A party overnight turns into a grisly murder scene with the only survivors being a seventeen-year-old girl named Tana, her ex-boyfriend/friend Aiden (infected with vampire blood), vampire Gavriel (snarky, borderline, functioning psychopath,) and a group of hungry vampires, the ones responsible for the killings. I couldn’t have asked for a better opening to a novel and introduction to author Holly Black. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown has piqued my interests again in the subgenre of YA paranormal. Vampires are back to being dangerous predators instead of cute, cuddly, sparkly, stalking, nymphomaniacs and “vegetarians” with mutant-like powers.
YA paranormal is probably one of the more popular reads alongside YA dystopian. Even though there’s always some new reading trend on the horizon, there’s something about this subgenre that appeals to so many people. I am a fan of the old vampires living in the post-modern world. I cannot get enough of the sublime, quixotic but specious vampires, who strangely hold themselves to high standards while leaving carnage behind like foot prints in the snow. Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a respectable homage to the vampire genre.
Black establishes an animated, dark vampire/human coexisting world. The history of the world and reason for Coldtowns, vampire quarantined zones, starts with a rogue vampire by the name of Caspar Morales. He flouts his vampirism like a sideshow attraction and exposes the existence of vampires. In the process, he changed several humans into vampires, who then bit more humans, thus, spreading the infection across the globe. The government instituted quarantined sections, mostly in largely populated cities. Coldtowns contain vampires, infected humans, and humans, some who volunteered to stay, some who were unable to escape once the walls were completed. There are two reasons for this: it cost a fortune to test a person for the infection (vampire bites are not covered under the rabies clause?) and the vampires inside need some kind of food supply.
Our protagonist Tana, as I mentioned before, was at a party that was attacked by vampires. She’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. She finds her infected ex-boyfriend chained next to a bounded vampire, who’s being hunted by an ancient vampire group. Tana realizes she needs to escape the house and take Aiden (ex-boyfriend/friend) to Coldtown before his cravings overwhelm him; he’ll lose control and potentially kill someone. While rescuing Aiden and the vampire Gavriel (she does so out of mercy), a vampire grazes her skin with his tooth. She’s horrified to discover the mark. She heads to Coldtown with Aiden and Gavriel, waiting to know if she’s infected, if she’ll turn Cold, if she’ll become what she fears, a monstrous vampire.
The characters in Black’s novel are reinvented yet exemplify the traditional archetypes found in the genre. Tana is not a damsel. She spends most of the time saving herself and the people around her. She’s not emotionless, however. We see her unhinge every time she has to clean the blood off her and repress a cackle in a room full of deadly vampires and dangerous enemies. Our protagonist endures—a lot. When she was young, she survived an attack after her mother was infected with vampire venom. Tana then witnessed her father behead her mom with a shovel. If she’s seems broken, it’s because she is.
Tana is resilient, but we can’t really call her brave or heroic. Her bravery is a side effect from her loss of stability (if she really had any) and is found in her reluctance in going insane. She titters along the ledge of sanity and insanity. She probably would have succumbed to madness if not for her zeal to live as a human. As Tana mentions, she didn’t want to become a monster, even though she’s afraid she’s already become one.
Black revisits this theme of what it means to be a monster, if the only condition in keeping our humanity intact is by remaining human. The more we evolve (or devolve depending on your interpretation) the less we are human. The supporting characters’ actions represent this argument, when one nearly rips a person’s head off during feeding while another one kills her only kin. These stories echo with a similar fate of what happens post-transformation; nevertheless, these characters have to live with themselves. The ghastly murders committed are done so out of necessity and starvation. Vampires have to eat. The debauchery that happens afterwards is by choice.
Tana’s counterpart, the obdurate, sadistically, charming Gavriel, compliments and parallels her character. Although his true intentions remain in the dark until the end, his character is equally as complex as Tana’s. In several ways, Gavriel comes close to being the novel’s anti-hero, if not for his lust for revenge and desultory behavior. What he ends up being is a gambit character like Tana, even if her intentions are somewhat nobler. Both of them share the need for self-preservation and rectification regardless of the cost. Gavriel is forthcoming about who he is, while Tana is resistant in admitting her ruthlessness. At times, she’s even more callous than Gavriel. As we learn about the two, the novel analyzes the layers of savagery and mercy, and the effects on the individual’s morality, showing that even mercy can cause one to become jaded and repentant.
The writing doesn’t falter. The descriptions and style perfectly reflect the novel’s pacing and intense moments while also spending time on the ardor and reflective spots. The novel’s embellishments of the vampires’ outfits and homes are a treat; however, the descriptions become more seamless and less inventive as the novel concludes. Everyone is wearing some leathery, scooping, tight outfit by the end like its Coldtown’s unofficial uniform. The exotic, sensual dress-code loses its appeal after a while.
After a while, I decided that I do like Coldtown’s ending, even if there is a part of me that wishes Black would write a sequel. The book stands alone, something I feel several books in this subgenre do not do. Black stays true to her characters’ motivations and tendencies. It’s Tana’s choice and experience that prevails. Some things are out of her control, but she does have a say as to what happens next.
Rating: 4.6 out of 5