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Literature / Modern Faerie Tales
aka: Ironside

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The Modern Faerie Tales is an Urban Fantasy trilogy by Holly Black, including the books Tithe, Valiant and Ironside.

Tithe begins with Kaye Fierch returning to her childhood home of New Jersey after her rocker mother's boyfriend attempts to stab her mother after a gig. Once home, Kaye tries to reconnect with some of her old childhood friends—including some of her "imaginary" ones, a trio of faeries. While she's no stranger to the Fair Folk, she stumbles into the dangerous faerie courts when she meets a completely different faerie, Roiben, a knight from the Unseelie Court.

Valiant introduces a new protagonist: the Tomboy runaway Valerie Russell. She runs to New York and gets caught up with teen vagrants Lolli, Dave, and Luis. Her new friends are hardly normal, and are in fact couriers to a fae named Ravus, a troll that literally lives under a bridge and who makes a special drug for the exiled fae that eases the iron sickness.


Ironside is a sequel to Tithe, and returns to Kaye as the protagonist. Roiben is soon to be crowned King of the Unseelie Court. Kaye drunkenly swears her love to Roiben during his coronation, and is consequently forbidden from seeing him until she finds the impossible: a faerie who can tell a lie. At the same time, guilt from being a changeling causes her to expose the truth to her mother and find her mother's true child, somewhere in the Seelie Courts. While there, she gets caught up in the Seelie Queen's plans to take over the Unseelie Court, and must find a way to save both herself and Roiben.


This series provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Ravus accidentally killed Tamson in a duel, which is the reason that he was exiled from the Seelie Court. However, it turns out that Mabry had weakened Tamson's armor prior to the duel because Tamson knew that she was working for The Unseelie Court.
  • Addiction-Powered: The faerie magic that comes from taking Never.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Kaye gets a little too drunk on faerie wine in Ironside and swears her fealty to Roiben—although she knows from the first book that doing this in the faerie courts is absolutely dangerous.
  • All Girls Want Badboys: Subverted, or at least played more realistically than usual. The two female protagonists do seem to go for the "bad boy" type, but neither of them fit the standard criteria of "good girl" (given their shop-lifting, colorful vocabularies, substance-abuse, and liberal attitude about sex), making their attraction seem much more natural.
  • All Trolls Are Different: Trolls are slightly larger and much uglier than most faeries, with greenish skin, protruding teeth, and black-and-gold eyes. They turn to stone in sunlight, but will recover when no longer exposed. Troll blood breeds true even when mixed with human. Ravus, the one major character who's a troll, is a little intimidating but a genuinely good guy, although it's indicated in other books that this isn't true of all trolls.
  • All Women Are Prudes: Refreshingly averted. Kaye is immediately sexually attracted to Roiben, and Val and Lolli's sexual frustration is an important plot point in Valiant.
  • Armored Closet Gay: How Ruth interprets Jen's homophobic behavior.
  • Bald Women: Valerie Russell in Valiant.
  • Beast and Beauty: Ravus and Val.
  • Bed Trick: Dave glamours himself up to look like Luis in order to seduce Lolli.
  • Black and Gray Morality
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Averted with Kaye, not so averted with a lot of the other faeries.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Roiben points out that classifying the Seelie and Unseelie Courts as good and evil respectively is an oversimplification. Both courts have very little regard for the wellbeing of mortals, and it seems the Seelie court's opposition to killing is less a moral concern than an aesthetic one.
  • Big Applesauce: The books take place in New York and New Jersey, usually commuting between the two during the novels. New York is also known as Ironside, where the exiled fae are sent.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Luis. He does absolutely everything for his brother, and tries his best to take care of him.
  • Body Horror: When Kaye learns she's a pixie, her skin starts to "slough off like a sunburn", including her face.
    "Her eyes itched, and she rubbed her knucklebones over them. Something came off against her fingers. It felt like a contact lens, but when she looked down, she saw that it was skin[...]"
  • Bonding Over Missing Parents: Ravus and Val. Both of their fathers left their families, and both of their mothers betrayed them.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: In Ironside, Roiben gives Kaye an impossible task—to find a faerie who can lie—in order to keep her from becoming his consort, and by extension, a subject of the Unseelie Court.
  • Break the Cutie: Roiben, after he comes to the Unseelie Court.
    • Also, Kaye, to some degree, and Ethine, after Ironside.
  • The Cameo: Roiben appears briefly in Valiant, acting in his position as Unseelie King.
    • Val and Ruth also appear briefly at the end of Ironside for Dave's funeral.
  • Can Not Tell A Lie: Faeries can only "bend the truth until it snaps under its own weight," i.e, they can't lie per se, but are very, very fond of leaving out important information or "little details" that could be willfully damaging to the hearer. This becomes a plot point in Ironside when Kaye is required to find a faerie that can tell an untruth for Roiben's quest. 'Cause she's a wily girl, she uses a quibble to solve the riddle.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Kaye. While barely brushed on in the first book, it stirs up a lot of angst in Ironside.
  • Coming-Out Story: "Mom, you know the forbidden love Spock has for Kirk? Well, me too."
  • Courtly Love: Played straight and subverted with Roiben.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Oh, Ravus, where do we start with you? First, your mom and siblings beat you repeatedly as a child to get you to fight, then when your dad saw you all as trolls he took off, prompting your mother to disown you, then you accidentally ran your first and best friend through with a sword, then you got exiled to New York/Ironside, and now you're accused for poisoning fey with your medicine. BOY, it must be great to be you!
    • Also, Luis and Dave. Their father killed their mother, shot Dave in the chest, then committed suicide. They now live on the street running errands for the fey.
    • We don't even know that much about Roiben's past, but from the time he sets foot in the Unseelie Court, there seems to be no end of darkness and troubles.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Played somewhat straight with Roiben and later Kaye and Ravus who end up as part of the Unseelie Court, but are usually good and moral characters. The Unseelie Court as a WHOLE is pretty messed up, though.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Though usually The Stoic, Roiben gets several snarky moments. Kaye says that she "liked him more before he had a sense of humour".
  • Deathseeker: Luis falls temporarily into this when his brother dies. He tries to kill himself using Corny's withering curse—but the curse is broken the instant he brings Corny's hands to his face, since his tears act as running salt water.
  • Declaration of Protection: Roiben, toward Kaye. He doesn't always tell her though.
  • Disappeared Dad: With the exception of maybe Corny, ALL of the main characters have one in one way or the other.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Roiben to Nicnevin. Corny to Nephamael. Lastly, Ethine to Silarial.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Particularly faerie drugs.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Inverted example with Val after she shaves her head in Valiant. Even lampshaded where it is pointed out that in her reflection, it is now a young delicate boy looking back at her.
  • Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!: In Valiant, Val wakes up to Dave undressing her after glamouring her to resemble Lolli.
  • Egg Sitting: In Valiant, Ruth and Val take care of a flour sack together, which prompts Jen to call them lesbians.
  • Ethical Slut: Kaye, according to her best friend Janet, since she is initially only interested in Roiben as a hot boy to hook up with before she develops serious feelings for him.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Silarial is just as evil, if not more, than her twin Nicnevin.
    • Silarial comes off as the good one but when the reader gets a good look into her it's easy to see she's the worst of two evils when compared to Nicnevin, who while not thrilled about the truce between the courts, is content with it nonetheless. Compared to Silarial who not only wants Nicnevin dead and wants to take the Unseelie court, but wants to destroy it and all the fey part of it, and is willing to sacrifice any and all of her faeries to do so, Nicnevin seems like a saint.
    • Silarial allows the (almost) sacrifice of one of her changelings, trades off her best knight/lover to be tortured by her sister, and was willing to sacrifice one of her hand maidens for a chance of getting the Unseelie court.
  • Exact Words: A faerie commanded by their True Name is compelled to obey the order, but only to the exact letter of what was commanded. Thus, when ordered by his full name to catch Kaye, Roiben grabs her - and immediately releases her, since the order said nothing about keeping her there.
  • The Fair Folk
  • Fantastic Drug: Never, the fairy medicine in Valiant, also has some very potent and magical effects on humans when they shoot it up.
  • The Film of the Book: Both Tithe and Valiant have been picked up. Tithe by Jim Henson Company, and Valiant by MTV.
  • Geeky Analogy: Corny comes out to his Star Trek-loving parents by saying "You know that forbidden love Kirk has for Spock? Well, me too."
  • Genre Savvy: Kaye is enough to ask Roiben for his True Name (after having pretty much wasted the first two of her three questions, though).
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Nicnevin and Silarial too because she cares about nothing but getting her way.
  • Going Cold Turkey: Val quits Never during her fight with Mabry. She gets cravings afterwards, but continues to stay off of it.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Roiben's got a bunch, revealed in his shirtless scenes. Corny gets a few from his night with Nephamael.
    • Ravus and Val both received some courtesy of Mabry near the end of Valiant.
  • Idiot Ball: In Tithe. Sure, Kaye, eating and drinking at an eerie feast in the Unseelie Court is a brilliant and tasty idea! Justified, as it is a classic fairy tale motif that faerie food is irresistibly appealing. Still, Kaye is usually much more Genre Savvy than that.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Corny briefly flirts with this idea in both Tithe and Ironside.
  • I Know Madden Kombat: Val's lacrosse practice turns out to be useful when she's called on to fight with a sword (or pipe). By no means does it make her an Instant Expert, however.
  • I Know Your True Name: Faeries can be controlled by their true name, therefore these names are a closely guarded secret.
  • Important Haircut: In Valiant, Val shaves her head on the train after discovering her boyfriend's affair with her mother.
  • Impossible Task: In Ironside Kaye is forbidden from seeing the one she loves until she can find a faerie that can tell a lie, but promised his hand if she can. She solves this by claiming she is able to lie, without mentioning that she means lie down on the ground. Which is a sort of lie in itself.
  • Insubstantial Ingredients: Ravus's alchemy requires such ingredients as 'The Breath of a Dying Man' and 'Summer Sunlight'. Note that these can be found in cigarette stubs and cut grass, respectively.
  • Interspecies Romance: Val and Ravus.
  • Invisible to Normals: Faeries cannot be seen by humans unless they have The Sight.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Plenty of male characters, like Ravus, Roiben, and Luis.
  • Kick the Dog: Lolli kicks the cat she stole into the path of a train when she gets sick of her mewing. It's fair to assume she lost a lot of fans at that point.
  • Kinky Cuffs: In Ironside, Kaye buys a pair at a fetish store, and later uses them on Ethine.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: Kaye and Val both enjoy a little shop-lifting.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The blurb of Ironside doesn't try to hide that Roiben becomes Unseelie King and that Kaye is a faerie.
  • Light Is Not Good: The faeries of the Seelie court are almost as dangerous as those of the Unseelie.
  • Literal Ass Kissing: Used as a joke, a CMOA and as a source of horror in Tithe: after finding out Rath Roiben Rye's True Name, the main character sarcastically tells him to kiss her ass, not realizing he's magically compelled to obey.
    "That is the nature of servitude, Kaye. It is literal minded and not at all clever. Be more careful with your epithets."
  • Literal Genie: How the Literal Ass Kissing incident occurs. Another example is when the big bad gets Rath Roiben Rye's true name and orders him to grab the escaping heroine. Roiben promptly grabs her hair... and then lets her go again, snarking, "You may be well versed in following orders, but you are a novice at giving them."
    • It's established in the earlier Literal Ass Kissing scene that invoking a faerie's true name always works like this — they're compelled to do no more and no less than the Exact Words of the order, and an ill-considered or poorly-worded command rarely results in what the person invoking the name actually desires.
  • Long Haired Prettyboy: Roiben, an elf with "long pewter hair". Kaye first encounters him in the rain and severely injured, i.e., sopping wet and covered in mud and his own blood, and even in that state Kaye describes him as "beautiful in a way that made her breath catch" (this is one of the reasons she knows he's a faerie).
  • Morphic Resonance: Faeries keep a trait when they transform. The troll Ravus, for example, turns into a human with golden eyes.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Roiben.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Val's mother has an affair with Tom.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Subverted. When Luis starts acting weird, it's barely remarked upon since there are other, more serious things going on. Turns out it's not Luis; it's Dave, using Never to glamour himself into looking like his brother.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: The pointy-toothed, people-eating kind. Although they can be bribed with raw steak and jewelry.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted in Valiant, when Val has to pee in a bucket while staying with the squatters in the subway.
  • Parental Abandonment: Seems to be the norm in the faerie kingdoms, as seen in "The Land of Heart's Desire".
  • Poisonous Person: Corny, when a faerie curses him to wither everything he touches.
  • Porn Stash: Corny has one of yaoi. Kaye winds up reading some at one point.
  • P.O.V. Sequel: Sort of. The sequel short story "The Land of Heart's Desire" in "The Poison Eaters" is written around Roiben, as opposed to Kaye.
  • Precision F-Strike: Roiben manages to achieve this in a series full of liberal swearing. Lampshaded by Kaye.
    Roiben: I am telling you shit!
  • Put on a Bus: Lolli ditches Val and the other teens after Dave overdoses on Never. She doesn't come back.
  • Rape as Drama: Both Val and Lolli are coerced into nonconsensual sex with Dave.
  • Shirtless Scene: Roiben has several.
  • Sinister Subway: In Valiant, the protagonist and her friends live in one. Since they are all homeless children spending a lot of time doing faerie drugs that give them magic, they make it even more sinister than it was when they arrived.
  • Shout-Out: Ruth has a "Still Not King" badge on her bag in Valiant, a Shout-Out to Cassandra Clare's The Lord of the Rings fanfic The Very Secret Diaries.
  • Stacy's Mom: Val's mom.
  • Straight Gay: Corny. Also Luis.
  • Taken for Granite: How Val saves Ravus. He can only survive about an hour with his heart cut out, so Val rips open the curtains and exposes him to sunlight, freezing him 'til nightfall to give her some extra time to save him.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Kaye's realization that she's a faerie.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Roiben.
  • True Sight
  • Twofer Token Minority:
    • The two brothers from Valiant are Hispanic and African American.
    • Luis, who is black and is also gay.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Val absolutely adores Ravus' eyes.
    "I'm not very good at explaining things," she said. "But I think you have beautiful eyes. I love the gold in them. I love that they're different from my eyes- I see mine all the time and I'm bored with them."
  • White Hair, Black Heart: Roiben.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Lolli and Ruth, both of whom dye their hair. Strange hair colors are normal for the rest of the fae.

Alternative Title(s): Modern Tales Of Faerie, Tithe, Valiant, Ironside


Example of: