Synopses & Reviews
When seventeen-year-old Valerie Russell runs away to New York City, she's trying to escape a life that has utterly betrayed her. Sporting a new identity, she takes up with a gang of squatters who live in the city's labyrinthine subway system.
But there's something eerily beguiling about Val's new friends. Impulsive Lolli talks of monsters in the subway tunnels they call home and shoots up a shimmery amber-colored powder that makes the shadows around her dance. Severe Luis claims he can make deals with creatures that no one else can see. And then there's Luis's brother, timid and sensitive Dave, who makes the mistake of letting Val tag along as he makes a delivery to a woman who turns out to have goat hooves instead of feet.
When a bewildered Val allows Lolli to talk her into tracking down the hidden lair of the creature for whom Luis and Dave have been dealing, Val finds herself bound into service by a troll named Ravus. He is as hideous as he is honorable. And as Val grows to know him, she finds herself torn between her affection for an honorable monster and her fear of what her new friends are becoming.
Bestselling author Holly Black follows her breakout debut, Tithe, with a rich, harrowing, and compulsively readable parable of betrayal, abuse, friendship, and love.
"When 17-year-old Valerie Russell finds her boyfriend having sex with her mother, she splits Jersey for Manhattan, takes in a Rangers game and falls in with some creepy homeless teens who live on an abandoned subway platform. They survive by rooting through trash, and shoot up to take the edge off their urine-scented, rat-infested existence. It isn't until Val realizes that they're shooting up faerie drugs that this unevenly paced companion to Black's debut novel, Tithe, takes off. Val joins her fellow squatters as a courier for the faerie healer Ravus, a troll who, in a Beauty-and-the-Beast-inspired twist, becomes Val's romantic interest while turning her skills with a lacrosse stick into prowess with a sword. But Val succumbs to addiction, siphoning Ravus's potion for personal thrills. When she finds one of the troll's customers (a mermaid) murdered, she gets caught in the internecine politics of rival faerie courts. Black draws on a grab bag of fairy and folk motifs to create a labyrinthine plot with a decidedly dark edge in a narrative rife with expletives. Val, though sympathetic, is not as memorable as Tithe's Kaye, and that book's fans may miss the trips into the enchanted faerie world. The squatters' actions spiral inexorably toward a death, but the victim turns out to be a cop-in a horrifying incident that is never mentioned again. The climax connects with the plot of Black's first novel, and fans of Tithe will probably stick with the long build-up to get to the exciting finish. Ages 14-up. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"As in...Tithe, the plot matters far less than the exotic, sexy undercurrents...the deliciously overripe writing, and the intoxicating, urban-gothic setting..." Booklist
"Val's story, while not the best of the genre, makes for a compelling, edgy read complete with faerie murders and shaven-headed heroines." Kirkus Reviews
"This dark fantasy includes drug use and strong language, but beneath its darkness readers find well-rendered characters, a gripping plot, and pure magic." School Library Journal
"[A] narrative by turns eloquent and crude, ethereal and gritty, a book that tempers childhood fairy tales with dysfunctional family issues, teen sex and substance abuse." Children's Literature
The New York Times bestselling author follows up her stunning debut Tithe with this rich, harrowing, and compulsively readable parable of betrayal, abuse, friendship, and love. In New York City, 17-year-old runaway Valerie Russell takes up with a gang of eerily beguiling squatters who live in the city's subway system.
About the Author
Holly Black's first book, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, was published in Fall 2002 to stellar reviews. She lives in West Long Branch, New Jersey, with her husband, Theo. Visit Holly on the World Wide Web at www.blackholly.com.
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Guide for TITHE, VALIANT, and IRONSIDE
By Holly Black
ABOUT THE BOOKS
Holly Black's first Young Adult novel, the urban fantasy/faerie tale Tithe, focuses on a sixteen-year-old girl named Kaye who is actually a pixie, only at first she doesn't know it. Kaye starts to piece together the strange story of her real identity when she and her mother return to the New Jersey town where she grew up, and Kaye comes in contact with the faeries she used to play with as a child and a wounded knight, Roiben, who will change her life forever. Black's second book, Valiant, picks up where Tithe leaves off, but follows a different girl -- a human named Val -- who catches her boyfriend and her mother in a compromising position and runs away from home. In New York City, Val hooks up with a strange group of homeless teens and joins them in living in an abandoned subway station. It's not long before Val learns that these teens are not like anyone she's ever met -- they work as couriers for a troll and come in contact with faeries on a regular basis. Ironside, Black's third book, returns readers to Kaye's story, beginning two months after the ending of Tithe. Roiben is about to take the throne of the Unseelie Court and there will undoubtedly be a war, but then Kaye makes a foolish declaration and is sent on an impossible quest. Luis and Dave from Valiant become an integral part of the story as Kaye is forced to visit Silarial, the Seelie queen, to try to save Roiben and herself.
How does Tithe compare with other fairy tale books you've read in the past? Did you like the modern setting?
If you were Kaye, what gift would you have given to the kelpie if the broken carousel horse had not been available?
What other orders would you have asked Rath Roiben Rye to carry out if you suddenly knew his full name? (Don't forget his skill of turning leaves into money!)
For New Jersey and New York readers: Name all of the real locations that were mentioned in the three books -- for example: Allaire State Park, CafÉ des Artistes, etc.
If you were able to choose, would you want to be a part of the Seelie court, the Unseelie court, the solitary fey, or the human world? Why?
At the end of Tithe, what do you imagine happened to Roiben and Kaye? Before you read the sequel, how did you feel about the ending of Tithe? Would you have ended the book differently?
Were you excited to see cameos by some of the characters from Tithe in Valiant?
Who is your favorite character from Valiant? Why? What qualities does this character possess that make him/her most interesting to you?
If Valiant was made into a movie, what current film or TV stars would you cast as Val, Lolli, Dave, Luis, Ravus and the others?
Put yourself in Lolli's shoes -- tell the story of Valiant from her point of view. What do you think happened to Lolli at the end of the book?
What did you think of the use of the faerie drug "Never" in the story? Did you think that the book showed enough of the downside of using drugs? If Dave had never taken the drug, how do you think his story would change? What about Lolli? Val?
We know that Kaye got her GED during the two months between the end of Tithe and the beginning of Ironside. What else do you think happened during this interim? How did Kaye cope with the loss of Janet, her mom moving away, her relationship with Roiben, etc.?
Ironside obviously takes place in December -- what are the clues that tell you what time of year it is?
If you were cursed like Corny, would you immediately get to the ocean to cure yourself or would you attempt to touch someone or something? Whom or what?
Do you think it was a mistake for Kaye to have the young human brought back to Ellen? Do you think the girl will grow up to be a normal person?
If you were in Kaye's position with no need for college and the ability to create a new life for yourself, what would you do? What do you think of Kaye's coffee shop plans and her idea of dividing her time between it and Roiben?
Which adventurous duo do you think had a more challenging or exciting task: Val and Luis going after Mabry for Ravus's heart or Kaye and Corny traveling to the Seelie Court to strike a deal with Silarial?
Should there be additional books in this series? How would the story continue? Which character besides Kaye or Val would you like to see explored in another book?
Were any of the quotes at the beginning of each chapter familiar to you? Choose a few of your favorites and discuss how they relate to what happened in the story at that point.
RESEARCH AND ACTIVITIES
Create a Tithe board game that follows Kaye's travels between the Seelie and Unseelie courts and the human world. Playing pieces can represent something about each character -- Kaye's purple cat suit, Roiben's long white hair, Corny's beat-up car, etc. Use obstacles like iron, thorns, ogres, and the Unseelie queen. Make minor characters part of the game (Janet, Kenny, Ellen) by detouring major players to save them from the kelpie. Be creative!
Make a clay sculpture, a painting, a drawing, or other piece of art of your favorite character from any of the books. What do you think they would actually look like?
Make an Unseelie feast! Re-create dishes that Kaye sees when she sneaks into the Unseelie court, then invent your own interesting recipes.
Write a spell for creating a glamour, then read it aloud to the group. Describe the new look you have created.
Choose your favorite scene and act it out in front of the group. If several people wish to be involved, choose a scene that features many characters. Make your performance as simple or as elaborate as you choose by adding costumes and props or just reading dialogue aloud from the book.
Assuming that Kaye's grandmother lives in Long Branch, New Jersey, get an atlas and map out the route that Kaye and Corny (and later, Luis) took during the course of their travels in Ironside.
Design your own sword -- either patterned after the glass one Ravus used to teach Val how to fight or one of your own creation. Draw a detailed picture of your design.