Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Holly Black

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I received an ARC from the publisher at Comic Con.
Released September 3, 2013
432 pages
YA / Fantasy / Vampires

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Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

Thank you, Holly Black, for making vampires creepy bloodthirsty monsters again! If I could only say one thing about The Coldest Girl in Coldtown it would be that it is filled with genuinely creepy monster vampires. That a romance begins between the main character and a vampire that is a scheming bipolar psychopath says more about Black’s leading character than it does about the desirability of the vampires in her world.

This is a world where vampires were pushed into the public eye after centuries of being delegated to the shadows by an ancient code of conduct enforced by the most ancient of vampires. When one of the enforcers has a moment of human empathy and doesn’t kill a baby vamp, that vampire goes on a feeding spree throughout the eastern United States and vampirism spreads quickly and very, very publicly. To deal, Coldtowns have been created – a sort of Hotel California for vampires, vampire sympathizers and people infected with the vampirism-causing virus that makes them crave human blood. It’s the consumption of human blood and the reaction to the virus that eventually kills and resurrects humans to vampires.

During childhood, Tana has firsthand experience with the effects the virus has on humans denied blood after watching a tragic series of events occur to her mother. While she fears vampires, she secretly has dreams of what-might-have-been if only she and her mother had become vampires together. It’s a coping mechanism partly inspired by the extreme romanticism of vampires that still exists in this future American society. Webcasts from all-night, every night parties in Coldtowns full of glamorous vampires and their living blood bags help people pretend that the danger is far away and maybe not so dangerous after all.

Tana wakes up in a bath tub after an all-night bingefest party to find that all her friends have been brutally murdered, her ex-boyfriend has contracted the bloodthirsty virus and a vampire has been chained up by other vampires. In a mixture of shock and that same strange romanticism, Tana rescues both the soon-to-be blood thirsty ex-boyfriend and the oddly calm and nice chained up vampire. I’m writing off this moment of insane empathy as fueled by shock and maybe a little bit of survivor’s guilt.

Tana steadily grows into a strong character, both in the sense of becoming three dimensional as well as emotional strong as she’s thrown obstacle after obstacle that keeps her from her family and threatens her life. She recognizes how wrong her choices are, but continues to act in whatever way will best save her friends and family from harm. She also can’t seem to wear an outfit for longer than an hour without getting it covered in blood, which seems right when living in a walled city full of vampires.

The supporting characters are a bit weaker with Aiden being the jerk of an ex-boyfriend and little more, but the relationship he has with Tana manages to be dynamic with just a little bit of background exposition. Mostly I just wanted Tana to smack him upside the head and she probably wanted to do the same. Meanwhile Gavriel is the dark mysterious vampire who speaks in riddles and seems to be constantly on the edge of a nervous breakdown. He’s fascinating, but not around “on screen” very often, which was a little disappointing. I can't exactly blame Tana for having a bit of an emotional connection with Gavriel. I mean, I kind of fell for him what with lines like this:

Sleep, Tana. I will guard you from Death, for I have no fear of him. We have been adversaries for so long that we are closer than friends. 

Black scatters short chapters with important background moments in between the regular storyline. While this should have made the story feel choppy and dampen any momentum, it really didn’t. Going from the middle of the action to a 10 page chapter about Gavriel’s Russian roots seemed like pause where I could take a breath before diving back into the tension of a vampire filled city and finding out what was going to go epically wrong now. Each of these background chapters fleshed out characters that otherwise wouldn’t have caused me to become emotionally attached.

The ending fit the feel and themes of the book and after the exhilaration of the climax, it was a bittersweet conclusion that felt perfect. It was a sort of victory and continued to allow Tana to be who she truly was despite her own fears. It also left a window open for a sequel, though I hope Black doesn’t take the bait. This is a fantastic standalone that truly utilizes the creepiness of vampires while going into a bit of an analysis of why we find them so attractive. This book is full of action and stars a character who doesn’t need anyone to save her; instead she gets to save all the boys, which is always a mega plus in my book.

Definitely recommend this one, even to those tired of vampire books. This one isn’t quite like any of the others.

 

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publishers during Comic Con. Opinions are my own.