REVIEW: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Dear Ms. Black,
I’m a fan. I loved your Curseworker trilogy, so I was interested to see what you’d write next. It turned out to be vampires. Normally that would make me hesitant. I overloaded on vampires during my urban fantasy phase, and it takes a lot to overcome that ambivalence. But you built up goodwill with your previous books, and I was willing to trust you.
In the world of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, vampirism is a disease. One bite from a vampire makes you go Cold. If you’re truly infected, symptoms begin showing within 48 hours. The most noticeable of these symptoms is a desire for human blood — and the desire to do anything to get it.
It’s possible to beat the infection. You just have to avoid drinking blood for 88 days. Sounds easy, but that’s three months. It’s like detoxing. But if you succumb and drink human blood, it’s game over. You die and soon after you rise as a vampire.
Now the vampires have always been around. They’ve just remained hidden from human sight. But when a newly made vampire began biting people indiscriminately, it led to an explosion of vampires due to the uncontrolled spread of the disease. The world descended into chaos. In the U.S., this led to the creation of Coldtowns, places where vampires and the humans who loved and worshiped them could congregate.
Tana knows firsthand the kind of pain a vampire can cause. When she was a child, her mother went Cold but due to a lapse in judgment on Tana’s part, she died and left Tana with a horribly scarred arm. Unlike other teens, Tana doesn’t buy into the Coldtown parties that stream live on the internet and has no desire to become a vampire.
Then she wakes up the morning after a lock-in party to find all of her friends are dead, bled dry by vampires. The only other survivors are her jerk ex-boyfriend, who has been bitten and is beginning the process of going Cold, and a mysterious boy, who looks to be around her age but who she later discovers is a vampire named Gavriel. What follows is a roadtrip to Coldtown, in which Tana comes to grips with vampires, her past, and herself.
Readers who go into The Coldest Girl in Coldtown expecting the sort of mystery plots that characterized the Curseworker trilogy will be sorely disappointed. This is not that kind of book. This is a story of a girl making peace with mistakes she made in the past and learning to live on into the future. Tana carries a lot of guilt for what happened with her mother. It affects everything she does. In this story, she learns to take back control from the past’s influences and make her own choices.
It was interesting to read a YA book in which the heroine was stuck with her asshole of an ex-boyfriend. Believe me, he was a tool not worthy of her — or anyone else’s — time. But because of the circumstances they find themselves in, she can’t ditch him as much as she may want to. It’s fairly rare to find a novel where the broken up couple doesn’t get back together, the guy is portrayed over and over again as a tool, and the heroine refuses to buy his B.S. while also not wanting to throw him to the wolves. Tana isn’t a doormat at all. She just keeps doing the right thing, which explains her interactions with Aidan quite a bit.
What I found most shocking is that I really liked Tana’s romance with the vampire, Gavriel. I wasn’t expecting that. I usually don’t seek out the normal girl/sociopath guy romances, and yet I was all over it here. Part of it is that there are reasons for Gavriel’s instability. Like Tana, he bears a lot of guilt for a choice he believed to be an act of mercy. And as punishment, he was tortured and abused for it, on top of watching the world fall apart because of what he did. Or did not do, as the case may be. Gavriel is truly a monster, and just like how the narrative doesn’t shy away from the fact that Aidan is a jerk, it doesn’t pretend Gavriel is anything but a monster and a killer. I am fond of books in which the monsters act like monsters. Gavriel is dangerous, and the novel never lets you forget that.
While the book is told primarily from Tana’s POV, it occasionally drops in bits and pieces from other characters. These weren’t my favorite parts because I loved Tana and would have preferred to remain in her POV the entire time. I was never convinced those other sections were necessary. On the other hand, while I often find that flashbacks slow down a story for me, I really found the flashbacks in Coldest Girl to be quite effective. I can easily see other readers feeling the opposite though, so YMMV.
In many ways, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown reminds me of a cross between The Silver Kiss and Lost Souls. It’s the theme of making peace with the past combined with a road trip and goth sensibility. I also appreciated the easy inclusion of diversity within the cast. It didn’t draw attention to itself and no one was portrayed as a freak. (Though I guess that’d be something in a world of vampires.) And for me, I thought the ending was perfect. B