Written by Holly Black
Published September, 2013 by Little Brown
Genres: Dystopian, Vampires
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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.
Once again, another venture into a Holly Black book that doesn’t leave me disappointed! Tana was a heroine that fought her own battles, made her own decisions and had her priorities in check. The romance between she and Gavriel was there, but it wasn’t the focus. There was also a great cast of secondary characters and world-building that wasn’t too heavy, but incredibly readable. I’m starting to think I may enjoy Holly Black’s non-fae books moreso than her signature ones!
“Being infected, being a vampire, it’ s always you. Maybe it’ s more you than ever before. It’s you as you always were, deep down inside.”
With the first chapter or so of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I was worried it was going to be a slow and boring read for me. Why? Well, the whole ‘vampire’ thing. I literally cannot tell you just HOW MANY vampire books I’ve read over the years, so much so that anything to do with them these days feels so worn and overdone (I’m sure I’m not the only one in that boat!). It didn’t take long for things to change, however, and I found myself enjoying this new world Holly Black had created.
The world itself is much changed from our own. I like to imagine this book as being a mish-mash of vampire and dystopian, where vampirism is a disease and has spread uncontrollably. What you can guess from the summary is that all vampires and infected humans (yet to be turned fully) are required to submit themselves (or be caught and brought) to places called ‘Coldtowns’ – walled cities where nobody that goes in comes out.
Most fun for me was the mini road trip that takes up the first quarter or so of the book, where we really get to meet our leading characters and some pretty important secondary ones. Tana, our heroine, was actually quite relatable and I found myself liking her more than some of Holly Black’s other narrators. She was a girl that saved HERSELF time and time again, and just got things DONE. It was absolutely refreshing.
Our main vampire is the seemingly mad Gavriel (He’s also a love interest of sorts, but there’s not a lot of focus on it). I liked Gavriel, but to be honest, I didn’t really GET the ‘mad’ schtick. He said some weird things sometimes, sure, but for the most part he was as composed and controlled as any other vampire. His true identity, of course, caught me by surprise. Holly Black managed to do this not once, but twice. Well done!
Another pivotal character is Aiden, Tana’s ex-boyfriend. I don’t know how to describe him other than… ugh. Whenever he appeared on the page, he annoyed me. I never really warmed up to him, but I’m not sure we were ever meant to. He’s the catalyst for a lot of what goes wrong in the book, so he’s not particularly loveable.
We’re also introduced to twins Midnight (real name Jenny) and Winter (real name Jack). I absolutely loved how zany and weird they were; colourful and quirky and totally obsessed with becoming vampires. Midnight seemed like the ringleader in their little endeavour for immortality, even being a blogger devoted to the cause, but Winter seemed more than happy to go along with it. I felt sorry for the twins for the most part (especially Winter) and they sure made things lively.
“Every night, in every Coldtown, people die. People are fragile. They die of mistakes, of overdoses, of sickness. But mostly they die of Death.”
As we shift from the road trip to Coldtown, things get pretty intense. It doesn’t take Tana and her gang to realise that Coldtown isn’t all the constant web feeds and surveillance make it out to be. It’s not all glitzy parties and unending life – it’s dirty, dangerous and clogged with bodies. But, on the plus side we meet awesome new characters like Jameson – a kind of vigilante with an albino raven named ‘Gremlin’ (LOVE!) and Valentina, a trans girl with a crush on Jameson who has incredibe taste in fashion and access to all the best wares in Coldtown.
There was one scene in particular I really loved, because Holly Black managed to utterly capture Coldtown in its unfolding. It made the world seem so intricate and mesmerizing, and just plain real. There’s a place called ‘Suicide Square’, where vampires who no longer want to live decide to face the sun. Human Coldtown residents gather to watch their burning and throw flowers, hoping that their ‘kindness’ goes noticed by those about to die. Maybe they’ll get riches thrust upon them at the last minute? A vampire’s dying wish? Sometimes the vampires want to lash out one last time before facing the sun and massacre them all. It’s a gamble, but one the desperate human residents of Coldtown are willing to take.
Although The Coldest Girl in Coldtown had alternating viewpoints, set in no order whatsoever, it didn’t put me off the story or ruin the flow of things. We were able to learn the things we needed to know, and then slot ourselves safely and comfortably back into Tana’s mind.
Spoilers further ahead – beware!
“She came out of sleep like a thunderclap—waking from dreams so deep and dark that she couldn’t remember anything but dirt and hands pulling her down into graves with cities inside them.”
For a good portion of the book, Tana worries about being infected from her initial escape in the first few chapters. I was so, so, so happy to learn that all signs of infection had abated. While everyone around her was giving in to the temptation or ‘easiness’ of just becoming a vampire, Tana resisted and really wished to stay human. I was rooting for her. I WANTED her to stay how she was. I had these grand visions of her banding with Jameson and Valentina, saving Coldtown from the evil within…
But alas, in a cruel twist of fate, Tana’s bitten and severely infected (no doubt about it this time) by someone she tried to help – the vamp-obsessed blogger, Midnight. Obviously, all my love and sympathy for the quirky girl promptly vanished.
As the book continued, I started to worry that Tana was going to give in and just become a vampire because it was the easy choice. She grows closer to Gavriel, learning more about his history and who he really is, and I worried this was also going to influence her decision. I begged and pleaded internally for Holly Black not to let me down…
The final showdown, as I like to call it, wasn’t exactly satisfying but it did the job in solving a lot of the plotlines. Things were explained, baddies died and a few loose ends were tidied up. Only one real question remained…
Was Tana going to go through the vampire change, or would she fight to remain human?
I was settling down for a resolute answer when the book ended. Say, what? Okay, well I’m not exactly unhappy. Holly Black clearly wants us to believe that Tana fought as hard as she could to fight off the sickness with Gavriel by her side playing nurse vamp, but as to whether that fight counted for anything is left up to our imaginations entirely. Alright, then I choose to believe that yes, she overcame the sickness. She remained human. She also decided to remain in Coldtown, helping all those she could while keeping the others into line alongside Jameson and Valentina.
I am so thrilled that Holly Black didn’t let me down and didn’t go the predictable route!
Recommended to: If you’re a Holly Black fan, what are you waiting for? If you’re not a fan of her fae books, then you actually may prefer this and her Curseworkers series!