Yes, another young adult vampire novel. But this one is very different from its recent predecessors (no pun intended). It’s almost as if Holly Black made a list of everything that was wrong about the Twilight and Vampire Academy series and the myriad others and banned those cliches from The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Thank goodness she did. It was about damn time. For years, vampires in literature have been sexy immortals that just happen to drink blood. Some of them are bad, but never all that bad. They’re a long way from the vampires of Stoker, F. W. Murnau, and Dr. Polidori. The vampires in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown are monsters, throwbacks to the vampires of more than a century ago, right down to the red eyes.
In our protagonist’s world, a pandemic of vampirism lead to the creation of Coldtowns. Vampires and infected humans on their way to becoming vampires are confined there with a mix of stranded humans and death seekers. Just one bite will start you on the road to being a vampire. Partway through the novel, one of the vampire characters claims that being one strips you down to your “truest self.” The upshot of this is that vampires do no one any favors, take advantage of silly humans every chance they get, and seek every vice and perversion to ward off boredom and ennui.
Tana, our heroine, is trust into this bloody world when she wakes up in an upstairs bathtub after a party only to learn that almost all of the other party goers have been massacred by vampires. Her former boyfriend survived, but was bitten. Tana finds him in a bedroom with a chained vampire. She helps the pair escape when the vampires in the basement wake up and hits the road for the nearest Coldtown, the only place they can go.
On the trip, Tana learns more about Gavriel, the vampire she rescued, though she doesn’t learn why the others of his kind were torturing him back at the massacre site until much later. He’s more than a little crazy, even more than other vampires. Yet he and Tana connect. At this point, Black could have followed the genre convention and have the pair fall hopelessly in True Love with each other. Instead, she holds off and lets things develop organically between the two. Once at Coldtown, Tana takes her former boyfriend, Gavriel, and the two hitchhikers they picked up over the border and into a place that’s only barely functioning due to a stalemate between the vampires and the humans. Both parties need each other, but anything could upset the balance–and it’s not long before the balance is tipped.
There are no prophecies. There are no magical solutions. There’s only a crazy plan for revenge and survival. Tana is one of the most decent people in Coldtown, where everyone is out for themselves. She tries, repeatedly, to save people who don’t really want to be saved. She’s a much better person than I would be, because I would have left the former boyfriend to his fate on a heartbeat (or whatever the vampire equivalent is). Tana is the narrator for most of the book, though Black does show us how Gavriel came to be what he is and Tana’s sister’s idiotic decision to join her sister in Coldtown. Even though most of the cast is vampire, I was struck again and again by how fallible and human everyone was. Everyone is flawed in some way and it made the book seem just that much more realistic.
I daresay that vampire stories will be with us for a while. Personally, I don’t understand the attraction to eternal, blood-drinking life. That’s why I loved Black’s little insertions of what that kind of life would do to a person instead of glamorizing everything. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is the best vampire novel I’ve read for a long time.