Series Review: The Modern Faerie Tales

September 27, 2019


All I really knew about Tithe before I dove into it was that it was Holly Black’s first novel that featured the world of Faerie and individuals tied to that world. While I did like it (for the most part anyway, though like does feel like a pretty strong word to use in conjunction with this book), Tithe certainly did not age well. And I’m not just saying that based on the fashion choices (which were… something) or the writing (which points clearly to this being Black’s first published work)! There’s just something about this novel’s essence that rings reminiscent of other such stories published during the early 2000s, especially in terms of the actual plot and the pacing, and that’s not something that necessarily appeals me these days (unless I have an established nostalgic attachment to the story). One thing I didn’t expect was that so much of this story takes place Ironside (or in the human world, basically), and I must confess to not enjoying those parts as much as the moments we get to spend within the world of Faerie itself (which is just as cruel and confusing and mesmerizing as it is in the Folk of the Air trilogy). I didn’t particularly love any of the characters (except perhaps Roiben, though he’s not in this nearly enough), and I found some of the wording regarding race and sexuality cringey. Still, it ended up being an interesting reading experience and while I don’t think I’d return to it, I am glad to be able to cross it off my reading list. 

Valiant, while still having ties to its predecessor (in a very minimal way), is more of a companion novel because it follows a different main character (Valerie), who runs away from a messed up situation in her real life to New York City where she falls in with folks who reveal that faeries and magic are, in fact, real. I don’t know that I can say that I liked this story, as it has a lot of questionable content that isn’t necessarily my cup of tea (including cheating, drugs and violence). It certainly felt more compelling than Tithe, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that I had a better idea of what to expect from this series and because of the setting. The plot is nothing new, the vibe matches the gritty darkness that I now expect of this series and the characters were interesting enough to read about while I was reading. But even though this did manage to hold my attention a little more, it’s ultimately not going to be a book that stays with me. 


And then, we have Ironside, the series finale that is basically a sequel to Tithe, as readers will be catching up with Kaye and Roiben. They both happen to be in unique positions after all that’s occurred to them and must now deal with the consequences (including a potential war between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts). Ironside is my favorite book in this trilogy, and it’s in large part because it’s set primarily in the world of Faerie. Holly Black’s portrayal of the Faerie world continues to be well-done, filled with whimsy, wonder, danger and cruelty in a compelling way. I also really like that there’s a quest aspect to this story, since that’s usually my jam when it comes to fantasy reads. Unfortunately, the actual execution of said quest feels too simple and contrived. The resolution also felt extremely rushed and a little too happily-ever-after (especially considering the grittiness and darkness of the set-up in all the books) for my tastes. Still, of all three books, this is the one that I enjoyed the most overall and if I had to reread any of the books, this would be the one! 

I didn’t end up loving the Modern Faerie Tales trilogy as much as I’d hoped to, but I’m glad I finally got around to reading them. It was really interesting to see how much of a difference there is now in Holly Black’s writing, as well as learning more about some characters who do show up in the Folk of the Air trilogy and reading a Faerie story that was more primarily set in the human world than in Faerie. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to read this series, nor would I particularly recommend it, but I’m glad I got to share this experience with everyone who picked it up with us for #FaerieAThon (and particularly my co-hosts Jane, Kristin and Melanie). 


Oh, and P.S., there is a short story in the new version of the Modern Faerie Tales bind-up called The Lament of Lutie-Loo. It was a nice little look at Lutie-Loo, a very minor character we first meet in Tithe, and an adventure she goes on that just might involve a few familiar faces. I enjoyed this short story way more than I enjoyed the trilogy, if that’s any indication of how delightful it was, and I would recommend checking it out if you can! 

Tithe was originally released on October 1, 2002 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. 
Valiant was originally released on June 1, 2005 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. 
Ironside was originally released on April 24, 2007 from Margaret K. McElderry Books.
The Modern Faerie Tales (a bind-up) was released on June 4, 2019 from Margaret K. McElderry Books.
I read all three of these novels for #FaerieAThon with my friends Jane, Kristin and Melanie.

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