The Coldest Girl In Coldtown, by Holly Black
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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.
Read this book if: you’re looking for adventure, fantastic worldbuilding, and vampire fiction that thinks outside the box.
Do not read this book if: you’re looking for sweet-and-broody vampire romance, or you don’t like blood. Seriously. There’s a lot of it.
I read the short story this book started with a while back, and when I found out she was writing a book off the idea, I was very, very excited. The short story was an interesting take on the vampire myth, free of stereotypes and surprisingly believable. The novel absolutely lives up to that, and more.
In this take on the vampire myth, vampirism is well and truly a disease: once infected, people must either drink human blood and turn into vampires or find someone to lock them up for 88 days while they scream and throw up and try to attack anyone who comes close. If the government finds out you’re infected, you’ll be quarantined in a Coldtown–a walled vampire city–and never, ever allowed to leave, even if you beat the infection. Due to the existence of the Internet and TV, the public has a somewhat unhealthy fascination with the goings-on in Coldtowns, and lots of people dream of being infected. In a way, I think what made this book work so well is that it’s not about vampirism so much as it’s about people’s reactions to vampirism. Some people dream of being turned, romanticizing the idea; some people fight the idea for all they’re worth, even after being infected. Some people become vampires and stay exactly the same, and some people turn into bloodthirsty maniacs. Some families lock infected family members in the basement for 88 days and suffer through the screaming, and others turn them in to the police and ship them off to Coldtown. There’s a broad range of humanity explored through the idea of vampirism here, and I really love how multidimensional the idea gets.
Tana is a very…appropriate main character for her setting. She’s got some nastiness in her past and some problems in her present, and she ends up going to Coldtown for not-very-good reasons, with minimal preparation and a vampire chained up in the backseat. Once she gets there, though, she is no helpless vampire-romance heroine. She is drugged and locked up with two very bad options to choose from, and instead of playing along she makes a third option. She is threatened and she doesn’t back down; she’s attacked and she defends herself. Often writers of vampire fiction play up their human characters’ helplessness in the face of such supernatural strength and give the vampires all the agency, but Tana seems to be at her strongest and most formidable when surrounded by people who think she looks yummy. She gets involved in big, dangerous events and refuses to be sidelined. She is not taking any of your bloodsucker BS.
I think one of this book’s biggest strengths is its ability to produce character development and worldbuilding without slowing the action down at all. The author really does her ensemble cast justice here, and it’s delightful. Even the jerk ex-boyfriend mentioned in the blurb actually gets some interesting character development and does some good things.
Romance didn’t play a very big part, and I was pretty happy with that. Gavriel, the obligatory mysterious/hot vampire boy, is a good character, there’s no denying that: he’s driven, he’s angry, and he is insane–legitimately crazy–in ways that make a really weird amount of sense. He fits right in in the opulent, bloody environment of Coldtown: extravagant, devious, gleefully mad, and dangerous in ways even the other vampires can’t guess at. Which brings me to a plot element I had to think about a LOT before I decided what I thought of it…
–WARNING: Thoughts on relationships ahead. Spoilery, but only with plot elements that you probably guessed anyway!–
Gavriel is everything I could ask for out of a character, but NOT someone I would want my friend dating. He and Tana circle each other throughout the book, which, anyone who’s read any YA at ALL knew from the blurb that there would be romantic tension there, right? I’m super-happy that it’s mostly just romantic tension–these people are REALLY BUSY, they don’t have TIME for smoldery vampire sex. And Gavriel is not…safe. He’s unstable, and a self-acknowledged monster. But he never shows any violence or cruelty or even abuserish tendencies towards Tana (which is better than I can say of 99% of vampire boyfriends out there), and although any relationship between them is going to be inherently abnormal and a bit twisted…I think that’s more because both parties are really abnormal. They live in a weird, violent world, and they’re both weird, somewhat violent people (okay, Tana’s only violent out of necessity, but she doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with it). So although it’s certainly not a normal relationship, it doesn’t seem inherently damaging, just a product of Coldtown and of the two people involved–and I actually am glad that the weirdness of it is acknowledged. Gavriel gives me the creeps, but he’s supposed to. At least the narrative acknowledges that he’s not stable, and Tana is aware of it. And honestly? I think she can handle him.
–End Predictable Spoilers–
So, basically: this book is dark and bloody and sometimes twisted. The world is extravagant and insane and manipulative. People are desperate. Some of the vampires are still people, and some of them turned into monsters as soon as their bodies gave them permission. This book has a lot of desperate people (human ones) in it, and also a lot of blood.
If those are not turn-offs for you, I definitely recommend this book.