Book Reviews

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown * Holly Black Book Review

The first outbreak happened in Caspar’s birthplace, the smallish city of Springfield, Massachusetts, around the time Tana turned seven. Springfield was only fifty miles from her house, so it was in the local news before it went national. Initially, it seemed like a journalist’s prank. Then there was another outbreak in Chicago and another in San Francisco and another in Las Vegas. A girl, caught trying to bite a blackjack dealer, burst into flame as cops dragged her out of a casino to their squad car. A businessman was found holed up in his penthouse apartment, surrounded by gnawed corpses. A child stood at Fisherman’s Wharf on a foggy night, reaching up her arms to any adult who offered to help find her father, just before she sank her teeth into their throats. A burlesque dancer introduced bloodplay into her act and required audience members to sign waivers before attending her performances. When they left, they left hungry.

Tana lives in a world very like our own where something terrible has happened. A contagion has spread around the world creating a new variant of a predator. A vampire.  “Reality” shows on television and the internet portray anything but reality.  Teens, convinced that what they have seen is true, ideate the concept of immortality and search to become vampires too.

There were so many girls and boys running away to Coldtown, who would do anything to have the infection burning through their veins the way it burned through Aidan’s. The vampires inside were incredibly circumspect about biting people—that’s why all the pictures of them feeding inside Coldtown showed them feeding from tubing and shunts. More vampires were a drain on the food supply. What Aidan had—what she (maybe) had, too—was rare and desirable. There was a girl Tana had met, a friend of Pauline’s, who cut thin lines on her thighs with razor blades before she went out to clubs, so that a vampire might be drawn to her.

The quarantine is restricted to a highly infested place called “Coldtown”, which was overrun with vampires and bitten people. Tana finds herself on the way to Coldtown accompanied by her ex, Aidan, and a new vampire friend she’d made at a party who left only her breathing. Tana manages to escape with the newly bitten Aidan – who is slowly craving blood, and a cute teenager with long black hair who seems oddly attracted to her.

“If you let me borrow your car for tonight, I promise I will repay you.” The smile stayed on his lips. “Jewels, lies, slips of paper, dried flowers, memories of things long past, useless quotations, idle hands, beads, buttons, and mischief.”

Along the road, she takes on a pair of runaways, a boy and a girl, who were also looking to blog their way into Coldtown and document the transition to a vampire. It’s only the quiet new boy with the red eyes who seems sadened by the fact.

“People ask all the time whether vampires are like us. I always say that in my two years trapped inside, I played checkers with vampires. I sat on stoops with vampires. And they were a lot like the people they’d been before. But they weren’t the same . Vampires are predators and we’re prey. You’ve got to never forget that.”

I’m a huge fan of vampire books. I’ve read all of Anne Rice’s stories and *cough* Twilight… But this was quite refreshing and the pace was good (at least for the first half of the book).

After their arrival into Coldtown, the book seems to slow down and it gets muddled with plot twists and old revenge woes. Gavriel (the vampire boy Tana took with her) is actually the Thorn of Istra – a much sought-after vampire which kills other vampires – who had gone mad after torture in the dungeons of Paris.

We are presented with his maker, Lucien, and his mistress, Elisabeth (who dies shortly after being introduced to us) and then we have a few more chapters of flashbacks.

“Isn’t every hero aware of all the terrible reasons they did those good deeds? Aware of every mistake they ever made and how good people got hurt because of their decisions? Don’t they recall the moments they weren’t heroic at all? The moments where their heroism led to more deaths than deliberate villainy ever could?”

At this point I was slowly losing focus with the book. It’s still interesting but not as captivating as the “becoming” part.

Holly Black doesn’t really add anything new to vampire mythology with The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. The ways to kill or impair a vampire are the same, they’ve been corralled in cities, and they’ve even had this overly simple method of turning humans into vampires before. I do think that The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is entertaining and capably written, but it does not stand out for me in the mass of vampire fiction, and I suspect I will not remember it for very long after I read it.

The big weakness is the characterization. Though the characters do say some witty-sounding things, they never actually have personalities. Part of this is the brevity of the time frame, all of this taking place over the course of the week and with all of that being serious business time. I have no clue what any of these people or vampires are really like on a normal day, except for Tana and Aidan, and what I do know I don’t like. It’s all quite hackneyed and predictable, with Tana ending up trapped in the Coldtown despite her clever plan and falling in instalove with the strongest of the vampires, who of course loves her too because she’s unlike anyone else he’s encountered in his hundred plus years of life. The logic that sends Tana into the Coldtown, too, is weak at best, since she wasn’t even sure if she’d gone cold from the tiny bite she got escaping the house at the beginning. How about you wait just outside the Coldtown and see what happens? And if you’re going into the Coldtown to protect your family like your dad asked you to, how about you also not contact them, as he also asked?

 “And now the world sees our true faces. It is remade by us into something glorious, something where men aspire to be immortal. I like this world and I would keep it moving forward, unlike the ancient vampires. Their dream of returning to the old ways is like the Romanovs’ dream of a return to power. It won’t happen, no matter how much they cackle about it in their crypts and catacombs. But with the Spider nearly to my gates, our interests align.”

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown does the creepy horror thing well, and will no doubt have quite a bit of appeal for readers who still enjoy vampire stories. This is a read for those who care more about the action and less about the logic of the world building and character motivations.

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