Coldest Girl: Holly Black's ode to the vampire genre
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Genre: Gothic fiction, horror, paranormal
Tana lives in an alternate world where vampires are a dangerous reality. Their bite causes an infection that turns a person “Cold,” which means the person craves human blood with a violent, ugly passion. If the infected person actually ingests human blood, she becomes a vampire. If she can resist the siren call for 88 days (accomplished possibly through forced seclusion) she is cured of the bite. This doesn't happen very often. In Tana's world, the solution to the vampire problem is to send all vampires, infected humans, and vampire-loving humans to live in designated, enclosed 'coldtowns.' Coldtown is a little like Hotel California – you can check in, but you can never leave, with very few exceptions. The most powerful vampires are capitalizing on the desire of the average citizen to see what's going on inside the vampire cities by creating live video feeds and inviting the curious to view their grand parties through digital media. This is also how they recruit fresh blood (literally) by making their situation seem glamorous so that the naive, or the lost, or the bored are tempted to take up residence and provide a new source of sustenance.
Since vampires who haven't voluntarily submitted to being locked inside Coldtown, or been caught and forced to go, are a real danger to be guarded against at night, teen parties in Tana's world are called 'lock-ins' – the teenagers procure a keg whatever way it is that teens manage to do such things, and then lock themselves inside a house from dusk until dawn, with vampire-repelling seals around any entrances. But somehow, at the party that Tana is attending on a particular night with all of her high school friends, the event is breached by some really bad blood-sucking monsters and they proceed to massacre almost all the human teens in attendance. Tana happens to be sleeping off the liquor from a drinking game in the bathtub of the home, and is overlooked. When she wakes up, everyone is dead – except for her annoying-yet-charming ex-boyfriend, and another young man with some heavy secrets. Tana comes up with a plan to save herself and the young men from the vampires who are still in the house, and their adventure begins. Their plan to save themselves involves heading for the nearest Coldtown.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is Holly Black's ode to all the vampire books she's read and loved, and it's a worthy effort. As I was reading, I detected the influence of other vampire tales – Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite (although Coldest Girl is a way more entertaining tale than that joyless thing!). Coldest Girl in Coldtown is dark, bloody, and graphic, but also has some light in it too. The characters are well-developed and the majestic but rundown prison city, Coldtown, run by the vampiric inmates, is epic. Black's world-building, the vampire mythology, and the characters she's created made me emotionally invested. As I neared the end of the book, I realized I didn't want it to end! That's pretty rare for me, and helped this book earn a favorite status. Tana, the main character, is a young woman who has the vulnerability of a normal teen which makes her indecisive at times and leads her to make some mistakes, but she also has the courage of a leader, with heart and a strong moral compass, and she's a delight to follow through this tale.
The novel does contain a few flashbacks to the late 19th and early 20th century, but the majority of the book takes place in an alternate modern day world.