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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
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Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black. Little, Brown. 2013. Review copy from publisher.

girl 199x300 Review: The Coldest Girl in ColdtownThe Plot: Tana wakes up after a party to a house filled with the dead.

She is one of three survivors: the others are her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, and strange vampire, Gavriel. As the sun slowly sets, the vampires who killed everyone else, bit Aidan, and tied up Gavriel, crawl out of the basement.

Tana makes a quick decision:  no one gets left behind. She escapes, taking Aidan and Gavriel with her.

Aidan is infected. If he drinks blood, he’ll become a vampire. Tana decides the only logical thing to do is to take Aidan and Gavriel to the nearest Coldtown, a place where vampires and the infected – and those humans unfortunate enough to be trapped behind the walls.

All Tana has to do is drive a hungry infected teen and a hungry vampire to the nearest Coldtown and get them safely inside. She’s also going to go inside with them: Aidan may be an ex, but he’s still her friend, and she’ll do everything in her power to stop him from drinking human blood. So she’ll go in to make sure he stays human. And Gavriel — there are a lot of questions there, but she figures, if the other vampires are after him, there has to be something there worth saving.

The problem is, Coldtown is a lawless place run by vampires. It’s dark and dangerous. Once you get in, it’s almost impossible to leave.

Almost. They haven’t met Tana yet. She’s determined to do the impossible: save Aidan, help Gavriel, and return to her father and sister.

The Good: Holly Black has created a wonderful vampire world in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Vampires used to be hidden, remaining the subject of myth and legend, until one vampire broke the rules. The result wasn’t only the loss of secrecy, it was also the spread of vampirism. People were bit and infected. Once they drank human blood, they became vampires themselves. Very few were able to withstand the compulsion and remain human. Locking the infected in basements and hospitals didn’t work, so a handful to towns were designated “coldtowns” — towns just for vampires. The vampires were locked in, along with any humans unfortunate enough to be stuck in the towns when the walls wents up.

Everyone loves a vampire — the darkness, the danger, the eternal youth, the power. The vampires of Coldtown realize that, and realize that they need blood, and realize that all they need to do is convince humans to enter the Coldtowns willingly. Reality TV shows, live from Coldtown, making it all seem sexy and glamorous and exciting. The vampires are stars — safely behind walls, except for those few so swept out by the wonder of it that they believe they are different and unique enough to enter a Coldtown a human and become one of those stars. As I read about the parties being shown and the clothes worn, about the whole odd society of humans, vampires, and infecteds within Coldtown, I wondered — how much had the vampires created out of the myths of vampires? How much would they have done anyway? Did the vampires allow human stories to influence how they portray themselves?

Tana doesn’t see the wonder of it all, probably because as a child she saw what vampires were really like. Her mother became infected; her father locked his beloved wife up, thinking if they only kept her from drinking blood all would be well. It didn’t end well. Tana’s sister, Pearl, was too young to know her mother or remember the details of her death. Pearl watches the reality shows, online and on TV, entranced. The power and pull of the vampires is also shown by two siblings Tana meets, “Midnight” and “Winter” who are entering Coldtown in the hopes of becoming vampires. (Because of the food supply issues, this is actually not a very likely thing to happen. The last thing the existing vampires want is losing a source of food AND having another hungry mouth within the Coldtown.)

Tana is one of those characters who — well, let me put it this way. If I had been Tana, this would have been an entirely different story because I would have run as fast as I could once I woke up in a house full of my dead friends. I’d have saved myself first, sending help. So yes, I kept on yelling at the book “don’t do that, that’s too dangerous, it’s not worth it.” Except, of course, it was. Tana is simply braver than me. And more forgiving because I really couldn’t stand her ex, Aidan. Or, perhaps, not so much forgiving as someone who has lost people — her mother and a house full of dead friends — so will do anything to save the few survivors, no matter how annoying and self centered and selfish they are. It’s perhaps even a bit selfish of Tana, how she holds close those she wants to save. Selfish, because she doesn’t want to lose people, and selfish because it’s driven by the guilt from her lost mother. Selfish, because she’s not asking what it is that Aidan wants.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown also has terrific plotting: how things fit together is, at times, almost like a layered puzzle box. How the people and things fit together, how it all works out. It’s not just that Tana helping Gavriel turns out to be more significant than anyone could guess. (Well, except the reader of course, who realizes that a vampire being hunted by other vampires has to have a pretty unique backstory). It’s not just what ends up happening with Winter and Midnight and Aidan and even Pearl. It’s how all that works together as a whole. Brilliant.

This is a Favorite Book Read in 2013. Because while I’ll never be the heroine in Coldtown, I love visiting in the safe pages of a book. Because The Coldest Girl in Coldtown starts with a mass murder of a roomful of teens, and those are not the last deaths we’ll see. I love a book where the stakes are real!

Other reviews: The Book Smugglers; Slatebreakers; YA Bibliophile.

 

 

 

 

 

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Kristi says:

    Well, Tana is dumb brave, but she also enters Cold town because her leg was scrapped by a vampire tooth and she thinks she might be infected. She also trades Gavriel in for a marker that will get her out of Cold town if she wants/needs to get back out so I think she had other reasons for going to Cold town beside straight heroic motives. This book was just ok for me. For my money, Beth Fantaskey’s Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Darkside is a YA vampire story that is different and interesting.

  2. Elizabeth Burns says:

    Kristi, she got the scrape when she came back for Aidan & Gavriel. I wouldn’t have come back: me, outta there, call the cops to take care of whoever is in that room. I am so not the action hero. I agree, once that happens, that changes what she is/isn’t doing — it’s not just about them. it’s her own long game to ensure her own survival while not endangering others. I also would have dumped Aidan once they were in Coldtown; he often seemed more a liability than anything else. Again, me not hero. I haven’t read the Fantaskey book, I’ll add it to my list!

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