Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review: Tithe by Holly Black

Tithe by Holly Black

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm having a hard time ascribing a number value to my opinion of this book. On the one hand, there was good narrative tension that pulled me through it at a decent clip. On the other hand, I felt like there were a lot of missed opportunities in the narrative. On the other other hand, I didn't write it, so of course the style was different from mine. On the other other other hand, the missing piece did detract from my enjoyment. And on the oth—

You get the idea.

I do like books that don't explicitly answer all of the questions it raises. I like when things are known by the author but isn't written out on the page. I just felt like Tithe took that to too great an extreme, to the point where I couldn't figure out why anyone did anything, and the action felt like a video game walkthrough.

Tithe is about a girl with a really chaotic upbringing. Her mother is the lead singer for a small-time band, and so Kaye has very little supervision, and her mother is completely unconcerned with her smoking and drinking habits. She's too busy hooking up with abusive jerks to care about her kid. Then they go back to Kaye's grandmother's, where Kaye once befriended some fairies.

That the fairy element is presented straight-faced, with very few people questioning it (beyond some initial boggling) is both a strength and weakness of the book. It kept the disbelief from bogging down the narrative, and clearly Kaye had adjusted to it years before. But at the same time, it took away some of the sense of wonder and the alien nature of the fae. Instead, we get very matter-of-fact descriptions of kidnapped children, casual cruelty, and a society very different from our own. It's supposed to do the show-don't-tell thing, but it comes across, to me, like LARPers explaining to the newbie in their midst how different they are from everyone else. It just never evoked much of a reaction in me, beyond, "What happens next?"

It really didn't help that I got very little insight into the characters. We get a superficial description of what they're doing, what they hope happens next, what they're trying to accomplish. But leaps of logic are reached without any insight into the thought process or how they arrived there. People do things, apparently because it was the thing to do. A character dies, and Kaye is bereft, but I never felt like she cared about the person in the first place, or like the death served any purpose in the narrative. There's a romance plot, but I had no idea what drew them together, besides pure chance and that he's a good kisser. One major culmination of the plot is smothered in, "Wait, what?"

I guess, in the end, the book isn't terrible, but I can't strongly recommend it, either. I don't like it when a narrative keeps me at arm's length. It's a tricky balance, withholding just enough to preserve narrative tension, and this book doesn't quite achieve it; too much mystery at the expense of being able to relate. I didn't want explicit answers, but I did want some insight into the characters. As it is, their actions are supposed to show us something to relate to, and I guess I just wasn't that kind of teenager.

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  1. There's two sequels to it: Valiant and Ironside. They may help answer some of the questions that Tithe asked.

    1. Yeah, I know. I just don't know if I want to read any more of this style. It wasn't that I'm left with questions at the end; this is a perfectly self-contained narrative. It's that I felt like I was deliberately pushed away from any depth into the characters.