Not Quite There Yet: Holly Black – Tithe

I am finally catching up on some older works by authors I have come to love in the last few years, and among them is Holly Black. Her debut YA novel subtitled “A modern Faerie Tale” didn’t sound like my thing and several anti-buzz words (I’m calling them that now) made me avoid this series. But Holly Black’s other books intrigued me enough to give this one a try as well. With mixed results.

by Holly Black

Published: Simon & Schuster, 2002
310 pages
Modern Faerie Tales #1
My rating:

Opening line: Kaye took another dragon her cigarette and dropped it into her mother’s beer bottle.

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 them back to her childhood home.

To the place where she used to see Faeries.

They’re still there. But Kaye’s not a child anymore and this time she’s dragged into the thick of their dangerous, frightening world. A realm where black horses dwell beneath the sea, desperate to drown you . . . where the sinister Thistlewitch divines dark futures . . . and where beautiful faerie knights are driven to perform acts of brutal depravity for the love of their uncaring queens.

Once there, Kaye finds herself an unwilling pawn in an ancient power struggle between two rival faerie kingdoms – a struggle that could end in her death . . . 

It’s such an interesting experience to read an author’s work not as it is being published but in a mixed up order, starting with newer books and then going back through their backlist. In this case, I was both surprised and impressed with how much Holly Black’s writing has improved over the course of her career. My first read of hers was The Coldest Girl in Coldtown which I liked well enough, then I dove into the Folk of the Air trilogy and that one (the middle book, specifically) totally gripped me. As her Modern Faerie Tales were Mythopoeic Award finalists, I thought I would definitely love them. And I didn’t dislike Tithe but I also couldn’t help but see how very, very clumsy a book it is and how the writing is so below the standards I was used to from Holly Black.

Kaye is a super cool, weird teenager who lives with her musician mom, hasn’t been to highschool in years and used to have fairy friends when she was younger. Through circumstances, she and her mom return to their former home and move in with grandma for a while (just until they get back on their feet) which means a reunion with former friends – the human kind – for Kaye and of course an adventure for us to follow.

The first thing I noticed with this book and its biggest flaw in my opinion is that scenes aren’t set properly and everything happens way too fast. And by that I don’t mean what we usually talk about when using the word “pacing” – it’s more than that. It’s that life-shattering events happen over the course of three lines! And that goes for many scenes that could have been great and impactful, like when someone kisses someone for the first time or when characters are in danger. It makes the book a super fast read but I also felt overwhelmed a lot of times, like I’d missed a page or something.
Add to that the fact that Kaye “lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding” a whopping three times in this rather short novel and it just goes to show that Holly Black was still a less experienced author then. Objectively speaking, this isn’t a well-written book.

BUT here’s the thing. At no point, while reading Tithe, did I want to put the book down or stop reading. The whole one more chapter shtick took on a whole new level for me and I race through this book in record time. Because despite its clumsy writing, lack of focus, and sentence-level pacing issues, there is that spark, that little bit of writing magic that draws me in.
Seriously, the world building is mostly basic faerie lore (Seelie vs. Unseelie, kelpies, pixies, etc.), the romance is just Kaye pining over a hot dude who likes her for reasons that are not further explained, but there’s something there anyway. I probably shouldn’t have but I enjoyed the hell out of this book!

This is the kind of book I recommend to people in a slump. It may not be great literature, not even particularly great writing (although we know the author has come miles since then!), but it’s light and fun and has some nice kissing in it. And it’s a fast read so you get the satisfaction of having finished a book again when things have been slumpy.
So even though the betrayal of year-long friendships is handled on half a page, the death of a character happens almost as a side note, and the characters don’t have a lot of depth, I will continue reading the rest of the series. Because who doesn’t like fun?

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good (for some reason)

2 thoughts on “Not Quite There Yet: Holly Black – Tithe

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