Review: Tithe by Holly Black (audiobook)

Holly Black

Simon Pulse (2002)
331 pages
YA / dark fantasy / faeries

Purchase it from Amazon

Upon putting the first disc of the audiobook version of Tithe into my car stereo, I became very confused.  For some reason it sounded like a robot was reading the book.  Having a recently acquired fear of robots, this freaked me out at very early in the morning.  I don’t know why, but narrator Kate Rudd had a strange way of modulating her voice during the third person narration portions of the book that made her sound like a robot at times.  But then she started doing character voices and I decided that Rudd should be the narrator for all fantasy audiobooks.  She rocked those faerie voices.  Anyway…

Tithe is about sixteen-year-old Kaye, who grew up with a wannabe rocker mom and no parental boundaries.  She dropped out of school years before to work full time in order to support herself and she starts the book stuck in Philadelphia.  When her mother’s boyfriend attempts to knife her in a bar, the two head back to their hometown in New Jersey.  Kaye quickly resumes her position as the resident weirdo, seeing things that aren’t there, doing weird things that don’t make sense to those around her and basically being an odd duck because she can see all the crazy faerie things in Jersey that others can’t.  She soon gets drawn into a power struggle between three factions of faeries and terrible things start to happen.

Kaye is an interesting character.  She’s a girl who talks to little sprites and saves an odd faerie knight from bleeding out during the middle of the night in a rain storm.  She’s free-spirited (as one probably would be if they were friends with faeries) and impulsive, often getting herself into situations with dire consequences.  But mostly she’s a sixteen-year-old girl who gets her life twisted around when she learns the reason why she can see and communicate with faeries so easily.  Yes, she did some stupid things that, had she stopped to think about the consequences, would have made her life easier not doing, but she never struck me as overly selfish or weak.

Roiben, the previously mentioned injured knight, was telegraphed as the love interest, only to remain aloof and a bit menacing as he became a totally different person.  I liked him.  He was conflicted, dry witted and stuck in one impossible situation after another, and yet he remained calm and regularly cleaned up the messes spilled by Kaye’s spontaneity.  Holly Black perfectly balanced his alienness and his growing compassion for the humans.  With the addition of Rudd’s stilted diction and precise pronunciation with Roiben’s lines, he was probably the most well-developed character in the book.

The supporting characters range from the slightly annoying typical teen party girl best friend to a singsong sprite and an openly gay boy who quickly becomes obsessed with all things faerie.  It would have been nice to have a little bit more with Lutie, the little sprite that made up funny songs and seemed to genuinely care about Kaye’s well-being, as well as a bit more clean up regarding Corny’s time under an enchantment.  Little quibbles at most, but I think both would have fleshed out the story a little more.

Tithe moves quickly and has a few small storylines that sneak in and out of the larger narrative.  At the point that most books would end, Tithe still had another two audio discs to get through.  Black didn’t stop at the conclusion of the main conflict, but instead allowed these characters to live out the consequences of their impetuous actions.  As I said in a GoodReads update, just when I thought it was over, a bear gets lose.  There is collateral damage and people die.  That’s still something that catches me off guard when reading/listening to what is otherwise a light YA fantasy novel.  There’s a lot more death peppering these titles than I remember when I was a teen (then again there are just a lot more titles in general than when I was a teen).

But in the end, I found myself not always wanting to move on to the next disc immediately, turning to music instead.  I see that as the audiobook equivalent of putting a book down and, when given some free time, choosing to watch a movie instead of picking the book back up again.  Even when I felt hooked into the story, it didn’t grab me well enough that I felt any immediacy in continuing at every available moment.  Despite the incredible narrator and the intriguing story of magic and faeries and general crazy, I could walk away for a few days with no desire to return back to it.

I notice that there’s a sequel that isn’t really a sequel and I wouldn’t mind spending more time in this world.  Holly Black manages to create a faerie tale world that isn’t cutesy while still keeping many of the tropes commonly tied to faeries.  It was an entertaining ride.


Fun plot with mostly interesting characters, though didn’t really get hooked; common faerie ideas in a dark fantasy world; great audiobook narrator


I got a copy of this audiobook from the library.  They’ll probably want it back at some point.