The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
by Holly Black
It had been one hell of a party. Hangovers were to be expected. Kids with their last drops of blood drained from their bodies? Not so much,even if perhaps the open window should have foreshadowed the outcome. When Tana awakens in the bathtub, it ix to a world undone. The vampires have killed her friends and may have tainted her own blood. Seeing no other option, Tana sets out for Coldtown, the city within a city where those dead to the world--the vampires and their Cold victims--are imprisoned.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown presents an world that was altered by the travels of a romantic vampire who decided to spare his victims. Suddenly, the world faced an epidemic: those bitten by a vampire become infected, and then become Cold. Their blood and body seems to cool and they are obsessed by a terrible thirst for blood. When they inevitably succumb, almost always killing the victim in the process, they promptly die and wake again as full vampires. One can survive the Cold and recover if one can resist the call of the blood for 88 days, but this inevitably seems to require chains, strong doors, and a whole lot of luck. The government in its infinite wisdom depends upon self-reporting and casts the infected into the so-called Coldtowns, along with the predatory vampires. The only way for uninfected humans to escape is by trading their lives for a captured vampire, and it is rare to find anyone who can pay the bounty. But vampires, too, suffer from the youtube bug: within the Coldtowns, live feeds show the world a vision of decadent revelry and merriment. The vampires have become stars to be featured on blogs, on TV, in memes. This gives the vampires a strange, unreal duality: popular celebrities, apparently only dangerous in a "sexy" way, yet they are still ready to prey upon any who leave their doors unlocked at night.
Black's vampires don't break the mould, but her exploration of their dual nature is interesting. Throughout the novel, it is unclear whether vampires are just the same people with slightly sharper teeth, or demons with the bodies and memories of the dead. Tana is a multidimensional, real-feeling character, torn between a multitude of conflicting loyalties and passions, but determined to do what she considers right. The rest of the characters were rather less appealing to me. The vampire Gavriel is a somewhat stereotypical "demon lover," and I found the little sister rather trying. The only character I truly couldn't stand was Aidan, Tana's more than a little sociopathic ex-boyfriend. Sadly, my respect for Tana decreased in proportion with her efforts for Aidan, for she continues to unthinkingly help him even after he selfishly betrays her again and again. There's also quite a lot of instalove and more than a hint of a love triangle, but while the romance is a major aspect of the plot, it does not fully overwhelm the story. The plot itself is engaging, although the twists are far from unexpected and tend to be revealed rather late. I think the most impressive part was the sense of threat or danger that Black created: while reading, it really did seem to me that anyone could die.(show spoiler)
Even though it isn't entirely unique, I quite enjoyed the worldbuilding and the bizarre setup of the coldtowns. The most interesting aspect of the world, to me, was the disease itself, mostly because it is the antithesis of an epidemic. Vampires aren't eager to Turn people because each new vampire decreases the food supply. The Cold cannot Turn their victims, so it is only the stupid or crazy or careless vampires who spread the disease. At the same time, vampires are immortal, and immortally hungry. Some teenagers are enthralled by the romance of the Coldtowns and will do anything to go there, to give their blood to the vampires through stints and open cuts and pray that they will be "special" enough to be turned. While some of the infected voluntarily report themselves and are whisked into Coldtown, those who become Cold usually beg family members to lock and chain them, While I loved the idea, I had a certain amount of trouble buying it at first. Wouldn't it be infinitely more sensible for the government to lock up the Cold? It isn't as if there weren't perfect facilities available for locking people in solitary. Why not build or repurpose a prison? But as I started thinking about it, I can see a certain amount of logic behind it: in some ways, I think the Coldtowns exist not to contain the Cold, but to satisfy the vampires trapped inside.
Overall, while the romance did not impress me, I greatly enjoyed my foray into Holly Black's imagination. Her story is engaging and suspenseful, and the character of Tana is deftly drawn and dimensional. Plus, it's awfully hard to resist the allure of that cover and title. I'll definitely look out for more of Black's books.