Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series begins with Tithe. I bought a copy of it some years ago for my niece, thinking there was just enough swearing and sexual tension to incite an interest in reading.

(That wasn’t entirely successful, but I did quite enjoy reading it myself. Not that I ever buy books as presents for others that I really want for myself. Nope.)

It could be that the chapter epigraphs put her off. It opens with one from A.E. Housman: “And malt does more than Milton can / To justify God’s ways to man.” Quite likely the significance of ‘malt’ was overlooked.

Theodore Roethke, Oscar Wilde, Czeslaw Milosz, Arthur Rimbaud, John Milton: these are fancy quotes for a YA novel. If I’d read Tithe as a teenager, I likely would have glossed over those.

But as an adult reader, they lend a sense of credibility to the work; these realms of faerie exist alongside Oscar Wilde’s tales of nightingales and giants, alongside Milton’s justifications.

At Kaye’s age, I would have found her a charming and daring heroine.

She is 16-years-old and has left school to work in a restaurant to bring home a regular wage, which her mother’s music “career” hasn’t managed to do. She has a network of friends who hang out in an abandoned amusement park, which somehow seems more romantic than destructive. And she sees things that nobody else believes that she can see. (These qualities along would have won her over, but there’s more: trust me.)

But the world of Kate’s school delinquency and restaurant work is not the world that fills the pages of Tithe. The world that Kaye inhabits is not the world that we average readers know.

“They passed by orchards of trees, white as bone and heavy with purple fruit. They passed through caverns of quartz and opal. They passed through rows of doors, each with a different face carved on it. Above it all, the ceiling shimmered with a distant light.”

And it’s not really that world either, and it’s not really the New Jersey part of the world either. It’s this one:

“Sharp claws bit into her wrists while bat and bird and insect wings moved with less noise than sheets drying on a line. They flew through the streets invisibly.”

(Sorry, I have to interrupt here: that’s a nice touch, isn’t it? The bit about the sheets? The language is mostly straightforward in this book, with the odd snippet like this one. And, now, back to the darkness.)

” She screamed, but it seemed that they moved between this world and the next because no one looked up and no one spoke and no one did more than shiver, maybe, or twitch a little as a horde of monsters vaulted through the skies above them.”

Tithe is a dark tale, in which Kaye discovers unexpected (and not readily like-able) parts of herself and realizes that the list of folks she can trust is getting shorter every day.

Sure, there’s something “different” about Kaye, but that’s the kind of thing that many 16-year-olds can relate to, that sense of being alone even when you’re surrounded.

Have you read this series? Or another of Holly Black’s many works?