Title: Tithe – A Modern Faerie Tale
Author: Holly Black
Length: 66,000 words, 310 pages
Read: March 13, 2011
Summary: Well written and evocative.
This is the second Holly Black book I’ve read. I enjoyed White Cat (REVIEW HERE) a lot and so I went back to read her debut novel. And liked it even more.
The similarities are striking. Both are short YA books, with nice prose and likable main characters thrown into ‘weird’ paranormal situations. Both have the action so condensed as to occasionally be confusing. Both wrap themselves up in the last quarter in a way that compromises the believability of the secondary characters. Both have unhappy but not completely tragic endings. While White Cat’s premise is perhaps a tad more original, I found Tithe‘s creepy fairy flavor more to my taste. Not that I didn’t like the first, but I really liked certain things about the second.
Tithe is written in third person past, with the protagonist Kaye dominating the POV. Mysteriously, approximately 5-10% is from the point of view of her friend Corny, and about 2% from the romantic interest. These outside POVs felt wrong, and at least in the Kindle version, no scene or chapter breaks announced the transitions. Every time one happened I was confused for a paragraph or two and knocked out of the story. Still, said story was more than good enough to overcome this minor technical glitch.
Kaye is an unhappy 16 year-old with a loser mom. When they move back to New Jersey she is rapidly involved with the Fey, discovers she’s a green skinned pixie, and gets drawn into a conflict between the Seelie and Unseelie (rival fairy) courts. It’s a fun read, and the prose is fast and evocative of the fey mood. Ms Black seemed to have done at least some research and the feel is quite good. The loose descriptive style sketches some rather fantastic creatures and scenarios, and that works. There is some darkness (which I like), and wham bam death of secondary characters without the proper emotional digestion. There is sexuality, but no sex (boo hiss!).
But I really like the way she handled the fairies. There isn’t a lot of description, but what there was left me filling in my own detailed, sordid, and mysterious collage of imagery.
I was loving the first two third of the book, and then it pivoted a bit and lost me a little. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it, but the last third felt sketchier. The author had a bunch of double takes and betrayals on her outline, and it felt to me that it didn’t really matter if the secondary characters got to be true to themselves — they just followed the script. The protagonists best friend dies in like two seconds, and there is barely any reaction. Everyone also seemed to roll way too easily with the rather gigantic punches (as in Fairies are real). And to be darn good at picking up new powers in no time at all. This is a typical issue, and very hard to address perfectly, but it always bugs me when magic seems too easy. White Cat had the same final act issues.
It’s still a fun book — way above average — with nice prose and breakneck pace. But the potential for great gave way to merely very good.