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Review Revisited: Holly Black – Tithe

February 5, 2010

Re-Read. Tithe by Holly Black (2002)
Modern Tales of Faerie, Book 1

Length: 331 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Started: 28 April 2008 (original) / 25 January 2010 (re-read)
Finished: 29 April 2008 (original) / 26 January 2010 (re-read)

This is a bit of a new thing for me. Not so much that I’m reviewing a book that I’m re-reading; I’ve done that before in my highly sporadic and infrequent Love Letters to Lit and other Review Revisited posts. What’s new here is that this book is the first that I’ve already reviewed once on this blog. I don’t want to post too much of the same thing twice, so I’ll direct you to my original review for the summary, vocab, etc., and for this post I’ll focus on why I re-read it, and how my opinion has changed since the first time.

Reasons for Re-Reading: I’d been meaning to read the two sequels, Valiant and Ironside, roughly since I read Tithe for the first time. I was given both of them as Christmas presents a year ago, and have been really meaning to read them since then… but there was always something else that wanted to be read first. And then I started reading the Wicked Lovely books, and I didn’t want to read two similar series right on top of each other. And now, when I finally have the time, the inclination, and the not-so-biased brain for reading the sequels, I had completely forgotten what happened in Tithe. Seriously, all I could remember was that there was a girl who found out she was really a pixie, and a dude with silver hair, and a faerie court of good guys and a faerie court of bad guys, and some unclear loyalties, and a big nasty party under the faery hill… and that’s it. I didn’t remember anything about what actually happened, and all of the details about the worldbuilding, and the relationships and histories between the characters? All gone. So, I needed to re-read.

Review Revisited: (original review in italics, response to each point below)

Since I read The Spiderwick Chronicles first, I knew Holly Black had a good grip of the traditions and conventions of Faerie and the fey folk. However, reading that children’s series did NOT prepare me for Tithe – it is wonderfully dark, gritty, and with enough sexual overtones, swearing, and violence that it’s not for really for the younger YA set (I’d say maybe 14-and-up?).

Still true. Although the first time I read Tithe, it was one of my first forays into the world of the Fae. Now that I’ve read a few more interpretations (Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series and Carrie Jones’s Need series), I can see that neither Black’s worldbuilding, nor the dark, gritty nature of her world is all that unique. Tithe is certainly the darkest Faerie book I’ve read, but it’s a quantitative, not a qualitative difference.

I’m also now in a position to judge whether I believe Darren’s assertion that when judging between Tithe and Wicked Lovely, whichever you read first is the one you prefer. And I have to say that personally, I’m a data point in the “false” column. I read Tithe first, but I liked Wicked Lovely better. Both are dark stories about an outsider teenage girl’s encounter with Faerie, both are dark and urban and gritty, both feature two warring faerie courts and a high-ranking faerie love interest with metallic-colored hair. But Wicked Lovely gets the nod. I felt like the worldbuilding, in terms of the two courts and their history of antagonism, was more complex and better explained in Wicked Lovely, and the characters were more fully developed and more sympathetic. Not that Tithe doesn’t have a fascinating world and an interesting story as well, but I was never as emotionally involved with the characters as I was with Wicked Lovely. (Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, I did find Roiben a lot more interesting and attractive this time around than I did on the first read.)

The language is well-turned, and brutally dark – it’s economical but still conveys the otherworldliness of Kaye & Roiben’s first meeting, Kaye’s panic at realizing she’s not human, and the horrors of the Unseelie Court with to-the-bone precision.

Erm… this is about half-true. Or three-quarters. Really the only word I’m taking exception with is “economical”. I didn’t notice this so much on my first read, but this time around, the overabundance of metaphors and similies was enough to make me want to tear my hair out. The trees against the sky are like leaded glass missing the panes, the rain is whooshing down with the noise of a busy highway, the reader is growing as frustrated as if a thousand tiny gnats were circling her head. In general, the writing does do an excellent job of setting the tone of bleak, nasty, unflinching horror – see the quote below, for example – but in places it did get a little bit carried away.

Kaye’s throat was raw with screaming. Sharp claws bit into her wrists while bat and bird and insect wings moved with less noise than sheets drying on a line. They flew through the streets invisibly. She screamed, but it seemed that they moved between this world and the next because no one looked up and no one spoke and no one did more than shiver, maybe, or twitch a little as a horde of monsters vaulted through the skies above them.

The story moves along at a quick pace, drawing the reader in, although towards the end it moves from “quick” to “rushed”, and the tangle of loyalties, plots, and counter-agents isn’t quite explained as clearly as it could have been, leaving the reader (well, me) a little confused.

I wasn’t nearly as confused on a re-read as I was originally – maybe I remembered more than I thought, and so could pick up more of the subtle clues and foreshadowing? – but I can understand why I felt it was confusing in the first place. Towards the end of the book, there’s a lot happening at once, and at least one major death happens off-screen (or possibly on-screen so briefly that I read right over it), which did leave me going “Wait, what? When did _________ die??” Also, very little of the backstory is actually explained in this book, leading the reader to make their own inferences about what’s really going on. We’ll see how much (if any) gets elaborated on in the sequels. 4 out of 5 stars.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

First Line: Kaye took another drag on her cigarette and dropped it into her mother’s beer bottle.

Other Reviews: 50 for Jen, Another Great Read, Bart’s Bookshelf, Beyond Books, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell, The Book Muncher, Em’s Bookshelf, Libri Touches, My Fluttering Heart, Stainless Steel Droppings, Today’s Adventure, Wands and Worlds, Word for Teens, The Zen Leaf
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2010 1:15 am

    Great idea for a review! Whenever my blog gets old enough for me to want to re-read a book already reviewed on it, I should try that.

    • February 8, 2010 9:13 am

      Christy – I don’t re-read already-reviewed books that often, but it’s surprising how much my assessment of them can change.

  2. February 5, 2010 9:58 pm

    It’s a dedicated blogger who does a follow-up review!

    The Marr/Black comparison seems strange to me, because I found Wicked Lovely and Tithe very different sorts of books, despite the subject matter. Structurally and in the tone of the writing they are not at all alike; I thought Tithe was unusually good both times I read it and quite disliked Wicked Lovely.

    It’s to Black’s that Tithe was the first of the urban “fae” type YA books to be written (if you don’t count Emma Bull’s War For the Oaks, which wasn’t YA).

    I’m interested by what you mean by quantitative and qualitative darkness. Number of dark scenes as opposed to torturey-ness?

    • February 8, 2010 9:16 am

      Trapunto – I think the quantitative vs. qualitative darkness breaks down like so: when I first read Tithe, my reaction was essentially “holy crap, that was DARK.” And now, having read several other books in the sub-genre that Tithe began, it’s not unique in being dark (qualitative), although I think it is darker than the rest (quantitative).

  3. She permalink
    February 9, 2010 11:16 pm

    I remember really, really loving this book the first time I read it. I read it again a few years later and was a little less than thrilled about it. It might have been because of the overabundance of metaphors or something just didn’t click. This is not to say that I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t as fabulous as I remembered it being.

    Neat & great review!

    • February 11, 2010 12:03 pm

      She – Had you read some other similar books in the meantime?

      • She permalink
        February 12, 2010 1:06 am

        Unfortunately I can’t think of any : / I’ve been getting more into the whole dystopian explosion that has been happening. I should look out for some, that’s for sure.

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  1. Spoilers and Nuts: Tithe by Holly Black

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