The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
I admit to being weary of books featuring vampires and targeted at a young adult market. Very weary. Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown sounded interesting and while I was keeping a watchful eye out for the usual pitfalls that made me cringe with contact-embarrassment and snort with derision in my previous forays in the genre, I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading the book. This was the very first arc I’ve received and I was worried that reading an uncorrected proof might diminish my reading pleasure, since I usually get pretty annoyed by the tiniest copy editing glitches, but I found myself easily ignoring the unfinished layout as I was sucked in by Black’s masterful storytelling.
The story begins with its protagonist Tana waking up in the bathroom at a party she attended the night before and her worrying about the social repercussions her passing out drunk might have in terms of mockery and pictures taken. It quickly occurs that there is no one left to spread the tale of her humiliation as the only rule for sundown parties, to bar every access to the rooms once the sun’s gone down, has been broken and all the party goers haven been killed. With the exception of her ex-boyfriend Aidan, whom she finds tied to a bed but still very much alive and hungry – for blood, her blood. Beside Aidan she discovers another boy, a vampire, gagged and in chains. And something else is stirring in the house. The vampires, who’ve killed the other partygoers and apparently chained this lone vampire are preparing to finish them off at last.
Tana resists her instincts to flee to safety while the sun is up and decides to safe her friend AND the chained vampire and is grazed by one of the attacking horde of vampires in the process. We learn that vampirism is considered an infection that is caught by a vampire’s bite. The infected turns Cold and starts craving human blood. Once they’ve succumbed to the ever-growing desire for blood and bite a human, they’ll die and turn vampire. Anyone infected is supposed to turn themselves in to the Coldtowns, cordoned off parts of cities that house vampires and infected (and humans who choose to stay or didn’t get a chance to leave) and remain there – forever.
As we follow Tana and the travellers she picks up along the way into the Springfield Coldtown, we get to see different ideas and reasons for turning oneself into a Coldtown, the machinations and political designs behind their establishment and continuation.
Tana’s family has experienced infection before and the reactions of the remaining family members to the news of Tana’s possible infection, given in terse text messages, are heartbreaking. I was worried that Tana’s own experiences might be used to portray her as someone special, as some kind of Chosen One, but fear not!: what makes Tana special is her courage, her consideration, her empathy, and her resolution to make hard decisions and see them through.
Tana is kick-ass but not fearless – and not infallible. It’s her frequent mentioning of doubts and fears that make her such a relatable character. And the bonus of wry humour makes her a likeable one. Due to my apprehension of the genre in general, I suspected the love triangle looming with every encounter with either Aidan (the ex-boyfriend) or Gavriel (the rescued vampire), but not once was I exposed to angsty perambulations about whom to choose. This question didn’t concern Tana at all. It wasn’t even a question posed! Her main concern was to safe her friend, safe herself, prevent Her little sister from danger, and ultimately defeat the evil Ubervampire. Yes, there was some kind of romance, but Tana is neither obsessing nor distressing about nor desperately craving it. She’s realistic. She’s practical. She pays more heed (jokingly) to her ruining every dress she puts on with gore and blood and mud than to prospects of undying love. She’s no Mary Sue either. Some of her decisions seem impulsive rather than well thought through, but this is a fast-paced, tumultuous adventure that leaves her with little time for pondering the most prudent course of action and leads to rash action. And blood. And death. And pain. And all that makes for a very entertaining read that is, unfortunately, finished all too quickly.
Also, there’s one William Willingham making a minor (and posthumous, mostly) appearance in this novel, which made me smile a lot.