Tithe Prologue + Chap. 1: Me At 14

The newest book in the line-up is Tithe by Holly Black, and I’m approaching it with a little trepidation. Because I really liked Tithe, and I hope by the end of this read-through, I can continue liking it.

This is an important book for me, and that may partially be because the main character and I share the same name: Kaye. Even now, I get a small thrill from seeing my name printed in a book. But more than that, I consider Tithe my introduction to YA fiction. There’s magic, violence, romance, with an edgy teen girl taking the lead. This was my window into urban fantasy, and epigraphs, two things that I came to love. Tithe was easily one of the most influential books when it came to my own fiction writing in adolescence and young adulthood.

After I bought Tithe, I was so excited to get into it that I actually read the prologue. Before this, I’d always thought that a prologue was like an introduction to a book, written by some distinguished author about how great the book is. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a prologue is actually part of the story, and I read prologues from there on out. So you could say Holly Black introduced me to prologues as well.

The book opens with our protagonist, Kaye Fierch, a sixteen-year-old who travels with her mother’s band. At the end of a show, one of the band members attempts to stab Kaye’s mom. Kaye stops him, and she and her mother decide to go to New Jersey, where our story kicks off.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get as sucked into the prologue as I did when I first read this. The intrigue isn’t there, and the near-stabbing was written very matter-of-factly, so it’s not terribly thrilling the second time around. I was worried that the first chapter – and the rest of the book – would be disappointing.

I was wrong on that count. At least, regarding the first chapter. It opens with Kaye and her friend Janet on a beach in New Jersey, and there’s some decent foreshadowing here. It’s mentioned how the city always smells like iron, and she always had the stinging taste of metal in her throat. The real meaning of this becomes apparent later in the book, when Kaye discovers her Otherworldly roots.

It also sent me back to a more innocent time, when I was fourteen and reading Tithe for the first time. At one point, Janet tells Kaye, “your hair’s fucked up.” I was a fairly voracious reader, but that was the first time I had ever read “fuck” in one of my books. I was so startled (and a bit giggly) that I had to show it to my mom, who scoffed. I think she had a couple second thoughts about me reading this.

It brought me back to just being fourteen, how much I loved to run when the wind was blowing hard, and getting so wound up and “high on life” just by a lively environment around me. I was the kid who danced in the rain during wild thunderstorms, who would have stuck my head out of car windows to feel the wind if my mom had let me. I loved to go fast, to feel wild and alive.

She was giddy with night air, burning like the white-hot moon. Everything smelled wet and feral like it did before a thunderstorm, and she wanted to run, swift and eager, beyond the edge of what she could see.

That, and Kaye and Janet aren’t really on the same page. They’re still friends, but Janet doesn’t really “get” Kaye. While Janet is worried about Kaye meeting boys, Kaye wants to swim naked in the ocean and look for incubi. They have completely different priorities, and the only reason they’re friends now is out of habit.

My best friend in high school didn’t really “get” me, either. We loved each other, but we would get wound up over things that the other wouldn’t care about in the slightest. The last time I saw her in person was years ago, and we realized that the only thing we had in common anymore was the past. So many people I grew up with were friends out of habit, and comfort. In college, I was stunned when I realized that my friends were my friends because they liked me, not just because we’d gone to school together for ten years.

Kaye and Janet leave the beach to meet Janet’s friends at an abandoned carousel on the boardwalk. This is a setting that I love. The carousel house is broken and disarrayed, a place that used to be bright and joyful now a place for teenagers to break into and drink. As Kaye explores it further, she discovers a beautiful carousel horse that had been left behind because its legs were shattered. It’s a place full of grit and hopelessness, but there’s a hidden beauty in it. It’s a good summary for the whole story: the blue-collar backdrop, the dangerous but enchanting realm of the faeries.

While exploring, Kaye thinks about her imaginary faerie friends she had when she was a kid, before moving to Philadlpheia with her mom.

But they never came when she was in Philadelphia. And now she was sixteen and felt like she had no imagination left.

That second sentence is…haunting. I’ve talked a bit about imagination and growing up in my read through of The Magician’s Nephew, but mainly in the context of keeping it alive once we’re no longer children. Here is something different: the loss of just that. Like the day you pick up your toys and find that the magic was gone, and the stories you told with them were meaningless. When you come to see that your toys were just plastic, there’s no secret world in your wardrobe or monsters under your bed. That you look at the world around you, and understand that there are no secrets left to uncover.

It’s something that I’ve been worrying about for a long time: if everything I write is just parroted from a better author, if I have no original ideas. If everything has been done before, what’s left for me to create? How do I repeat the same ideas and make them mine?

That feeling doesn’t go away when you mature. It only grows, and reminds you that you’re running out of time.

…That got grim.

As I mentioned, the carousel is where Kaye meets Janet’s friends, who have gathered to drink and smoke. I was a pretty straitlaced kid, and I grew up to be a pretty straitlaced adult. I used to think that Janet and her friends were just bad kids for drinking and smoking. And while I can’t say I approve of sixteen-year-olds drinking bourbon, there are so much worse things they could be doing. No, it’s not good, but it’s still better than doing harder drugs or crimes other than drinking underage. Even if it’s not a good trait to have, it’s normal for some teenagers to drink and smoke underage. Since I’ve gotten older, I have a new definition of “bad”, and underage drinking doesn’t even crack the top 10 of “worst things you can do”.

Kaye wanders away from Janet’s friends, and without knowing it, performs magic by making a broken carousel horse stand on its own. She is caught by Janet’s boyfriend, Kenny. He takes a chance to cop a feel, causing Kaye’s shirt to rip when she stumbles, shocked.

Janet spots this, and she immediately goes after Kenny. She doesn’t accuse Kaye of trying to steal her boyfriend, but rushes in to defend her friend against someone that she loves, someone she’s devoted to.

I didn’t think about this much when I first read Tithe. Because, obviously, my friends would be at my side in that unlikely scenario. But I’ve learned a lot more about the world since then. I’ve learned about victim blaming and women who tear other women down. I’ve had my own #MeToo story. Janet was never my favorite character, but she did exactly the right thing here.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Some time ago, I did a review for An Ember in the Ashes, with a one-sentence review for each chapter. I had a lot of fun with it, so I thought I would bring a similar format (with a couple added sentences) back for Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krüeger. Spoilers ahead.

The novel follows Bailey Chen, a recent college graduate ready to flex her new business degree. She’s not exactly taking Chicago by storm, though, instead working as a lowly barback in The Nightshade Lounge, owned by her best friend’s uncle. While closing up the bar one night, she discovers that cocktails, when made exactly right, grant the drinker magical abilities. Bartenders, like her friend Zane, imbibe these drinks to fight off monsters called tremens, demons that prey on drunks. Bailey eventually joins the ranks of the bartenders, mixing magical drinks and fighting demons while navigating her career and the politics of Cupbearer’s Court.

Last Call is a fun romp through Chicago, and there’s plenty of humor throughout the book. There’s some funny and self-aware moments that really made me smile. Some of the jokes do fall flat, particularly the character Bucket’s Canadian pride. The gag goes on so long that “Canadian” becomes Bucket’s one and only character trait, culminating into the reveal that his van has a huge Canadian flag on the side. I wanted to laugh at this, but after 90 or so pages of Canadian jokes, it just got old.

I was a little wary about a female protagonist being written by a male author, because it’s not uncommon for men to write women very poorly. This could be anything from oversexualizing female characters, having goals that only center around men, being a ditzy doormat, or just being a boring badass. (If you really want some entertaining examples, search “describe yourself like a male author would” on Twitter). I was pleased that I didn’t encounter any of these pitfalls. Bailey’s smart, ambitious, and she’s not afraid to take risks to do what she thinks is right. She makes mistakes and has to learn from them. Ultimately, her tenacity is what lets her triumph over her supernatural and mundane adversities.

The love triangle was far more problematic for me. Bailey develops a crush on Zane, who she had hooked up with once shortly after her high school graduation. Zane, however, has already found love with his fellow bartender, Mona. Mona is serious and quiet, and…that’s about it. The problem with this love triangle is that it doesn’t challenge the reader. The story structure is pretty predictable, so we can already guess that Bailey and Zane will end up together. What solidifies this, even before the end of the book, is just how boring Mona is. She’s great at killing demons, but she doesn’t share any of the characters’ excitement, or their interest for making a legendary Long Island Ice Tea. Mona had the potential to be a really intriguing character, but just ends up being flat and dull.

Because Mona is so boring and at times downright unlikable, there’s no reason for the reader to want to see her stay with Zane. The love triangle is cut and dry. We all know how it ends long before Bailey and Zane kiss.

Overall, though, Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge is a fun, light read, for anyone who likes cocktails and magic.

Now, the (mostly) one-sentence chapter breakdown!

Prologue: Is the cop going to show up again, or is this just in media res for no reason?

Chapter 1: The writing is actually funny, if a bit predictable.

Chapter 2: Hooray, the main character knows what the audience should have already known just by reading the back of the book.

Chapter 3: It’s moving pretty simply so far: Call to Adventure, Meeting with the Mentor and now answering the Call to Adventure.

Chapter 4: I’m hoping that the love triangle becomes somewhat more interesting, but I’m not holding my breath.

Chapter 5: Finally, we get to see Bailey fail at something!

Chapter 6: I’ll forgive the kiss because adrenaline makes us do crazy things, but I really doubt Bailey hasn’t seen Zane since high school.

Chapter 7: Good, an escape from the love triangle.

Chapter 8: The author does a good job making sure that Bucket being transgender is no big deal, but never stops reminding you that he’s Canadian.

Chapter 9: Okay, this was pretty awesome.

Chapter 10: How does Zane make the leap from “we just fought off an army” to “we need to make the alcoholic version of a philosopher’s stone”?

Chapter 11: The stuff at Bailey’s interview is funny, but could the book yell, “these guys are douchebags” any louder?

Chapter 12: I don’t know if I should complain about Mona’s blandness here, or the obvious foreshadowing that she’s probably immortal.

Chapter 13: Man, it’s awfully convenient that the person trying to brew the McGuffin is giving Bailey a job interview.

Chapter 14: Vincent’s my favorite, but being the mentor character, he’s about to get written off.

Chapter 15: YOU KILLED THE DOG?!

Chapter 16: Curious how Vincent thinks Bailey stabbed Bowie in the back by…using what he taught her to accidentally stumble on a devastating secret that will get people killed if she doesn’t do anything about it?

Chapter 17: I want to appreciate the Sailor Moon reference in this chapter, but Tuxedo Mask doesn’t wear an actual tuxedo. He wears a white dinner suit, which is one of the many reasons why Tuxedo Mask is just the worst.*

Chapter 18: Oh no, whoever thought the boring, stoic, and mysterious Mona would be the bad guy. Gasp.

Chapter 19: After watching Bailey kick ass throughout the book, she needs to get saved by someone at the last minute.

Chapter 20: Oh my God, Bucket. You’re Canadian. We get it.

*This is the most pedantic thing I’ve ever written, but seriously. Get your shit together, Tuxedo Mask.