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.