Thursday, April 13, 2017
Sixteen year old Kaye Fierch is used to moving to different places at odd times with her mother, a musician in Stepping Razor. When her mother's boyfriend of the moment suddenly tries to stab her, they flee to Kaye's grandmother's house in New Jersey. Kaye reconnects with old friends from when she used to live there and can't shake the memory of her old imaginary friends, Lutie-Loo, Spike, and Gristle. She starts to believe they really were imaginary figments no matter how vivid until she runs into Roiben, an injured fairy knight who she helps in exchange for his full name. Her childhood friends in addition to a whole world of faeries are revealed to be true with Kaye playing a key role in the freedom or subjugation of many.
Kaye is used to a lot of things no sixteen year old should be used to: moving around, working instead of going to school in order to survive, taking care of her mother, and cleaning up her mother's messes (literally and figuratively). She is the authority in her family who makes sacrifices to provide for her family while her mother follows her dreams, a sad reversal of what should be happening. She is also used to strangers' fetishized or flat out racist assumptions about her with her Asian features and blond hair. I love this detail because it points out socially acceptable racism and shows how it hurts people first hand. Corny, her best friend's older brother, befriends her in an unlikely friendship because they have practically nothing in common. Both are outsiders in a way, Corny being gay and antisocial while Kaye is Asian and prone to repelling people with her stories and weirdness. Small things have always happened around Kaye that she couldn't explain, but she dismissed them time after time. Until one day, she makes something happen too big to dismiss and she runs into faerie knight Roiben which sinks her and Corny deep in the faerie world.
The faeries of this world can be good or evil, just like humans. However, the magic is in the shades of grey in between where most of the characters lie. Some are truly evil and some good, but most are stumbling through trying to do the best they can with huge obstacles and supernatural powers which puts them in between. At first, I thought the plot would be pretty straight forward. It's presented as Kaye saving the faeries outside of the Seelie and Unseelie courts from being enslaved by submitting to be the tithe or sacrifice. Unseelie is evil; Seelie and outsider faeries are good. About midway through the book, deceptions are revealed where the faeries inhumanity at a basic level is shown. Faeries are not human and don't hold human morals. Good is seen in the midst of the depravity of the Unseelie court and corruption is shown in the Seelie court despite its perfect facade. Kaye navigates this world imperfectly, but Corny finds himself lost in it, manipulated by a powerful faerie. The stakes are high as the human world hangs in the balance. Some of the most tragic, emotional scenes are when her human friends clash with the faerie world.
This novel came out when I was a teen and I've waited years to read it for some reason. I love every book I've ever read by Holly Black, but for some reason I always put off this series. Now, I wish I had read it when it came out because it would have introduced me to a more realistic, nuanced version of fantasy. Both the teen experience and the faerie world are illustrated realistically. The teens drink, curse, have attractions to each other, and aren't perfect. The faeries have their own sets of rules and laws based in mythology that feel alien to us. Tithe is still a wonderfully dark faerie novel that defies expectations at every turn and brought progressive elements to the teen genre.
My rating: 5/5