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Book review: Holly Black's 'The Coldest Girl in Coldtown'

Courtesy amazon.com

I have never understood the whole vampire thing (and that’s apart from my personal distaste of them). If an alien was to rocket past our planet and spy just a fraction of our entertainment, they would think we were taken over by the undead.  They are everywhere—books, TV, movies—you can’t escape them and it seems a lot of us wouldn’t want to anyway.

In Holly Black’s latest young adult novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the author has entered the fray with her own sharpened fangs ready. Being a story of vampires filled with teenagers, and very old vampires that look like teenagers, the book’s unable to avoid the comparison with 'Twilight.'  Luckily, Black manages to get through that unfortunate comparison unscathed, creating a work far superior to that surprisingly popular series.

One of the reasons The Coldest Girl is so much better than Twilight lies in the main character of Tana. While Belle’s life seems only to revolve around winning the heart of her vampire, even going so far as to attempt suicide to catch his attention, that is not the case of Tana. She is strong, independent, and doesn’t change for anyone else, nor does she want to. This seems to make her the only lead in a vampire tale that doesn’t want to join the immortals. Good for her.

If I had to point to an influence for this novel, I would first gravitate towards Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, especially the earlier books where you had the clash of the old and the new vampires. The vampires in this tale, like in Rice’s books, have names just made for being mysterious and gothic; for example, Lucien. Elizabet, and Gavriel. And, also like Rice, some of them dare to even enjoy being vampires -- where Rice’s Lestat became a rock star, Black’s Lucien is the host of a television show, a broadcast of a non-stop party in the heart of a cold  town.

The only problem I had with this book is I don’t understand its categorization as a young adult novel beyond the abundance of teenagers in it. Consider that the book begins with Tana waking up in a bathtub with a hangover the morning after a wild party, only to discover she is the only survivor of a massacre.  We read as she steps carefully over the corpses of friend after friend, until finally discovering her ex-boyfriend tied to a bed, with puncture marks and a vampire in chains next to him.

This book is filled with violent imagery like this, with bodies always about to be stabbed or bitten into. No one is safe. The only thing this book doesn’t have is nudity and swearing. Which is odd because if I was Tana, I would have been swearing a lot during this adventure. So is that the line we draw in the sand these days for young adult literature? Really, swearing is that big a deal?

Whatever the case, I walked away thinking how tame Harry Potter and Narnia are in comparison. Yes, I think Aslan would have been shocked by this book. Dumbledore’s death has nothing on the physical destruction in these pages. A parent might want to check this book out first before deciding to hand it to their younger readers.

In this reality, vampires are part of the society and have been quarantined into areas called coldtowns. While some would consider them prisons to be avoided, many of the young find them as hypnotic as TV shows and the news regularly broadcasts the happenings inside the walls. Over the course of the novel we follow Tana, the vampire Gavriel and her ex-boyfriend as they make the trip to a coldtown. When they finally arrive, Tana falls into the middle of a vampire civil war where it is not clear to her -- or to us, the readers -- who the good guys are or if there are any good guys. And while at the end we are uncertain of Tana’s fate, it doesn’t beg for a sequel.  That’s a nice change in young adult literature and one I applaud.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a book for late evenings filled with shadows and thunderstorms in the distance. Perfect as we get closer to October. And while it won’t surprise on every page, it will still make you jump from time to time.

Oh, and why do I dislike vampires so much? Well… they drink blood and that is just gross.

Current State contributor Scott Southard is author of the novels  "A Jane Austen Daydream" and “Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare." More of his writing can be found at his blog, The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

Current State contributor Scott D. Southard is author of A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors, and Megan. Scott received his Master's degree in writing from the University of Southern California. More of his writing can be found at his blog, The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.
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