Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Author: Holly Black
No. of Pages: 432
Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Origins: NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: 3 September 2013
Bottom Line: Stellar vampire novel with all of the elements which make Holly Black’s novels so enjoyable
“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.”
Thoughts: Given her propensity for the darker aspects of life, it was just a matter of time before Holly Black tackled vampires. In The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, she does just that and does it with style. Her vampires are every bit as evil and dangerous as one would wish, and yet she maintains a semblance of humanity within her vamps that adds a layer of complexity to the story and prevents them from being mindless predators. It is a deliciously chilling, intense story that solidifies Ms. Black’s reputation as a fantastic writer of fantasy.
Within Coldtown, there are clearly the good guys and the bad guys, and there is no doubt that the vampires fall into the latter category. Yet, Ms. Black makes them intriguing and even sympathetic. As a reader experiences Tana’s worries of becoming infected, with the complete absence of choice and total reliance upon the instinct for blood, it is easy to step into her shoes and feel her fears. There is nothing sexy about turning, and the lack of control regarding becoming infected and eventually turning make becoming Cold something pitiful and indeed tragic. They may be pitiless monsters, but the fact that they started out as feeling humans and had no part in deciding to turn returns some of their lost humanity to them.
The story itself is action-packed but well-paced. Nothing is rushed in an attempt to increase the suspense. Rather, Ms. Black balances action with world-building, adding enough character development and imagery to create this world filled with Coldtowns without losing the tension. In fact, from the moment Tana wakes up in the bathtub and discovers the terror around her, unease builds slowly but steadily, increasing in intensity as Tana makes life-altering decisions and faces her worst nightmares. Tana herself is the type of heroine it is easy to like. Damaged and fragile but with a steely determination that befits a survivor, following along as she faces her future is an additional pleasure. The ambiguity of the ending is less annoying than one might think, as it is surprisingly realistic in spite of involving vampires. Overall, the story is one that grabs a reader’s attention and never really lets go until its breathtaking conclusion.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Ms. Black’s version of a vampire story is every bit as dark and conflicted as one would expect with nary a sparkly vampire in sight. She masterfully creates drama and tension beyond typical YA fare and touches on the timeless topics of revenge, loyalty, friendship, and love. This horror/coming-of-age story is an excellent reboot of the vampire subgenre and a welcome addition to her already stellar body of work.