This is again my contribution to the Mythopoeic Award Challenge, but only Tithe and Valiant are on the list of nominees. Ironside I read just because it rounded out the story.
Okay, this is a hard review to write. Because I love the Spiderwick Chronicles, I love Holly Black's blog. I even met her for a brief moment at Faeriecon last year and she was fantastic and interesting.
But I just couldn't get into these books. I didn't dislike them, don't get me wrong. The characters just didn't engage me somehow. I blame this partially on the fact that Roiben, the main male character, is an elf. I don't like elves. I know, this makes me a bad fantasy fan, but I don't. They're always gorgeous and perfect, lean and athletic, with pretty hair, and some kind of tragedy that tries to make up for their perfectness. Not interested. Roiben got much more interesting in Ironside, but in Tithe he just seemed like he was a foil more than a character.
My problem with Valiant was that while I could sympathize with Val's desire to run away and I even thought parts of her story were fascinating, the fact is that I just couldn't muster up any sympathy for all the drug users in the story. Maybe I'm not supposed to like them all, but as soon as Val agreed to shoot up Never, I just couldn't feel bad for her when bad things started happening. In my mind I just said, "Well, she's the one doing drugs..."
Now, this part is hard to explain because I read kids books all the time. I don't care what age range a book is for, I care if the book is good. But these books read like young adult books, and that sometimes got in the way of what they were trying to be, I think. Also: I have an intense personal problem with pop culture references. It's very difficult for me to stomach them, no matter what they are. The current trend in young adult novels is basically full of pop culture references. I hear Avalon High is an excellent book, but I made it about two Britney Spears comments before I put it back.
This makes it sound like I'm very negative about these books, I'm not. I would happily recommend them to anybody that likes faerie tales (the original kind, with the dark settings and the bloody bits). Anybody who likes young adult books would probably also love them, and anyone who liked The Blue Girl by Charles De Lint would enjoy them as well, I think.
But if you aren't a regular reader of faerie tales or young adult novels, I think you'd have trouble with all the genre conventions that these books exhibit.
I really look forward to reading anything that Black writes, but I expected these books to be a little different than they were, so I can't help feeling a little disappointed.