I have to admit my bias: I've only read three - well, four now - of Holly Black's books, but I am a huge fan of her writing. From what I've seen on Goodreads, it's not a universal opinion, but I'm thoroughly enchanted by her style. Her words have this incredible ability to set a mood, to create scenes so vividly that I can see them in my head, and they're magical.
There are scenes I remember of Tithe quite vividly, and they're lovely. Tithe itself has more of a feeling, more of a mood in my memories, and has made more of an impression on me than any ten of the other blandanormal romances I've read lately. Which is why it's really sad for me to have to say that atmosphere and a lyrical style are pretty much the only things Tithe has strongly in its favor.
Tithe has a couple of major problems, the first of which being that very little besides Kaye gets developed. While I don't expect Black to flesh out every single character that gets a name, I do expect to know more about characters who a) figure pretty heavily into the plot, and b) are important to Kaye herself, and whose actions or ultimate fates have an emotional impact on her. As such, the lack of development of characters like Janet, Gristle, Lootie, and Spike confuse the Hell out of me.
Take the faeries, for instance - until they show up to bring Kaye into their scheme, we see absolutely nothing of them. Kaye mentions them - at first in a passing way that led me to believe that they were brought up only to establish that she has always had contact with faeries - but then they're given names and identities, and Kaye tries to contact them in increasingly desperate ways as she is drawn further into the world of the fae. Black builds them up as significant characters and important allies that Kaye will need to guide her in her journey, and then doesn't deliver. It takes a while to even meet these characters, and once we do, they do almost nothing to endear themselves to the reader. One of the trio is dead, and neither of the others talk or takes part in the action a whole lot. They show very little affection towards Kaye, and after one scene in which they make a big reveal and partially set up the story's conflict, they completely disappear for the bulk of it, They aren't guides, they aren't really allies, they're barely even present at all.
Adding to the issue is the fact that much of the plot hinges on Kaye's relationship with these faeries; she agrees to help them, she trusts them, because they used to be friends. When they betray her, it's shocking to Kaye because they used to be so close. But we never get a feel for this relationship, and thus we never feel any connection to these characters, because we almost never see them interact. It feels like part of the book is missing, almost, and the story is worse off for it. It's not enough for things to just mean something to Kaye. If we'd gotten, say, even just a few more flashbacks of Kaye's time with the faeries from her perspective, we would have been better able to relate to Kaye as she faces the reality of these figures that were so important to her in her happy childhood. It could have meant something to us. But we don't; all we get is Kaye's vague but frequent description of these faeries as "friends", so we don't know who they are or what to expect, and thus don't feel things the way we should as they play their roles in the story.
Janet, at least, appears, and has some relationship-establishing scenes with Kaye, but that relationship is not given nearly enough depth or emotional weight to justify any kind of emotional reaction from the reader to Janet's ultimate fate. She's a fairly one-note character, and she and Kaye may as well have been casual acquaintances (rather than childhood friends) for all the regard Kaye seemed to show her. It's fine if she's just there to cause conflict, I suppose, but really, to justify the kind of melt-down Kaye has to her fate, she should have at least seemed to like her a little more.
What's worse is Kaye's relationship with Designated Love Interest Roiban. It's not that I didn't believe they had feelings for each other - Black very vividly and believably captured that - it's just that i never understood why...
Read more at You're Killing.Us