Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black
rating: 3 of 5 stars
SUMMARY (taken from School Library Journal)
Kaye is 16 when she finally learns why she's such a strange young woman: she's a changeling pixie under a spell. A move home to the New Jersey shore brings her back in touch with her childhood friends, the solitary fey, who want to end their servitude to the higher-born faeries by foiling the sacrifice of human blood known as the Tithe. Kaye offers to masquerade as a human for the Tithe and is swept into a complicated net of politics and treason between two rival courts of faeries.
Do you know the scene in the movie Labyrinth in which Jennifer Connelly's character Sarah eats a poisoned peach and finds herself at a faery ball that is at once beautiful and grotesque?
I have to believe Holly Black had that scene in mind when she wrote Tithe. Jareth, the Goblin King played by David Bowie, shares physical features with Roiben, a faery that Kaye meets in the woods; the descriptions of the dark faery court are reminiscent of the half-human half-animal masks Jim Henson used in his movie. Also conjured are similarities to the fey creatures depicted in the movie Legend.
The word used over and over by reviewers to describe the book is "dark." In fact, it's so dark in the first few chapters, the word I would have chosen was "bleak" and I thought about suspending my reading of it. Kaye's mother is an alcoholic, unmotivated, penniless bar singer who moved around so often her daughter dropped out of high school to work full-time at a Chinese restaurant. Kaye wears heavy boots, heavy black eye makeup, and has a cigarette habit that only someone could acquire living in bars every night of the week.
The problem is, Black is far too poetic to turn readers away. Her descriptions are raw and primal - Kaye thinks of the sun as having committed suicide, bleeding red streaks across the ocean as he died beyond the horizon. The interplay between the characters can be stark, and even disturbing, at times, but then she develops a romance between Kaye and Roiben that made this 32-year-old happily married mom swoon a little bit.
In between vivid, gruesome, lovely descriptions, Black's sparse prose leaves the plot hanging at certain points, almost to the degree of losing the reader. There's a lot of back and forth movement between the Faery hill and Kaye's grandmother's house that, in a stage play, would make for very short scenes, and can be distracting from the thrust of the action.
Overall, however, this was a delicious little read, a tart fruit that satisfies the senses and leaves you licking your fingers to catch every last bit.
Holly Black has a really interesting, truly helpful website. It offers her daily journal, FAQs, and this ridiculously well-planned page of writing tips. Despite the darkness of Black's writing, it seems she has a fantastically warm heart.