Author: Holly Black ||Publisher: Indigo (Orion Publishing) ||Pages: 432 ||Source:Book Purchase
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is probably my favourite vampire themed novel. This book is also notable for containing one of a select few fictional characters I have a bit of a thing for, but considering said fictional character is a broken man with a lust for blood, I’m not sure what that says about me.
The strongest aspect of this novel is the world building. It builds fantasy onto the familiar in a way that blends them beautifully. But honestly, the plot and characters are just as brilliant to consume.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown follows Tana, a seventeen year old girl scarred physically and emotionally by the spread of vampirism in her world. Tana’s life choices and personality are greatly shaped by the world she has grown up in, but also by her very personal first-hand experiences with the consequences of vampirism. Her growing passion for mortality throughout the book contrasts greatly with the lust for immortality that grips many of her peers.
In the past vampirism was confined to a select group and remained a secret from the rest of the world for the most part. There was a system within the vampire hierarchy whereby there were vampires assigned the task of making sure that the spread of vampirism was controlled. There were two key reasons for this, reason one revolves around the hypothetical question ‘if everyone became a vampire, who would vampires feed on?’ Reason two is simply that the elder vampires are elitist. But during Tana’s lifetime this system of controlled vampirism breaks down. Amid the time of Tana’s childhood a newly-turned vampire, Casper Morales, somehow avoids (or was allowed to avoid…) these constraints on the creation of vampires and begins spreading vampirism at an alarming rate, thereby making vampires a very public problem.
Tana’s world in the present is much like our own, but with added vampires and all the consequences that come with that. The result of this combination of realism and fantasy is a rather believable state of affairs in which vampires have become the stars of reality TV. The US government has tried to handle the spread of vampirism by forming ‘Coldtowns’. When a person is bitten by a vampire they start to go cold and thirst frantically for blood. Scientists have worked out that it takes 88 days to sweat out the infection if one does not want to change into a vampire. This is much easier said than done, as Tana’s family have already discovered to a great cost. If someone who has gone cold drinks human blood before the 88 days are out, they will change and become immortal. Vampires are banished to the Coldtowns, small residential areas walled off from the rest of society. But these Coldtowns have a cult following amongst those outside the walls who yearn for immortality and power. Live feeds from the Coldtowns can be watched 24/7. Outsiders can experience the thrill of the glamourous parties and sumptuous splendour of the undead vicariously through the TV. But sometimes people want to experience it first hand and run away to the Coldtowns to embrace a never ending future.
After a macabre occurrence at a house party, Tana is left with no choice but to flee to one of these Coldtowns herself. She goes with Aidan, her bisexual ex who needs Tana’s help to hold himself together, and Gavriel (beautiful, broken, and twisted Gavriel), a vampire with secrets of his own and a skill for reciting quotes and talking in riddles.
Along the way Tana also meets twins travelling to the same Coldtown because they yearn to be vampires. The twins offer a great contrast to Tana because she’s travelling to Coldtown out of necessity whilst they are travelling voluntarily. She is aware of the terrible cost of immortality whilst for them vampirism presents a dream-like fantasy. One thing I particularly loved about the presentation of this story is that each chapter in this novel is headed by a quote that highlights the dark fascination our culture has with death and immortality. I loved this intertwining of literary examinations of the topic because it reminds the reader that the romanticised view of death, vampires, and forever that the twins hold is a thread in a rich tapestry of human musings that has been weaving for years and years.
In the Coldtown, Tana’s strong sense of loyalty ends up pulling her into a rather fabulous game of chess being played out beneath the veneer of glitzy parties in the vampire community. The twists that unwind at the end of the story are great. A large part of these twists involves Gavriel. I loved how the way Gavriel uses language is so key to his character. His language in one way dates him, but in another reveals the twisted nature of his mind. He is a walking text that needs to be decoded if Tana is to find a way to survive Coldtown.
The world Black has setup here is brilliant. There are so many aspects of this book I would love to discuss in great detail. Black writes superbly and delivers a deeply constructed world through snappily written chapters that jump back and forth between the past and present to give real depth to the characters and history she has setup in this novel. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a standalone novel, but the world Black has created is capable of sustaining many more stories because of its richness.