This strange trilogy by Holly Black consists of Tithe (pictured), Ironside, and a standalone but incorporative book written between, Valiant. When I read these I was about 15 I imagine, since I had Ironside in hardback and it apparently came out in 2007. Even though the publisher has recommended this series for ‘ages 12 and up’, these books are, in my opinion, what young adult novels are all about. They take fantasy themes from your younger and tweenage years – in this case, fairies (faeries) – and give them darker overtones. You recognise the fun and innocent sides of them, and then are shown the darker, more sinister aspects. Immediately after these I read the Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr (another dark fae series), and while I enjoyed those on a different level, I infinitely preferred these
Defined as ‘surburban fantasy’ rather than the more well-known ‘urban fantasy’, Tithe and Ironside follow sixteen-year-old Kaye, a nomad touring with her mother’s rock band. She has always been able to see and communicate with the Fae, who she had thought were her imaginary friends when she was growing up. She meets a Fae knight, Roiben, and saves his life by removing an iron-tipped arrow from his chest (iron is poisonous to the Fae). In return he grants her three truthfully answered questions.
Valiant follows teenager Valerie Russell, who discovers her mother is having an affair with her boyfriend, and so shaves her head and runs away from home, joining with a group of teenage squatters and earning herself the nickname Prince Valiant for helping a drag queen find her shoe. Valiant is recommended for ages 14 and up, most likely because it deals with themes of drug addiction. It is a strange beauty and the beast story.
There are some crossovers between these two stories.
Things I liked
The main characters. I never expected to like Kaye, but she grew one me. Val impressed me because of her strength, and her weaknesses. Roiben and Ravus, the love interests, were incredible, if I remember correctly – even though Roiben is a murderer and Ravus is a troll. But you know, still sexy, somehow. Also, the minor characters.
The dark world of the Fae. It was probably these books that got me interested in the workings of faerie worlds. I started learned about the Unseelie and Seelie courts, about ambiguous morality, about glamour spells. There was a moment in Ironside where Kaye, who can see through glamours, watches her friends eat cakes, which she can see are actually mushrooms. As with most of my favourite books growing up, this series prompted me to write my own version.
The romances. They didn’t go as I expected – particularly in Valiant. That is always a plus with romance.
The dingy suburban lifestyles. Very warts and all. Deliberately dark and grimy. Very atmospheric.
Things I didn’t like
I don’t remember there being any. It’s been a while guys, I’m sorry. Although apparently they got a fair amount of bad reviews, so I’ll check those out.
According to Goodreads, there is quite a marmite split on this series. Some people disliked the series (specifically Tithe) because Kaye ‘has super-special protagonist syndrome’ which I can understand. Some people disliked it because it was too weird (there’s a skin-peeling-off-to-reveal-green-skin-underneath scene for which they had particular hatred), or because there was too much swearing. Those who liked it professed to enjoy gritty real-life/fantasy stories, that Kaye’s difficult childhood could have been gimmicky but was handled well enough and with enough depth to make her likeable (although they never felt intimately connected with her as a character – which I agree with, although I always thought that was because she was blonde and I’ve always had dark hair, which was a big part of which characters I liked and which I didn’t when I was growing up, whoops!).
Should I read this?
Having now read the Goodreads reviews, I would say if you are easily weirded-out, confused or made squeamish by fantasy, it might not be for you. However before that, my recommendation would have been this: if you like fantasy-realism and want to see it done a bit differently, this might be a good choice. If you want strong female leads who are out of the generic norm, this might be for you. If you’re looking to go back and read some young adult fiction that you missed and you want books that deal with adult themes in a gritty, stylish way, these might be a good way to spend your reading hours. If you aren’t convinced by any of these ideas, then maybe don’t bother.
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The Book Depository
You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Tithe-Holly-Black/9780689867040/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary
Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.