Tithe - Holly Black 4 1/2 stars

Tithe's inner blurb states that it is a young adult fantasy tale written by a brand new author with an exciting and imaginative voice and, for a change, the raves are true! If you're into darker edged fantasy, where the faeries are more likely to wound tender flesh than sprinkle one with faery dust, where sex, violence and various debaucheries are all part of a typical day in the faery kingdom, then do yourself a favor and buy a copy of Tithe. It's the perfect book to chase away the mid-winter blahs. Big thanks to Preeti, my reader friend ... for bringing this deliciously dark book to my attention.
Kaye is a tough, resourceful, street smart sixteen year old. As the daughter of a flighty, small-time rock singer who rarely stays in one place for more than six months at a time Kaye's life has been filled with chaos. When her mother is attacked after a performance she decides to temporarily move them back into her mother's home. As a child, Kaye loved living in her grandmother's old house and believed she had faery friends.

Kaye has always been able to see things other cannot but it's not until she returns to her grandmother's home that she begins to discover exactly how different she is. In the woods Kaye meets an injured young man with pewter hair and pointy ears named Roiben who requests her help, reluctantly promises her payment and then quickly disappears. Though Kaye refuses to be anything like her worthless mother and will never pine away after a man she can't seem to get thoughts of Roiben out of her head.

Soon after the weird encounter with Roiben, Kaye discovers her imaginary world is not quite so imaginary after all. After locating two of her old faery friends she discovers that she is fated to play an important (and possibly deadly) role in helping her friends remain free from the warring faery kingdoms (the Seelie and the Unseelie) who want to enslave them. Kaye's somewhat unstable world becomes even more-so when she enters into a fantasy world filled with magic and dark beauty and the irresistible but terribly confusing dark knight named Roiben who may or may have not killed one of her friends.

Tithe is a real page-turner. I especially enjoyed its bleak, but never overwhelmingly depressing, look at life from a jaded sixteen year old point of view. Even before Kaye discovers the world of faery her world isn't that of your typical teenager. Because of her upbringing and lack of parental support she's got an edge about her that makes her refreshingly interesting. She smokes, talks tough, and holds her own against the flakey, ineffective adults and self-absorbed teens that inhabit her world. Though she's self-reliant and insightful she's still a teenager prone to emotion, moments of selfishness and wicked thoughts of revenge. Her faults, as well as her strengths, are the reason I enjoyed her character so much. Her conflicted feelings for Roiben -- is he tortured hero or cold-hearted fiend? -- are also another fascinating aspect of the story. Their emerging romance manages to be sensual, touching and anything but the same-old, same-old. If you're tired of angelic, nauseatingly good heroes and heroines don't worry because you won't find any here!

Though I enjoyed this book thoroughly I did spot a few minor problems (sorry, I can't shut off the nitpicker inside me). With the exception of Kaye, nearly all of the secondary characters aren't given enough space to become very well defined. This is one case where I think a longer book may have made for a near perfect book (and I almost never say such things). Kaye's troubled friend Corny and especially Roiben would've benefited from more space to become fully fleshed out characters. I guess we can hold out hope for a prequel all about Roiben. There is also some troublesome dialogue here and there that needed a little tweaking. At times I felt like I'd walked in on the middle of a conversation and missed a sentence or two somewhere along the way. Other times I felt like the characters must be reading each others minds because their dialogue made little sense to me. Despite this the story moves very quickly, is imaginative, entertaining and I wish it hadn't had to end quite so soon. I cannot wait to see what author Holly Black comes up with next.

With its adult language, sexuality, violence and alcohol consumption "Tithe" reads more like an adult novel featuring young protagonists and because of this I'd recommend it for the "older" young adult ...