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Tithe: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black

on November 17, 2012

Tithe: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black

Tithe: A Modern Tale of Faerie is the first out of three “modern faerie tales” by gothic fantasy author Holly Black. She also co-wrote The Spiderwick Chronicles, which was a fairly dark and spooky series for young children. She is also kind of awesome.

The novel starts off with a bang, with one of the best opening paragraphs I’ve ever read in a Teenage Paranormal Romance Novel.

“Kaye took another drag on her cigarette and dropped it into her mother’s beer bottle. She figured that would be a good test for how drunk Ellen was- see if she would swallow a butt whole.”

In two sentences Black establishes Kaye’s home situation, along with Kaye’s somewhat jaded view on the world. And stuff like that punctuates the entire novel: little unconventional details that bring a cool and creepy gothic style to the book.

It’s here where we meet our protagonist, Kaye Fierch, an fifteen year-old, fairly odd “modern nomad”, who lives with her mother, Ellen, an aging singer whose still trying to find success singing in New York nightclubs. After Ellen’s boyfriend attacks her after a gig, she and Kaye move in with Ellen’s domineering mother, the place where Kaye spent most of her childhood.

Kaye, in her childhood home, begins to look around for her “imaginary friends”, a trio of Tinkerbell style faeries. Spike, Lutie-loo, and Gristle had only appeared to her when she was little, and though Kaye never thought they were a figment of her imagination, it became clearer to her when she was older that they couldn’t have been real.

At least, that what’s she thought. On her way home from a completely disastrous reunion with some old friends. most notably her best friend from childhood Janet Stone, Kaye comes across a fairy knight by the name of Roiben, who’s a lot more like a Tolkien elf than the faeries she knew as a young girl. Roiben has been severely injured by some other faeries and Kaye helps him get back to the river where he can get home. In return, Roiben promises to answer three questions truthfully.

Basically, the first half of the book is things happening to Kaye and her reacting to it. I’m not saying she’s an inactive character, because toward the end of the novel she does actively fight the forces against her. However, in this case it works because the reader is learning more about the faerie world as Kaye is.

I’m just going to take a moment and say how much I like Kaye as a character. Kaye is very well-rounded character: she’s very clever and has her own code of honor (for example: Kaye is an admitted shop-lifter, but she only steals from big mega-stores where the employees don’t care anyway). Though she’s a generally good person, and a character that the reader does want to succeed, she does have flaws noted by the author. By that, I mean she has flaws that the author created, not ones that appeared when the author tried to make her a perfect character (such as Bella Swan, the most famous example of this unfortunately prevalent problem in YA fiction). Kaye also has a tendency to make very rash decisions that she regrets later in the novel.

Back to the plot: Kaye is board one day, but can’t hang out at home because she doesn’t want to tell her grandmother that she dropped out of school. So, she decides to visit her friend, Janet’s brother, Corny, at his job.

Oh my god, Corny. He’s a fringe outcast who is steps away from taking out an AK-47 and murdering everyone in the vicinity. And it shows. I don’t know if Black meant for him to be this unnerving, but he is. Oh, and he’s gay. That really doesn’t have to do with anything else I just said, it’s just fairly important to the plot.

Corny and Kaye become friends over Corny’s collection of comic books. However, when Janet comes home from school, she and Kaye go meet some of Janet’s friends at a diner. And guess who’s also at said diner?

Yep, it’s Roiben. He’s here so Kaye can cash in on her three questions and she has the brilliant idea to ask him his real name.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with faerie lore, if someone knows a faerie’s true name, they can control them. So, Roiben’s not happy about this.

Later that night, Kaye goes into the woods behind her home, where her faerie friends reveal to her that she is one of them, and pull her in to a plot to set them free from the constricting binds of the Faerie Courts.


In case it wasn’t clear earlier, when the cover of the book says faerie tales, it’s talking about

these kinds of faeries

And because of that, this book get veeeeerrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyy dark.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t recommend it, if you do want to read it, just be aware of the subject matter, as it includes: severe language, use of drugs and alcohol, and an implied rape.

As for the rape, it’s not graphic. In fact, I would say that it’s almost as tasteful as a scene of that nature could be.

Despite that, I thought Holly Black’s Tithe was a very well-written, very scary, and very cool pseudo-horror story that I very much enjoyed.

Also, apparently there is a movie adaptation in the works. I’ve tried looking up information, but so far all I’ve found is that it is currently in pre-production and is being done by the Jim Henson company. If there is any more information, please feel free to comment below.


Rating: 8 out of 10.


Another thing: usually after I read a book I’ve enjoyed, I’ll look up reviews of it to see what other people have thought of it. For this one, there seemed to be three main camps: people who loved it, people who thought it was ok, and people who thought that this book was trash because it uses strong language and has Kaye and the other characters doing things that many people wouldn’t really want teenagers to do, such as drinking and being in sexual situations. Most of these were along the lines of “Why would someone let their child read this, it’s going to make them want to do it, etc.”

Now, I’m as straight-edged as they come, and frankly, reading this book hasn’t changed that, and I doubt it’ll be different for anyone else. Seriously, reading a book that has kids drinking isn’t going  to make them an alcoholic, but putting limitations on what they are allowed to read is going to make them rebel.


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