Book Review: “Tithe” by Holly Black

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by Holly Black

Younger readers may know Holly Black for her work on the Spiderwick Chronicles with illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi. Mature teens may also enjoy her solo ventures, such as this “Modern Faerie Tale.” Brace yourself, though: it’s a dark, gritty brand of faerie tale, with the type of mature themes and off-color language that call for a parental guidance advisory. Its world is like that of Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely, only without all the body art and piercings.

Kaye is a tough cookie. It comes of growing up in the entourage of a rock band, taking care of her not-so-motherly mother, and working full-time at a Chinese restaurant instead of going to school. It’s a life many of us fantasize about (or did when we were younger), until another member of the band attempts to murder Kaye’s mom. They end up moving back to her grandmother’s house in a decaying city on the New Jersey shore, and trying to start over.

Kaye’s grandmother wants the girl to go to school and prepare for a better life than her mother has. Her mother wants Kaye to do whatever she wants to do. Kaye, meanwhile, just wants to fit in with her old friend Janet’s crowd. It isn’t easy, when everyone remembers her as the little girl who told stories about her imaginary friends – faeries she really remembers playing with, though no one else could see them. It isn’t easy to fit in, especially when the faeries start appearing to Kaye again. And this time, they have something other than fun and games planned.

Her old faerie playmates want Kaye to help them break free of the rule of the dark, cruel Unseelie Court: faeries of the night who control all the solitary (non-court) faeries in their territory, provided that a blood sacrifice is offered every seventh year. The time has come to seal the deal anew. Guess who the intended sacrifice is going to be this time? Only, the surprise will be on the Unseelie Court when they find out what Kaye has just learned herself: namely, that she isn’t a mortal, but a faerie changeling magically disguised as a normal human.

Unfortunately for Kaye, her fey friends’ plan is more dangerous to her than she realizes. Things grow more complicated when one of her mortal friends becomes the love-slave of a cruel faerie knight. And then there’s the deeply conflicted fey warrior named Rath Roiben Rye, whose fate becomes intertwined with that of our green-skinned pixie heroine. Whatever is going to happen, it’s going to be scary, violent, and complicated, with a pinch of romance and a dash of tragedy for added flavor. It may not be to everyone’s taste; but if you like your urban nightmare garnished with a spritz of faerie dust, you’ll be glad to know there are more books like this. So far this book has at least two companion novels: Valiant and Ironside.