Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale is the first book I ever read by Holly Black, and then I read Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie as soon as it came out. Recently I reread them in preparation for finally reading Ironside: A Modern Faery’s Tale, the final book in the trilogy.
In Tithe, Kaye is a teenage girl recently returned to her childhood home. She reunites with her old friends, including two faeries, who reveal that she is actually a pixie, a changeling. In Valiant, Valerie is a teenage runaway who joins a group of mysterious squatters. In Ironside, the two previous storylines converge into an exciting, heartbreaking, but ultimately satisfying conclusion.
How do I love these books? Let me count the ways.
Each chapter opens with a quotation. A line of poetry, a song lyric, famous lines from a play, and even the occasional famous clever quip. Each quotation alludes to that chapter’s plot. I love the variety of quotations used and how each one works so well with the progression of the plot.
A pitfall in many faerie novels is the overdependence on straight, white characters. Black’s writing does not have this problem. Furthermore, the diversity is not just tokenism, but a genuine integration with the fantastical plot.
Shades of Morality:
No one is perfect. The protagonists make bad decisions, sometimes for the right reasons, often for the wrong ones. Good and evil are far from obvious. The first two books surprised me—and disappointed me, since I really liked those characters—with the changing morality of some supporting characters.
Thoughts with Spoilers:
The realm of Faerie is a dark one. I cringed at the senseless torture, and I cried at the needless deaths. The queens of the rival faerie courts, the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court, are truly evil.While the overall plot arc and character growth is the epic love story between Kaye and Roiben, I most enjoyed Corny’s story. A human teenage boy, Kaye inadvertently pulls him into the faerie part of her life.
Awkward, nerdy, and gay, Corny ends up exquisitely tortured by a dangerous faerie knight. Broken but wanting to overcome his fear, he becomes reckless in his interactions with faeries. He even intentionally provokes a faerie into cursing him. Eventually Corny meets Luis, another human teenage boy, but one who has the Sight, who can see faeries and can see through their glamours, and who helps mortals afflicted by faerie curses. Luis has his own damaged background, and he and Corny help each other heal.
I highly recommend this trilogy for anyone with a love for urban fantasy, overlapping mortal-immortal worlds, or dark faerie tales. What should I read next?
Brita Long is a francophile feminist living out her own fairy tale with her husband in Ohio. You can find her online at bellebrita.com, where she writes about her faith, books, and her life as a southern belle in the Midwest.