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 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.