already in a slippery place, reality-wise, you couldn’t afford to assume things would be straight forward from here on in.”
I’m a huge fan of Holly Black. I first read Tithe in 2008 (or around there) and certain aspects of the story have stuck with me since then. While I didn’t particularly enjoy the leading character of Faye, the scary and ‘urban’ vibe I got from Tithe never faded. For me, Holly Black’s world of fae was the stepping stone all other authors needed to really dive into that realm. She was the first to really create faeries that scared me and made me think of our iron and metallic world as dirty and almost repulsive.
Reading it now, however, it’s clear to see that while Holly Black is spot on with those certain details, the world-building and character development within Tithe leaves a lot to be desired.
Kaye is an unsympathetic leading lady. A smoker, school dropout and often keeping questionable company, Kaye is the ‘anti-hero’ and not the sort of YA protagonist we’re used to seeing, even after ten years. Still, Kaye never really offers anything unique in way of development or story advancement. She’s the typical ‘girl-who-thought-she-was-normal-thrust-into-an-supernatural-situation’ leading character. I never warmed up to Kaye, or cared what happened to her.
The secondary characters such as Roiben, Corney and Janet were pretty stock-standard, too. I felt that the whole situation with Janet and Kenny could have been played down a little more, in order for Holly Black to focus on the marvellous world of Faerie she was obviously beginning to create. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t want to hear about who was wearing what nail polish or who was dating whom.
“She suddenly understood why she had let him kiss her in the diner, why she had wanted him at all. She wanted to control him.”
The romance between Kaye and Roiben was flimsy, too. I never rooted for them or particularly cared about whether they ended up together or even kissed (shocker, I know).
What is most disappointing, however, is how all over the place the plot is. I was never sure where Tithe was heading, or if it had a definite direction. There’s a lot of foiled plots, diverging loyalties, trips to faerie courts and random teen parties. It was a mish-mash of small events that were trying to adhere together to make an overarching plot.
“Kiss my ass Rath Roiben Rye.” – Kaye
I know that Holly Black has improved immensely over the years. While Tithe wasn’t a wonderful read for me in 2016, I do understand that the book would have been received differently in 2004, when the YA market was in relative infancy.
Enjoyable or not, Tithe was worth a re-read just to see how much Holly Black has changed over the years. While it still held her trademark grittiness and dark turn of fantasy (The Darkest Part of the Forest is quite similar to Tithe) the story and characters just weren’t up to her modern standards.