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 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 4: Enchantment? Enchantment!

The fourth chapter of Tithe remains mostly in the mundane world, but here we get a second look at Janet’s older brother, Corny. The reader was introduced to him at the end of the first chapter, where he’s downright threatening.

Then he would drive around, cruise past all the local rutting joints, imagining he had a semi-automatic rifle in the car and counting how many he could have gotten. ‘Pow,’ he’d say, softly, to rolled-up windows as a brown-haired boy with broad shoulders and a backwards baseball cap ran up to the giggling girls behind the window of a red truck. ‘Pow. Pow.’

This reads very differently for me in 2018 than it did in 2004, years after Columbine but before Virginia Tech. Because in my life then, shootings happened, but they happened somewhere else. They weren’t at my school, and they weren’t at my doorstep.

But now it seems like we can’t turn on the news without hearing another story about gun violence, to the point where it’s almost become white noise. I was more innocent the first time I opened Tithe, and Corny’s introduction just seemed creepy to me. But now he’d be the “lone wolf”, the potential threat. I don’t find that to be true to his character at all, which makes his opening sequence all the more off-putting. Though it makes me wonder: if not for Kaye’s arrival, would he have eventually gone through with it? That idea alone is far scarier to me than any of the magical dangers Kaye faces.

Kaye doesn’t know about Corny’s inner life, though, and stops by his trailer to see him while Janet’s at school. Fourteen-year-old me immediately warmed up to him after he and Kaye discuss comics, especially because Corny references shonen-ai, gay romance manga. This is also how Kaye discovers that Corny is gay.

This is a trope I’ve seen a couple times, where a character is outed as gay because they have gay porn. And, because I saw this in fiction, I used to think that this was the main way people came out. I’d seen it done in Tithe, obviously, and the film Saved!, so I was curious if this trope had been used elsewhere. However, a poorly worded Google search left me with some…interesting results, and I decided not to delve in further.

Corny does have a spectacularly nerdy coming out story, though.

It’s no big deal. One night at dinner I said, ‘Mom, you know the forbidden love that Spock has for Kirk? Well, me too.’ It was easier for her to understand that way.

I want to point out here that until 2009, this was the only thing I knew about Star Trek.

Once Janet arrives home, she and Kaye go to a diner to meet some friends. There Kaye is peppered with questions about her mom being in a band, and one character asks if her mother sleeps with her boyfriends. I’m curious is if this was meant to be foreshadowing for Valiant, the second novel in the Tithe universe, in which the protagonist runs away after discovering her mom is doing just that.

Janet’s boyfriend, Kenny, leaves to use the bathroom and Kaye follows. Here it’s revealed that Kaye has done something to him, and that he can’t stop thinking about her. Kaye doesn’t know what she’s done, if anything, and soon Kenny starts kissing her. It gets sexual very quickly, and Kaye can’t decide if she wants to push him away or keep going. I’d forgotten all about this scene, and most of the Kenny subplot. Which is to say it took me by surprise, and was really uncomfortable to read through.

I’m not sure if it gets better or worse when Roiben comes into the diner, shortly after Janet catches Kenny and Kaye together. Kaye’s conversation with Roiben is one of the most important scenes in the book, as it sets up a major plot point not just for the end of Tithe, but its sequel, Ironside.

Kaye learns that Roiben did kill her faerie friend Gristle, because he was ordered to do so by his mistress. She doesn’t find out exactly why his mistress would order him to do that, but does wind up with a far more important piece of information: Roiben’s full name. She doesn’t know why faeries don’t like to give out their true names, only that it would piss him off. That is, until she tells him, “Kiss my ass, Rath Roiben Rye.”

After which he proceeds to throw her on the floor of the diner and literally kiss her ass.

It’s a little funny, and a little scary, and Kaye’s friends don’t know what’s going on. All they saw was Kaye kissing Kenny, then her getting thrown around by a stranger. Janet and her friend Fatima take the rather startled Kaye outside. Janet is furious at Kaye, and has every right to be. It’s such a change from her trying to protect Kaye at the beginning of the book. Granted, she just saw her best friend making out with her boyfriend. Most people wouldn’t react calmly and rationally to that. If I had been in Janet’s shoes, at age 16, I know I’d be calling her a slut and probably a lot more.

The thing that bothers me is that I’d probably react the same, even now. I’d like to think that once the initial shock is over, I’d be able to handle it with some nuance.

But I also know I wouldn’t take, “sorry, I accidentally enchanted your boyfriend” as an excuse.