Monday, April 22, 2013

Labyrinth on Crack

Holly Black

Language, Violence
Tithe was the first book by Holly Black that I ever read. She hooked me early. She just has a knack for creating characters and settings that are gritty and real. And so, several years after reading it for the first time, I decided to pick up Tithe again. That's kind of a big deal for me. I simply don't re-read books. But this one is worth it. As are the two companion novels, Valiant and Ironside, the Curse Workers trilogy, and anything else Holly Black has ever written.

As the subtitle suggests, Tithe is "a modern fairy tale". Set in a coastal New Jersey town, the story follows Kaye Fierch, a teenager who lives a transient life with her mother, a talented but largely unsuccessful singer. When her mother's boyfriend suddenly turns violent, Kaye and her mother must move back to New Jersey to live with Kaye's grandmother.

Kaye's childhood is abnormal, to say the least. But she has secrets far stranger than being the teenage dropout daughter of a wanna be chick rock star. Kaye sees things. Strange things. And while many children have invisible friends only they can see, Kaye's friends aren't imaginary. You could see them too, if they wanted you to. They don't generally want to be seen, at least not as they really are. So Kaye is a bit of an anomaly. And not just because she can see things others can't. She can also do things others can't. Or at least strange things happen around her.

Holly Black's faeries aren't of the sweet little Disney variety. Fluttering around innocently. Happily granting wishes. They're more likely to put you in a torture rack than a pumpkin carriage. But you wouldn't want to attend one of their balls anyway. Kaye and her friend Cornelius find that out the hard way when they crash a gathering of the Unseelie Court. Hedonistic and cruel, these faeries seem to thrive off of torturing others. Kaye barely escapes with the assistance of a surprisingly kind faerie knight. But will her good fortune hold out once she is under the watchful eye of the Unseelie queen?

Aside from the faeries, the humans in Tithe aren't angels either. Highschool dropouts, underage drinking, shoplifting, sex, anger issues, pettiness. Flaws abound. But that's a good thing. They're human flaws. People aren't squeaky clean. And neither are the characters in Holly Black's world. Nothing in it is clean except her writing. Holly Black creates a world that feels real, like you could touch it, smell it, even taste it. And then she populates it with characters you wouldn't be surprised to meet walking down the street. I just hope, for your sake, that you don't meet any of the characters from Tithe.

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