Tithe 13: Changing Lanes

It turns out that Kaye and I have a lot in common, apart from our shared name. For starters, she’s a terrible driver.

Kaye and Roiben go to see the Seelie Queen, thinking that Nephamael and Corny will be with her. To get there, Kaye “borrows” Corny’s car (with the keys conveniently hidden under the visor) and drives for the first time. At first she can’t figure out how to make the car go forward. Once she does hit the road, she’s scared to drive on the highway, has no idea how to merge, and can’t manage to park the car in just one space.

I think this, more than anything, takes me back to my teenage years. At least Kaye does much better her first time on the highway than I did.

Let me put it this way: I got pulled over for going too slow. Yeah, that’s a real thing that can happen.

Apart from that, the main similarity I saw between myself and Kaye was how she deals with her grief. This chapter is a whirlwind of emotion. She has to deal with Janet’s death (which she feels guilty for) at the beginning. When they reach the Seelie Court, she has to see Roiben admit that he loves the Seelie Queen, even if he no longer wants to be with her. There’s also anxiety when they learn that Corny and Nephamael aren’t with the Seelie Court, and Nephamael could have already killed his new “toy”.

But the emotional blow that intrigues me the most is Kaye seeing herself. Or, rather, the girl whose life she stole. As a changeling, she was given to her human mother, and the real Kaye stayed with the faeries. The human Kaye still looks like a child, even though the swap was made years ago. Pixie Kaye has no idea what to do with this, and finally runs out of the Court and waits for Roiben to meet with her.

This is one of the most compelling moments in the book for me. How do you face someone whose life you stole, even if you had no say in the matter? It doesn’t go beyond this in Tithe, but in the sequel, Ironside, Kaye has to return the stolen child to her mother.

There’s a lot that happens in this chapter, and Kaye can’t really get a grip on her emotions. Totally understandable, considering everything that’s on her mind. Her sadness and anxiety turn to anger, that she takes out on both Roiben, and Corny’s car. Her focus is only on getting Corny back, saying that he may very well be dead if they don’t get a move on. Which is true, but she also uses this as a distraction so she doesn’t have to think about everything else going on. If finding Corny takes priority, she can postpone figuring out her feelings and delay her grief.

What I noticed about the book now that I didn’t pick up on years ago was how disconnected this new quest feels from the first. For a book named Tithe, I expected the titular event to be the climax, not a second inciting incident. When Kaye escapes, we’re sent on almost a whole new journey. We’ve got a different villain and different goal. The latter part of the story feels like an entirely different book from the first one.

To me, it’s not as intriguing as the first part, either. What drew me in to Tithe in the first place was the urban fantasy aspect. It was the mystery of Kaye’s fae friends and the enigmatic Roiben, and Kaye learning what it means to be a faerie.My favorite elements of the story are the magical world bleeding into the real, non-magical one, with the protagonist belonging fully to neither. But towards the end, that idea is abandoned, with the story taking place almost entirely in the magical realm. It becomes a gender-swapped “save the princess” story. I’m not saying that Tithe‘s new direction is going to be a bad one, but I do expect the climax to be pretty big to beat “human sacrifice escaping from fae ritual”.

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Tithe 12: Driving a Wedge

-This is why I wanted more details – what, exactly, did they hate about the swearing fealty to the Court when freedom has led to chaos
-Did she and Roiben make any plans to help Corny? Where is he now?
-Killing Janet: more about the divide between Kaye and the fae than anything

We’re coming to the end of Tithe, and now that the main event’s over, where to we go from here?

To a rave, apparently.

Kaye needs to find Nephamael to save Corny, assuming that the latter is still alive. But it seems like she’s not in any hurry to get back to the Unseelie Court. Considering the mess she and Roiben left it in, I can’t say I blame her. She finds her fae friends: Spike, Lutie-Loo, and the Thistlewitch, looking to them for some guidance. Rather than getting any kind of wisdom from them, she discovers them celebrating the uncompleted Tithe and their newfound freedom, and a surprising degree of callousness.

‘I have no desire to be welcome among you, old mother,’ Roiben said, kneeling down on one knee in the soft earth. ‘I only wanted to know whether you were aware of the price of your freedom. There are trolls and worse that are delighted to be without any master but their own desires.’

‘And if there are, what of it?’ Spike asked, coming up from behind them. ‘Let the mortals suffer as we have suffered.’ [. . .]

‘So it’s us against them now? I’m not talking about the Unseelie Court, here. Since when are mortals the enemies of the solitary fey?’ Kaye said, anger bleeding into her voice again, making it rough.

Kaye’s exchange with Spike sums up the main conflict of this chapter, and her new inner struggle. She’s not worried about enchanting Janet’s boyfriend or being “weird” anymore. She’s a faerie who spent her whole life believing that she was human, and has no idea how to live as part of the fae world. She thought that this was going to be simple, and is only now coming to realize the trouble she’s caused, and how deep in she really is.

This point is further driven home at the end of the chapter, but I’m getting ahead of myself now.

As I mentioned in another post, one of the things that bugged me was that the rules for why the Tithe happened and why the solitary fey would submit to the Unseelie Court was never really explained beyond obscure faerie rules.  I really wish there was more backstory again, because the faeries are all pretty happy about being free. So why would they ever submit to the Tithe in the first place? Was there every any kind of resistance in the past, or attempts to stop the ritual similar to this one? I know I won’t get answers to these questions, nor do they come up in either of Tithe‘s sequels. I just wish there was something more than “because plot demands it”.

The meeting with the other fae at least gives Kaye some direction of what to do next, when she learns that the Seelie Queen will be coming to the area. They’re most likely to find Nephamael – and, with him, Corny – in the Seelie Queen’s court. Kaye realizes that her friends have no interest in setting things right or finding Corny, and that the only person she has to rely on is Roiben.

 

 

Tithe 11: Aftermath

The movie Far and Away is the story of two Irish immigrants making their way in America during the 1890s. Towards the end of Act 2, the main characters are freezing and living on the streets of New York City. They break into an empty home where they could finally eat, but declare their love for each other and make out instead.

That scene drives me crazy. The food is right there, you haven’t eaten in days, and you’re going to ignore it so you can play house?

I think this illustrates why romance really isn’t the genre for me. Characters swept away by love when the solution to so many of their problems is right in front of them. I feel like so many protagonists in romance novels are just stupid.

That’s what bugs me about Tithe, even as we creep towards the end of the book. Roiben and Kaye have escaped the Unseelie Court with their lives, but Kaye is hardly worried about the consequences of the uncompleted Tithe or the death of the Unseelie Queen. When Kaye and Roiben kiss again, the scene is meant to titillate, but doesn’t exactly move the story along.

Kaye’s more concerned with getting things settled with Roiben: explaining the plan, and how she wanted to tell him she was a pixie but never got the chance. They have some of their most “normal” conversations so far during this chapter. I’ll admit, the awkwardness between the two now that they’re no longer in danger is pretty cute.

All this to say, romance really isn’t the genre for me. I like Tithe for the fantasy, but I could take or leave the romantic subplot. Maybe I’m just too old. I’m closer to 30 than 20, and no longer the YA target demographic.

Roiben, presumably older and wiser, at least, calls Kaye out on her skewed priorities.

‘Kaye, Faery is a place governed by a set of customs both severe and binding. What you have done has consequences.’

‘Everything has consequences,’ she said, ‘and the consequence of this is that the solitary fey are free again, you’re free, and the bad Queen is dead. That seems pretty over to me.’

Kaye doesn’t really understand what these “consequences” are until she sees several news stories detailing the chaos the solitary fae created on their first night of freedom.

Roiben spoke as he began to pace the room. ‘Everything is always easier when considered black and white, isn’t it? Your friends, after all, are good and wise, so all solitary fey must be good and wise. Your friends must have some respect and fear and knowledge of humans, so all solitary fey will follow in that example.’

Kaye has a hard lesson to learn, but doesn’t get much time to dwell on it. Kaye soon learns that Corny is missing and is still in the Unseelie Court, most likely with Nephamael.

I didn’t really think about this too much when I was a kid, but we have a gender reversal here. Instead of Kaye needing to be saved, it’s the girl going back into danger to save the guy.

Tithe 10: The Ritual

I hate to admit it, but I might have been wrong about Roiben.

Last week, I talked about how he was sad and selfish, and would make a terrible boyfriend. And while I still think he’s sad and would not make a great boyfriend, he proves himself to be rather unselfish at a critical time.

When Kaye is once again brought out to the Unseelie Queen, Roiben does the unthinkable, and challenges the Queen for Kaye’s freedom. We’ve seen that he still retains some of his old kindness, but never to this extent. Standing up to the Queen like this, especially in front of her followers, would humiliate Roiben at best. At worst, it would result in his death. But he goes for it anyway, at great risk to himself. I think that’s very admirable. Maybe a bit stupid, but admirable all the same.

Kaye does get released to Roiben as his “prize”, but the victory is short-lived when he is ordered by the Queen to offer Kaye up as a sacrifice for the Tithe. He has no choice in the matter. However, he does offer Kaye the means to escape, by whispering a riddle to her before she is chained up and ready to be killed. “What belongs to you, yet others use it more than you?”

I’ve read this book a few times, and while I’ve forgotten some details, I know what happens. Kaye’s obviously going to get out; if she got killed here, then there wouldn’t need to be around a hundred pages in the book after this. Even if you haven’t read Tithe before, it’s not hard to figure out that Kaye escapes somehow.

All that said, the build up to the sacrifice is written really well. She’s scared and struggling to get away, even if she knows that someone is supposed to come and save her. There’s a lot of tension, especially when Kaye realizes that Nephamael isn’t going to stop the sacrifice, as she was led to believe. Just when all hope seems lost, she calls Roiben’s name and orders him to free her, and he has no choice but to obey.

What follows was a huge turning point not just for the story, but the Unseelie Court and solitary fae. Not only was the ritual left uncompleted, Roiben kills the Unseelie Queen. Kaye’s glamour is also stripped away from her – somehow, it isn’t explained why – so Roiben knows that she is actually a pixie. Kaye also realizes that Roiben never had any intention of leaving alive, and was more than willing to fight to his death to release her. She saves his life by commanding him to leave with her.

This chapter also shows us Nephamael and Corny, and what’s most striking about this is the difference between their relationship and Kaye’s and Roiben’s. When he’s near Nephamael, Corny acts like he’s drugged. He’s turned into a toy for the amusement of the fae, and at the same time spoiled by Nephamael. Even the way Nephamael talks to Corny shows ownership and control, calling him things like “pet”.

Roiben’s self-loathing isn’t a great platform to build a relationship on, but he is willing to die for Kaye’s freedom. She’s still a person to him, which is more than Corny is to Nephamael.

Before I end this post, there is one more question I have. Since Kaye’s a changeling, would her real parents have given her a fae name that others could command her with? And if she does have one, how would she ever find out what it is?

 

Tithe 9: Roiben’s a Jerk

This chapter is full of things that I griped about in Chapter 7 and Chapter 8. This time, however, they’re a bit more justified. This chapter starts from Kaye’s perspective when she meets with the Unseelie queen, and we get to see what being enchanted is like. It makes Kaye feel dopey, but also devoted to the queen, and willing to do anything for her. After agreeing to take part in the Tithe, she is given to Roiben to prepare her for the ceremony. At this point the POV changes to Roiben’s, which I’m actually okay with, because Kaye isn’t lucid enough to make sense of what’s happening around her.

Roiben takes Kaye to his chambers to prepare her for the Tithe, and they have a normal conversation for the first time in the whole book. Every other time they’ve met, Kaye was either saving his life, or commanding him. Here, they just talk about the fae world and books, but without violence or drama.

In retrospect, it strikes me as a little odd that this budding romance so far has been based on Kaye having all the power in their relationship. But it is YA, so that’s to be expected.

The conversation takes a sharp left turn towards Creepytown when Roiben kisses Kaye. At this point, though, she’s still charmed, much like Corny was in the previous chapter. It’s as though she’s drunk, but also programmed to want to please him and the queen. Roiben has a few misgivings about kissing Kaye at first, but he rationalizes them away fairly quickly.

Charmed. He was kissing a charmed girl. [. . .] He wondered what exactly she might think of when her mind was better disposed toward the contemplation of such things. But then, his mind whispered, tomorrow would never come to her, would it? There was only now and if he wanted to kiss her, well, it was only kissing.

Soon after Kaye does give permission to continue kissing her, and Roiben thinks that the enchantment on her has expired. And since we know that Kaye has a crush on him, she was probably fine with it from the start.

What I don’t like about this scene is similar to the problems I had in the previous chapter, which is, of course, consent. It’s more of a gray area here, but what bothers me most is Roiben’s rationalization. He sounds so entitled, that because Kaye’s going to die the next day, he can do whatever he wants with her. That she wants the same thing is almost an afterthought.

To be honest, I really don’t like Roiben much. I don’t see a lot of redeeming qualities in him. What made him attractive to me when I was a teenager was that he was tall, dark, and brooding. But now his self-loathing and constant angst is annoying, and to be honest, I can’t help but wish he would kind of grow up.

She was gazing at the Queen with adoration with an adoration that sickened him. Was that how he had once looked at the Seelie Queen when he had vowed himself to her? He remembered that when his Bright Lady had but once glanced at one of her knights, it was as if the sun shone for that knight alone. His own oath to her had been so easy to say, all the promises he had wanted to make wrapped into those formalized phrases. And he was still doing her bidding now, wasn’t he? He wondered again as he stared into Kaye’s face, as she waited happily for him to betake her into the sunless caverns of the Unseelie palace and pretty her up for her murder, just what was worth the pain of this.

He doesn’t want to see Kaye sacrificed, but even in these critical moments, he’s focusing on his pain, rather than hers. Roiben has every right to be self-loathing, to be depressed. But I feel that by focusing on that right now, he’s missing the bigger picture, and the bigger evil that’s occurring here. He’s focusing on himself rather than Kaye’s impending murder, and uses it as justification to do what he wants with her. Because if she’s going to die tomorrow, it doesn’t matter what she wants.

Tithe 8: Ick.

This chapter of Tithe is all about control.

It starts with Corny waking up outside the Unseelie Court,  He doesn’t really remember the night, just bits and pieces. But he does know one thing: he spent the night with Nephamael,  evidenced by the long scratches on his arms, left from Nephamael’s thorn-lined cloak.

After reading this chapter, I tried to remember what my fourteen-year-old self thought about this. It didn’t really bother me that Corny was gay, but I was trying pretty damn hard to pretend that he and Nephamael hadn’t gone further than making out. I wasn’t homophobic, but rather, scared of sex. I think this was largely due to my time spent in Catholic school, where sex-ed was taught in our religion classes, and we learned that only whores have sex before marriage. The idea of even fictional characters having pre-marital sex made me uncomfortable, so I wanted to believe it didn’t happen.

Some fifteen years later my abstinence-only values have changed, but Corny’s night with Nephamael still makes me uncomfortable for one reason: consent.

There’s a lot of ambiguity when it comes to Corny’s night with Nephamael. Corny clearly enjoyed the night, but he was also very, very drunk. There are also hints that he’d been enchanted by Nephamael. So, even though Corny wouldn’t have really been able to consent, and barely remembers the night, he’s happy with the outcome. I’ve tried a few times to articulate how I feel about the situation, how nothing is really clear, but I can’t really sum it up any better than this: I feel icky.

Nephamael holds all the power of Corny, whereas Kaye sets out to give Kenny his agency back. Remember Kenny? Kaye’s been thinking about him as much as the reader, which is to say, not at all.

She suddenly understood why she had let him kiss her in the diner, why she had wanted him at all.

She wanted to control him.

He was every arrogant boyfriend that had treated her mother badly. He was every boy that told her she was too freaky, who had laughed at her, or just wanted her to shut up and make out. He was a thousand times less real than Roiben.

Kaye does release him from her enchantment, but not before humiliating him in front of his classmates. It amuses her for awhile, until she realizes what she’s doing. After, she slinks off, angry and scared of herself for acting like…well, like a faerie.

The chapter ends with Kaye formally meeting Nephamael, and she discovers that he had enchanted Lloyd in the prologue to attack her mother. He restores her original glamour that will keep her disguised as a mortal. Soon after, she is whisked away, off to the Unseelie Court once again, and on to the main event: the Tithe itself.

Tithe 7: The Unseelie Court

At the end of the previous chapter, Kaye found her way into the Unseelie Court, and told Corny to stay behind because it wouldn’t be safe for him. She acknowledges, at least, that it’s probably also not safe for her, either. I’m really trying to find a way to justify Kaye’s impulse trip to the Unseelie Court, which is underneath a hill in a local cemetery. I can understand curiosity to a point, considering how much trouble it got her into when she removed her glamour. I’d like to say it’s some kind of fae instinct for her to seek out the dangerous unknown, rather than just checking it out to add plot points.

At first the Court is shown as something grand and wild, with strange beings and tantalizing foods. But Kaye soon learns that it’s dangerous as well, where “the worst of Faeryland came to drink themselves sick.” Kaye realizes that coming here was a bad idea when she sees a satyr pulling wings off a faerie. She also tries – and fails – to save a boy from being tortured. And Holly Black doesn’t skip on the gore. I thought I’d have hardened up a bit about this kind of thing lately, but I still flinched at the description of a nameless character getting stabbed in the eye, which then pops like a grape.

Kaye tries to retrace her steps and find her way out. Instead, she stumbles over a very drunk Corny, who’s followed her, against advisement. When he tells her that he’s seen Roiben, Kaye leaves Corny to spy on the faerie knight.

Kaye has every intention of going back to Corny when she’s done, but I’m not okay with her leaving him in the first place. If my friend is really drunk at a bar and a hot guy walks in, I do not go to the hot guy. I help my friend get home, and try to make eye contact with the hot guy on the way out. I don’t leave my drunk friend by herself, even if we’re regulars in the bar, even if we know the area well, even if she would probably be safe walking home.

Kaye knows the Unseelie Court is dangerous and has seen first-hand the viciousness of its inhabitants. It’s obvious that anything weak would be seen as a toy, something to destroy for amusement. A vulnerable, wasted human is a prime target. One of the complaints I’ve heard about Tithe is that the characters are too perfect, but Kaye is well and truly selfish for seeking out Roiben – who did not treat her well last time they met – over helping her friend.

Kaye finds a place to hide herself so she can overhear Roiben’s conversation with Nicnevin, the queen of the Unseelie Court. Here the point of view abruptly shifts from Kaye to Roiben. POV shifts can be really compelling, or become a crutch for the story. Since the story followed Kaye’s perspective so far, the change is rather jarring. Moreover, it’s unnecessary. Kaye overhears the conversation that Roiben has with the queen perfectly, so we’re not missing much by leaving out Roiben’s viewpoint. The main reason for the POV change was so the audience can see Roiben’s angsty inner thoughts. It shows us that even though he’s working for and evil faerie queen, he still has kindness left in him.

Except we don’t really need to get inside his head to know that. It doesn’t take a genius to see  that he loathes working for Nicnevin, judging by Kaye’s first two encounters with him. We can also see that Roiben’s retained some of his compassion when he helps Kaye sneak away before the queen sees her, when other fae would be more than happy to make an “example” of her.

The only new information we gain from the perspective change is the introduction of another character, Nephameal. Nephamael is Roiben’s counterpart in the Seelie Court. Originally Nicnevin’s knight, he and Roiben changed places as part of a truce between the two Courts. And Nephamael has “villain” written all over him. He wears a cape lined with thorns and an iron circlet, which has burned his skin around his forehead. What is that about? Is this fae self-harm? Is it for intimidation? What is Nephamael’s deal, exactly?

Spoiler: We never really learn, and I’m kind of bummed about it.