Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown: A Review

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Written by: Holly Black
Paperback: 419 pages
Publisher: Little Brown Books
Language: English
September 2013
Genre: Young Adult /Horror/Vampires

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.


How do you like your vampires? Do you like them Nosferatu style? Or do you prefer your vampires a little sexier like something out of True Blood or The Vampire Diaries. I have always been a vampire fan from the tales of the Leanansidhe to more recent lore. It’s an odd thing as I dig the whole sexy vampire schtick and all of the not so disguised innuendos, but I also love my vampires scary. I want them to be apex predators. So as much as I love vampires from the Kate Daniels books where they are controlled by necromancers, smexy things such as Spike and Angel, or Tom Hiddleston in The Only Lovers Left Alive, I also love the Strain, 30 Days of Night, and Near Dark.

The vampires in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown hover somewhere between the scary predator and the smexy sultry monster. Tana used to be enamored with vampires like everyone else. But they were myth. They weren’t scary. They were number counting muppets and sold cereal. Sexy rockers and cartoon villains. They weren’t real. The joke was on humanity.

Caspar Morales changed everything when he decided to stop hiding in the shadows and seducing…and infecting his way across the country. By the time the ancients caught up with him he’d created hundreds of new vampires and they didn’t understand anything. You see when you are bitten you go Cold. Sometimes you don’t know for 48 hours, but if you are truly infected the thirst for blood is overpowering. You can beat the infection if you are determined. It just means avoiding drinking blood for 88 days. If you taste even a sip, its done. Game over. And three months is a very, very long time when you are Cold.

So after the vampire explosion happened, the US created Coldtowns in an attempt to control the spread of the infection. If you are a vampire, you are thrown into a Coldtown. And if you’re human or potentially infected, the same deal applies. So what happens if you beat the Cold? That’s the thing. You may not need permission from your parents to enter a Coldtown and can enter on your own volition if you are so determined, but you cannot leave unless you own a marker and haven’t turned. Markers cost money. A lot of money. The easiest way to earn a marker is to become a hunter and turn in a vampire. But again, that’s rare.

Coldtowns these days almost seem glamourous. Broadcast feeds featuring vampire celebrities certainly make life in a Coldtown look like one big party. Immortality looks attractive. But Tana knows better. She knows first-hand what being Cold can do to a person. She has the scars to prove it from when her mother tried to wait out the infection in the basement. Tana wanted to help. Tana didn’t understand. She knows it is all just hype. So how does Tana find herself in a Coldtown?

The morning after a lock in party with with all of her classmates, Tana wakes up in a bathtub. She is not exactly a stranger to the party hard and wake up a bit dazed and in a strange place. She is not, however, familiar with leaving the bathroom and finding everyone dead. She is not the only survivor. Her annoying yet endearing ex has been bitten and left to go Cold tied to one side of the bed while a vampire is chained to the other side just out of reach. Putting on her white hat she saves them both, promising to have her breakdown later when she has time. It’s a race against time to save the three of them which means going to the one place she has no desire to enter: Coldtown.

Things I loved: I first read about Coldtown in Holly Black’s short story anthology the Poison Eaters when we meet a young woman named Matilda. Vampire lore has horror in it again even as a majority of the world continues to romanticize them. That is what I really love about the book is losing the romanticism and seeing what vampires really are. There is blood. There is gore. There is death. There is also never a moment that I don’t believe that Gavriel is a predator as much as I like him.

The real strength the story gets is from Tana herself. She is an extremely relatable and likable protagonist. She has flaws and weaknesses, but she is also has an incredible strength. She has been through a lot from her mother to loving Aidan who couldn’t seem to keep his hands off other girls and boys while they were together. She recognizes he is a jerk, but she still feels like she needs to protect him as she still cares for him in her own way. She is a survivor and a savior (though sometimes saves out of desperation and fear rather than courage), a sister, a daughter, and extremely loyal to her friends. She saw behind the curtain long before most and despite being a teenager has aged far quicker than her peers. She is trying to make peace with her past and the mistakes she has made.

Gavriel is doing the same thing. And while I hate the centuries old vampire falling for the teenager schtick, this romance made sense to me. While not the focus of the story overall, there is a hint of romance here and once I enjoyed. No one has saved Gavriel before, but Tana did. She has no illusions of who and what he is, but she is attracted to him anyway. Of course Tana is not without her own darkness. But I think it is her strength, her mercy, and her loyalty which draws him ever closer to her. Sure they fall for one another rather quickly, but they also go through some intense shit together.

The Coldtown itself is also a great character. From the outside it looks like a never ending party full of gothy glamour and immortality. The internet feeds document the lives of the infamous vampires, the vampire hunters that bring them to the Coldtowns in the first place, and the romanticism of promised immortality. It’s a great little commentary about truth and propaganda, of how we turn the monstrous into something seductive. There are a lot of lies we tell ourselves about the world. In Tana’s world the Coldtown is one of the biggest lies. They don’t tell you that once you enter you are prey, that your party mansion may not have running water, that you barter for rat on a stick, that the Coldtown is little more than a Shanty town. But once you are in, how do you get out? And does the government really want you to get out after all the vampires need to eat somehow or they stop being complacent about being herded into Coldtowns.

Midnight and Winter have their own delusions about Coldtown. When Tana meets up with them all they want is to become part of the fantasy, vampire twins living a life of luxury. They are in love with death and are prepared to document it all for the masses on their blog. But even when the horrific happens Midnight is still determined to document it, put a spin on it. Why?

I actually enjoyed the narrative. While Tana is ultimately the voice of the novel, there are chapters that contain Gavriel’s backstory, blog posts, and even Tana’s sister viewpoints. Together they expand the universe. It was a great way to add information and flesh things out without having a boring info dump.

Finally, I am going to return to the clever balance Black walks during her novel. There is the romanticism of a lot of things from relationships to vampires. Holly cleverly contrasts it with parting the delusion curtain and reminding us of the darker sides, of the truth behind the lies. Quite often this involves death, torture, fear, manipulation, and suicide. There is love and there is loathing, excess and poverty. There are lot of lies we tell ourselves about the world when we are teenagers, hell even as adults. It’s easier that way. We romanticize a lot, turn our fears, our regrets into something else entirely. We make excuses. We wax poetic. And then we remember or discover the truth. It’s a great theme.

Things I didn’t love so much: It was too short and I want more. That’s about it.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. It’s original and full of adventure, vampires, a hint of romance, and one hell of a heroine. Great book.

Part of: Stand alone (but could be the start of a beautiful series?)

Also Recommended: Try Sunshine by Robin McKinley which is one of my favorite vampire novels. I would also recommend Holly Black’s other series such as the Modern Faerie Tale series. Also to read more about Coldtown check out Holly Black’s short story collection The Poison Eaters.

4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

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