Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale
The holidays are winding down. Year in review posts are being readied. And I’ve got to read my way through my pile of library books. Among those books is Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black. I can’t say that I’m terribly impressed by this book. Or that I even like it.
So, why did I waste my time on this book? The sidekick of the main protagonist is a young gay man. As I’ve repeatedly written, I’m interested in reading depictions of LGBT characters in science fiction and fantasy. Despite all the progress of the past few years, there is still a marked lack of representation. And good ones at that.
The idea itself is great. A teen girl with a troubled background who finds herself thrust into the politics of the fairy world when she is selected as a tithe, a human sacrifice, only to discover that she, herself, is a changeling. But it is the execution that brings everything down.
What kills Tithe is the uneven writing. I get that Black is trying to emulate a teenager’s chaotic thought processes, but the effect achieved is confusing and, perhaps, a little schizophrenic (and not in the good kind of literary schizophrenia). Plot threads which, if developed, could prove amazing are left dangling with little seeming care (or follow up). Events happen randomly with little foreshadowing or sense being made (a faery did it!).
An example of a random event happening (which makes no sense) is Kenny’s initial attempted fondling of Kaye. It just happens. (Of course the event, and later ones, are explained away as Kaye’s powers manifesting- hence a faery did it).
An example of a hanging plot point is with Corny, Kaye’s sidekick. He gets a few point of view sections during some chapters. But the first glimpse of Corny, that of a budding mass shooter, is never touched on again. Though maybe his later relationship with Nephemael and his subsequent break down are furtherances of that plot line. I don’t know. Maybe?
The problem with Tithe is that it is two stories that don’t really work well together. There is the mundane contemporary teenager plot which attempts to ape Bret Easton Ellis and prefigures Skins by several years. On the other hand, there is the rather straight forward portal quest/ changeling fantasy. One is empty, the other tries to mimic and enhance that emptiness.
The characterizations are, honestly, problematic.
Kaye, the protagonist, is a bore to read. Her character might have been edgy and cool when the book first came out. But now she just reads as your standard urban fantasy heroine.
Corny, her sidekick and later best friend, is wasted potential. On first introduction he comes off as a potential sociopath. Later appearances paint him as being a rather standard gay comic book geek with an interest in yaoi manga. When he is thrust into the world of faery, he becomes just pitiful.
The rest of the human cast are variations on the same basic character. And so are the faeries. In fact, the faeries are no different from the humans in their depravity except that the fae magnify that depravity by a large factor.
I’m not going to complain about the unsympathetic characters. Ellis and other writers can work miracles with the loathsome. But not Holly Black.
I’m forced to agree with the Amazon.com reviewer who called this work “sadistic” rather than dark.