Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A (Non)Review of Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

I’ve been a fan of Holly Black’s writing since I first read Tithe. Which means that I was a fan of Holly Black’s writing before I was a fan of Holly as a person. In the interest of disclosure, I should tell you that I know and like Holly, and that we share a literary agency. In the interest of disclosure, I will also tell you that if I hadn’t liked The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly’s upcoming book (it’s out in September), I would have just kept my mouth shut. My enthusiasm about this book is genuine, and while I am happy that someone I know and like wrote such a fabulous book, I would think this book was fabulous even if I didn’t know its author.

Here is another thing I am a fan of: vampires. I love them. I love Carmilla, and Dracula. Bunnicula was one of my favorite books growing up. I read Interview With a Vampire in high school almost as many times as I watched Buffy in grad school. Vampires are one of my favorite supernatural creatures. So I am made particularly happy by The Coldest Girl in Coldtown not just because it is about vampires, but because it takes on vampires in a way that feels fresh, that reminds you that they are both fascinating and terrifying, and that holds them up as humanity’s dark mirror.

In Black’s world, vampirism is caused by a virus, spread by the bite of the vampire. If you get infected, you go Cold. If you drink human blood, you become a vampire. Or, you can wait, try to flush the infection from your system, but it can take up to 88 days, each day full of that brutal craving for blood. Vampires are separated from humans in walled cities called Coldtowns.

Well, most humans. Some enter the Coldtowns voluntarily.

Tana wakes up after a party to find she is the only survivor, aside from her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, who has been infected, and Gavriel the vampire. In order to save the three of them, they enter Coldtown.

Take a look at the trailer:

It seems simple, but it isn’t. Aidan wants to be a vampire. Tana knows, from bitter experience, that she doesn’t. And Gavriel is a mystery, perhaps even to himself.

Black reminds the reader that one of the attractions of vampirism is that it is a transformation. There are people who journey to Coldtown, who seek out the vampires, because what they want is to be other than they are. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown also reminds us that no transformation is absolute – it asks us to consider how much of the original self remains in the transformed one, even when that transformed self has become something other than human.

There was so much that I loved about The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. But in particular, I loved the characters, who were real and complex. Tana is an excellent example of strength and compassion, but even the secondary characters were fully realized and compelling. The choices that were made felt organic – like they grew out of the characters making them, rather than the demands of plot or author. And while I won’t talk about why, I loved the ending. It was exactly right.

Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is one of my favorite books this year, and I’m sure it will be on my year’s best list. I know I will read it again, and I highly recommend it to you.

By Kat Howard