March 21, 2014

Goodbye, and Keep Cold (Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black)

The Coldest Girl In Coldtown 
Holly Black 
Little, Brown 2013
"He would hold onto revenge.
It would be his fairy story, his lullaby, sung softly by flayed lips.
Off-key and deranged."

I hate Twilight. I'm sure most of you agree, I just had to get it out there. I used to ignore it but that changed when I visited a bookshop in Bangkok and the English section featured an entire table dedicated to teen vampire romance stories. Public vomiting is frowned upon so I restrained myself but I was close, so very close. So what am I doing reviewing a book like this? Well, comfort zones are there to be escaped and anyway, Boing Boing said it was allowed. So let's visit The Coldest Girl In Coldtown...
Tana is a normal 17-year old schoolgirl living in small-town America. She goes to parties, fights with her boyfriend, teases her sister. She's just like you may have been at that age, except for one thing. Her mother is dead. More precisely, when Tana was younger her mother was on the verge of turning into a vampire when her father was forced to kill her in order to save his daughter's life. One morning, following a hedonistic farmhouse party, Tana awakes to find herself alone and surrounded by the blood and bodies of her classmates. The only living people aside from herself (take the word 'living' with a pinch of salt) are her on/off boyfriend Aidan and the mysterious Gavriel, a vampire.
In the alternate universe inhabited by The Coldest Girl In Coldtown, vampirism existed underground until recently when one Caspar Morales went rogue, converting humans into the living dead by the hundreds, causing a plague which forced their nocturnal habits into the mainstream. Different countries responded in their own ways. Europe took a liberal approach, resulting in either freedom or carnage depending on your viewpoint. America opted for containment and created several Coldtowns, fencing off infected cities and designating them safe havens for the undead and their human admirers. Anyone can get into a Coldtown but only humans can get out, and even then only with a marker, a rare token gained by handing over a free-roaming vampire to the authorities.
Tana is presented with something of a quandary. Aidan has been bitten, she knows this much. However he's not going to turn just yet, he's merely Cold, a novel state which Black has invented as an intermediate stage on the path to full-blown bloodsucking. When a vampire bites a human it transmits some form of bacteria into their bloodstream. This causes them to experience unbearable cravings for human blood for a period of several months before it safely leaves the system. Should the affected person give into their desire and drink human blood then they die and rise again as a vampire. It was in while in this state that Tana's mother attacked her and as such she knows what Aidan is capable of. Furthermore she's been scratched herself and may or may not be turning Cold. Her only hope is to head for the nearest Coldtown, gaining a marker from taking the strangely willing Gavriel with her and eventually using it to leave when she's satisfied that she poses no threat to her father and younger sister.
The rest of the story proceeds more or less as you might expect. To be honest, and contrary to expectations I actually really enjoyed it. Tana's character was a tad overblown but otherwise a very solid female lead - every bit as scared as she should be but at the same time strong and becoming more focused and decisive as the story progresses. Gavriel is also a rather intriguing and novel creation, a vampire charged with hunting other vampires, eventually cracking under the strain of his task. The rest seem somewhat cartoonish, particularly Lucien playing the Big Bad of this tale, but I can let that slide. We're not dealing with hardcore literature here, it's a YA vampire novel.
The Coldest Girl In Coldtown is actually an impressively original read. The concepts of Cold and the resulting Coldtowns breathe new life into a thoroughly saturated genre and there's enough meat in the tale itself to make it rise well above its shelfmates. It may slide into cringe-inducing cliched territory occasionally but such occurrences are rare enough to be forgiven. Even if you're a hardcore Twilight despiser like myself there's plenty here to keep you entertained for few hours on a cold winter night.

This review was brought to you by Cannonball Jones. Splendibird, who was sent a copy for review, wholeheartedly agrees with his thoughts. Thanks, Little, Brown!
The Coldest Girl In Coldtown is available now.

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