Publication date: 2008 edition
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Fantasy (YA)
Attention! This is faerie folklore at its best
Tithe is the first in the Modern Faerie Tale series by Holly Black. Kaye Fierch is a 16 year old teenager living a wayward life - that is wayward to most – because she is being raised by a mother, Ellen, who is very shall we say “unconventional” in her approach to motherhood. Ellen is a rock singer and Kaye has moved from city to city with her. Ellen is an alcoholic who has a string of boyfriends that don’t care half as much for her as she does for them. The dynamic of Ellen and Kaye’s relationship is a role reversal, with Kaye acting more like the mother and Ellen the child who needs looking after.
One night at a bar where Ellen and her boyfriend Lloyd are performing in their band, an event causes Lloyd to turn on Ellen and attempt to kill her. This causes Ellen and Kaye to flee Philadelphia and move to Ellen’s mother’s house in New Jersey, where Kaye was raised.
As a child growing up in NJ Kaye would see and communicate with faeries. She would tell people about them but, of course, no one believed her. Not even her best friend, Janet. On returning to NJ, Kaye makes contact with Janet, who lives in a trailer park with her mother and brother, Cornelius. Kaye has always been considered strange and her friendship with Janet developed when they both became social outcasts – Janet because of her poor social status and Kaye because of her 'imaginary' friends.
For a while Kaye does not see any sign of supernatural activity on her return. Even when she calls for her faerie friends she gets no response and could almost believe they were imaginary – except strange things begin to happen. After a night out with some teenagers that doesn’t end well, Kaye flees the group to return to her grandmother’s. On route, she hears noises in the woods and goes to investigate. There she encounters a faerie that doesn’t look that much older than her. He appears to be in trouble and could use her help …
This is the first novel by Holly Black I have read and I must say I am happy to have discovered her because I think she is an excellent writer and I love her style. The writing is very clever, which suggests Black assumes her readers are, too. A lot is left unsaid, which fuels the imagination in my view. It does mean however, that you may have to use your grey matter a little. So for example, she does not go into detail about the awful things that happen in the Unseelie Court but you can very well imagine and get chills thinking about it. Black also demonstrates an in depth knowledge of faerie folklore where the lines between good and evil are truly blurred. It was refreshing to read a novel where teenagers aren’t all portrayed as angelic creatures that never swear, never smoke, never drink alcohol etc., although I have no doubt there would have been a fair amount of objection to it. [Too many YA novels are sanitised to the extreme for my liking. I understand why – the bad influence argument – but I strongly disagree with that. I believe teenagers are more likely to follow by the example of those around them (such as their parents or guardians - as clearly demonstrated in this novel) than the characters they read about in books.] It's about context and appropriateness, and for a dark novel like this one it works perfectly well - the Faerie world and the real world complement each other.
Those who appreciate dark fantasy fiction, and don't expect every detail of a plot to be explained away, are likely to enjoy Tithe, while those who have a problem with reading about teens who say and do stuff their parents won't approve of, and/or prefer their plots to be spoon-fed to them, won't.
I was tied to this book and found it hard to put down. I have since moved on to the sequel, Ironside, and I have added a list of books by Holly Black to my ‘to read’ list.