Book Review

Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black


Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Author: Holly Black
Publication Info: Little, Brown, and Company September 2013
ISBN: 978-0-316-21310-3
Genre: Young Adult

Book The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is written in tattoo ink on the inside of a wrist with the hand pointed down Holy crap, you guys.  I’m not sure how to categorize The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, but it sure was gripping.

I read Coldest Girl while I washed dishes and while I ate and while I was supposed to be paying bills and while I changed the kitty litter – basically if I could accomplish a task with one hand, the other hand was holding the book.  I read it while I was supposed to be closely supervising a classroom full of children (oh relax, they’re fine) and I’m frankly surprised that I didn’t try to read it while driving a car.  What I’m getting at here is that if you’re gonna read this book, clear your schedule for a day, ‘cause all you’re going to do that day is read, read, read.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown has a sort of a love story in it, but the love story is not the focal point of the book and it’s definitely not a romance novel.  It’s also not part of a series although I’m longing for a sequel.  I guess I would catagorize it as YA Horror.  It’s nominated for a Andre Norton Award For Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (an award given out during the Nebula Awards ceremony by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America).  Here’s the plot:

Tana, our narrator, is a teenage girl who goes to a wild party and wakes up in a bathtub (clothes on).  She stumbles out of the bathroom to find a house full of bloody corpses.  Everyone at the party is dead, except for a vampire who is wrapped in chains and Tana’s ex-boyfriend, who is tied to a bed.  The sun is about to come up, the ex, who was bitten, is getting hungry, and Tana keeps promising herself a nervous breakdown but she just doesn’t have time to have one.

Tana tells her infected ex that if he tries to bite her she’ll beat him to death with tire iron,  and she throws the vampire in the trunk, and she takes off towards the nearest Coldtown, but she’s not sure what she’ll do when she gets there.  Coldtowns were set up by the government in an attempt to control vampire infestation.  Anyone who is a vampire is exiled to a Coldtown.  Anyone else who wants to go to a Coldtown can.  You don’t need permission from your parents and a lot of teens end up running away to Coldtowns hoping that they’ll be turned into vampires.  Once you enter, you cannot leave, ever, unless you posess a special marker and are not a vampire.  You can earn a marker by, among other things, capturing and turning in a vampire.

A lot of this book involves deconstructing the idea that vampires are glamourous.  There’s a lot of blood and gore.  There’s also a lot of filth and trash and just depressing stuff.  Internet feeds from Coldtowns make them look like one long glamourous party, but in real life a lot of time is spent looking for squats that have no running water, and trying not to be killed.  It’s true that there’s some wish-fullfillment going on in the text – Tana always seems to end up with flattering clothes although a running joke is that she destroys every outfit she gets within no more than one day.  I would have liked to have seen more about the infrastrucure of Coldtown, but because Tana is hoping to leave as soon as possible she only turns her attention to matters of immediate survival and eventual escape.

These days anything vampire-y gets compared to Twilight, especially if there’s a vampire/human romance.  But this book is very different from Twilight.  Vampires lead lives that involve horrific levels of violence, even though they can feed without killing.  Meanwhile, Tana is pretty messed up, but she knows she’s messed up, and she’s disturbed by her attraction to the vampire she allies with, Gavirel (he’s the vampire from the party).  While there is a hint of a happy ending, the nature of the relationship between Gavriel and Tana is left up in the air. 

If I were going to compare this book to anything, and appartently I am, it would be a cross between the Interview With a Vampire books and the Bordertown books, with a little Quentin Tarentino and Gus Van Sant thrown in.  As far as romance goes, the relationship between Tana and Gavriel is confusing and compelling and sexy and disturbing.  I found the end to be touching as Gavirel tries to do what a human friend would do to support Tana through a difficult time.  Honestly, it’s their friendship that interests me more than their romance.  What I loved most was watching Tana try to figure stuff out.  She’s often an idiot in exactly the way I would picture a teenage girl being, but she’s so freaking stubborn when it comes to survival, and she’s so determined to save whoever she can, however she can, and I loved that about her:

She was the girl who went back to try to do the impossible thing…and if she could go back and do all these crazy, impossible things, then maybe she could be crazy enough to go forward to save herself, too.

My guess is that this book isn’t for everyone, but if you like it at all, you’ll like it a lot.  I liked it a lot.  I can’t stop thinking about it.  I’m a long time fan of the author and I think this is one of her best books and a great deconstruction of vampire lore.  I’m Team Tana, all the way.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | All Romance eBooks. This book is also nominated for the 2014 DABWAHA.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Dora says:

    I liked a lot about this book. I liked the lore and the setting and the concepts. I didn’t really find that I cared for or even believed the romance at all, because it didn’t seem like the relationship had any foundation whatsoever beyond “hey, we’re both mysterious and angsty, suddenly we love each other”. Great world and even some interesting characters, but I would have liked it a lot more without the romance that I felt was literally shoehorned in.

    Holly Black does some good stuff in general, though. Doll Bones, for example, is a good just-creepy-enough coming of age story that I felt was really smart. (Deals with the expectations other people have of you, fear of change, fear of identity, etc.)

  2. 2
    JennyOH says:

    I really enjoyed the short story this was based on (it was in a Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror anthology, probably 2010) and while this sounds substantially different, the concept of Coldtowns is great, and I also like the return to non-sexy vampires.  I don’t know if I’ll be reading this, though, with the romance element introduced.  The short story was much more about the main character’s (not named Tana in the ss) strength and character and I liked that.

  3. 3
    Melissa says:

    I couldn’t put it down either! And I thought the ending was perfect—much better than the traditional romance-y ending all my other reading trained me to expect. ;)

  4. 4
    Judy W says:

    Hmmmm.  Does this Vampire-human relationship that’s not quite a romance and very violent compare to the similar ambiguous relationship in the book Sunshine by Robin McKinley?  Because I loved that book and as I remember it also had a non-traditional ending.  I could go for this one which has a similar theme if I’m reading the review correctly.  Am I?

  5. 5
    Dora says:

    Judy W: Sorta kinda. It’s been years since I read Sunshine, but Cold Town is definitely a lot darker and more morally ambiguous than most vampire-human relationships are. It’s not necessarily violent (at least in regards to our heroine and the “hero”), but it’s definitely a lot more bittersweet and focused on the nature of humans, monsters, and human monsters than roses.

  6. 6

    I read the author’s Curseworkers series (the audiobooks narrated by Jesse Eisenberg are fantastic) so I trusted this would be a decent vampire story. I loved the return to the legitmately dangerous vampires and the whole seedy world constructed around them. This is the type of stuff I love to see in YA but often find it going only so far and then pulling back. Very cool book

  7. 7
    CarrieS says:

    @Judy W – the vampire-human relationship is pretty minimal and the relationship between them is not violent.  I haven’t read Sunshine for a long time but I think Clodest is much more gritty and urban.  As I recall, in sunshine, the main character is on her own turf a lot so there are pockets of safety – the bakery, and I think there was a house with a garden?  and the romance was pretty front and center.  In Coldest, most of the story takes place in the city where Tana is out of her depth, and the romance is fairly minimal.

    I think the only reason the romance aspect worked for me is that it’s left realistically up in the air.  Tana knows that she and Gavirel share some sort of strong emotional connection and a strong physical attraction.  Will they be friends?  Lovers?  Temporary lovers or HEA forever lovers?  It makes sense that they don’t have this worked out in the end – but they do have it worked out that they trust each other and care about each other, and will see what happens.

  8. 8
    JCarms says:

    I really like this book. I didn’t want to read another vampire book. I read this one and I’m happy to say, scary vampires are back. :)

  9. 9
    Kaetrin says:

    I listened to the audio of this one last year and it made my favourites list.  What an unusual and compelling book it is!  Loved it.

  10. 10
    Malin says:

    I love this book so much! I read it last year, and keep trying to get more of my friends to read it. While I like McKinley’s Sunshine A LOT, the whole book reads like the setup to a series, and then there is no more. While I would love a sequel to this, the ending is satisfying in itself, and I wasn’t left with the same sense of frustration as when I finish Sunshine.

  11. 11
    marjorie says:

    I liked this, but I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVED Black’s Curseworkers series. Noir deliciousness. The Grifters, but paranormal and YA!

  12. 12
    Jenn @ Lost in a Great Book says:

    Like @Kaetrin, I was ‘read’ this by the audiobook, and I really enjoyed it. Word of caution though …. don’t listen to it late at night while driving dark country roads in October and November. Really. It spooked the hell outta me!
    I thought that the backstory was really solid, and that there was a seriously creepy vibe to the whole celebrity worship towards the vamps in Coldtown. I also appreciated that the ending is very much unknown. We don’t know how she will do, or what the relationship will be like, or if it will last at all. Good to see a well-written YA that doesn’t promise that life with a monster will be HEA.

  13. 13

    I liked this book a lot and bought it for my niece for Christmas.

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