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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Blood-Thirsty Fairies And An Over-Complicated Plot

Tithe (The Modern Faerie Tales, #1) - Holly Black, Greg Spalenka

Kaye's mother, Ellen, is a singer in a rock band so parental discipline is lax to say the least. Kaye hasn't been to school for years. She's used to doing what she likes. But when one of the other group members tries to stab Ellen, that's the end of the band and the end of Kaye's life on the road. She and her mother go to live with her grandmother and that's where the adventure starts.

As a child, growing up with her grandmother Kaye had had fairy friends which her regular friends dismissed as imaginary. But now the faries return and bring with them the news that Kaye is really a pixie changeling. While Kaye's digesting this news they also present her with a complicated plan. There are two fairy courts, the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court. There's also a third group of fairies, the Solitary Fey. The Solitary Fey are required to present a human sacrifice, known as a tithe, to the Unseelie Court every seven years. They want Kaye to volunteer to be the sacrifice. They assure her it's only nominal not actual. She won't be hurt. The point of this manoeuvre is that when the Unseelie Court discover the victim they'e accepted isn't really human the sacrifice will be invalidated rendering the Solitary Fey free for the next seven years. Rather inexplicably, Kaye agrees to this deal, only to be nearly fatally double-crossed. The sacrifice was not nominal after all. Kaye ends up manacled and about to have her throat cut by a lot of blood-thirsty faries. She's saved only by her own quick wits and an enchantingly hunky fairy knight called Roiben.

The plot of this novel is incredibly complicated and I had difficulty getting it straight in my head. For a long time I thought it must be a sequel and that I needed to read its predecessor to understand it. But there is no predecessor. This is Holly Black's first novel. So perhaps it's understandable that it's not as polished as her later work.

There are some very good aspects to the writing. The description in particular is wonderfully detailed and highly effective and there are some splendid set pieces. But the romance is a bit laboured for my taste (though perhaps not for a teenage girl who is, after all, the target audience) and the twists and turns of the story are undoubtedly over-engineered. Nevertheless, you can see flashes of the writer Holly Black will become.

Warning: despite the rather young cover to my edition, this is definitely a book for Young Adults rather than children. There's some graphic violence as well as sexual content.