The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

the-coldest-girl-in-coldtown

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was written by Holly Black and first published in 2013. It is a dark fantasy story, set in a world where a vampire plague has swept America. The novel is loosely based around one of Black’s short stories, and the original can be found in the collection The Poison Eaters and Other Stories. However, this story is intended to stand alone and so you don’t have to have read any of her other work to fully appreciate it.

The world changed rapidly after the existence of vampires was revealed. While they had previously kept to themselves, a rogue vampire went out of his way to spread their sickness across the globe. Bitten humans quickly became Cold, rapidly gaining an uncontrollable desire for human flesh. If they managed to consume this, they then transformed into a true vampire. In a bid to contain the infection, the American government created the Coldtowns – quarantined areas where both vampires and Colds could live without fear of being hunted.

Tana is in trouble. She woke up after a party to find that all her friends were dead. While trying to find a way to escape without waking the vampires who feasted on them, she came across a strange scene. Her Cold ex-boyfriend, Aidan, and a strange vampire both chained in one of the bedrooms. Unable to leave them to the mercy of the killers, she tries to rescue both. However, during this escape, she is grazed by a vampire’s fangs. Realising that she may now be infected, Tana drives towards the nearest Coldtown. She knows that she has no choice if she wants to keep her family safe.

Tana just wants to find a place to sweat off her infection, but Coldtown is not as safe or glamorous as the internet feeds make it appear. Most of the population are humans who have thrown away their freedom for a chance at immortality. If these people realise that Tana and Aidan are Cold, they would do anything to force them to complete their transformations. Added is the complication that Gavriel – the vampire she saved – has a history with the most popular superstar of Coldtown. If Tana wishes to survive, she may need to become a monster…

Before I begin, it’s time for my typical words of warning. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown isn’t appropriate for all readers as it certainly doesn’t shy away from portraying vampires as vicious and unpredictable predators. There is blood – buckets of it – and gruesome descriptions of people getting ripped open by monsters. There are even some particularly nasty glimpses of Gavriel’s torture which are certainly not for the faint of heart. If you’re in any way squeamish, you’re best off giving this one a miss.

While my opinion of this book is a bit mixed, I’ll start off by talking about the things I like best. The concept of the novel is, simply, great. I’ve read and reviewed a lot of vampire stories now but this one certainly stood out from the rest. The world of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is one where both vampires and vampire hunters have achieved celebrity status. Its tone feels almost post-apocalyptic, with the world at large gripped with fear, syndicated TV shows following bounty hunters on night raids, and walled quarantine zones turning into decadent parties to lure in the unwary.

Yet there are areas where this world building feels a little flimsy. Certain aspects of Black’s world are never adequately explained and just seem to function due to plot contrivance. For example, just how do the vampire inhabitants of the Coldtown keep getting out? The whole purpose of the town is that its supposed to be locked down, yet that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. I may have missed a point where this was explained but I can’t recall finding out how Lucien’s cronies let themselves out and in again, or why no one else ever did this.

However, these gripes are easy to overlook if you don’t take the novel too seriously. Much like Five Nights at Freddy’s, I found it to be a bit of the literary equivalent of a bad horror film. It doesn’t stand up very well if you try to deconstruct it, but is enjoyable enough for a bit of brain-in-the-box fun. The highlight of the story were the vampires, who are about as melodramatic and angsty as you would hope. The novel does a good job of illustrating what the pros and cons of undeath are, making neither side seem especially preferable.

Personally, I found this to be very effective. You really got a feel for why some people would risk their lives for a chance at immortality, but also why the costs were ultimately far too high for others. I also think that the story did a great job of integrating modern attitudes towards the internet. While these will probably date the story over coming years the teen obsession with celebrity and social media helped to ground the story, making it truly the vampire story of the digital age.

Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t fantastic. The actual plot is fairly short and simple, padded out more than it needed to be by slow pacing and long chapters of exposition. Much like Razorhurst, every other chapter was some kind of flashback or supplementary material, ranging from backstories to blog entries. While some of this was relevant, a lot could have been cut from the novel. I’m sure that the backstories could have been better integrated to the dialogue, while any material that reiterated things that had been previously said (such as how someone becomes infected) could have been left on the cutting room floor.

The novel also didn’t carry any real surprises for me. This is a personal thing, but I just felt that every twist of the tale was too well signposted to be shocking. The ending also felt pretty weak, leaving the fate of Tana for the reader to decide. While I’m sure this will work for some readers, I found it to be a bit of a cop-out. I won’t spoil anything further here but for me, it went out with more of a whimper than a bang.

And then there were the characters. For me, the biggest problem of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was Tana. I just didn’t understand her at all. Her motivations skewed wildly, sometimes wanting to be a vampire and other times desperate to remain human. She was the master of poor decisions, behaving in such a profoundly stupid way that it’s a miracle she makes it through the opening chapters. Despite knowing that Aiden is both manipulative and hungry for her flesh, she trusts him. Even after his third attempt to eat her, she still keeps going back to him. And that’s not even the rashest thing that she does. Let us note that she inters herself into a Coldtown when she doesn’t even know for certain that she’s been infected. Stupidity, thy name is Tana.

Yet beyond Tana, none of the characters were especially memorable or likeable. The only one that I will commend is Valentina, because it is so rare to find a transgender character in young adult fiction. I really loved Valentina and her motivation for wanting to become a vampire was both interesting and heartfelt. Unfortunately, she doesn’t ultimately make much of an impact on the plot. She felt like a wasted opportunity as she only really appeared in a couple of chapters and I would have liked to have gotten to know her better.

So anyway, I’ve probably said enough. All in all, I was left disappointed. I loved the concept and setting but, beyond that, the novel went downhill rapidly. I’m certain that some fans of paranormal fiction will get a kick out of it but it ultimately wasn’t one for me.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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