Friday 10 January 2014

REVIEW: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black (4*)

(Indigo, 2013)

"Vampires were fairy tales and magic.  They were the wolf in the forest that ran ahead to grandmother's house, the video game big boss who could be hunted without guilt, the monster that tempted you into its bed, the powerful eternal beast one might become.  The beautiful dead, la belle mort."

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a new take on vampire lore by the author of the highly-acclaimed Curse Workers series.  I've never read them, but Charlotte and Hanna have both told me how good they are, so I was definitely hoping to enjoy Holly Black's new top-end YA novel.

What's great about this new addition to the vast pool of vampire fiction is the fact that it blends old-school elements of vampire mythology with a whole new twist on their existence.  The central thing to get to grips with is the idea of 'going Cold'.  When a vampire bites a human in Black's world, their body temperature quickly drops and within two days they develop a fierce and irresistible craving for human blood.  With their first taste, they will die and rise again as a vampire.  Their only hope of living on 'normally' is to quarantine themselves for eighty-eight days until the infection has left their body.  Understandably, very few people manage to withstand this torture.  Protagonist Tana's infected mother attacked her, still a small child, in a frenzy of blood lust, and had to be killed by her father.  Their family has never really recovered.

So, that's where we begin.  Tana is now in her late teens, and has woken up at a 'sundown party' to find herself surrounded by the corpses of her friends and schoolmates.  Someone has made the fatal mistake of leaving a window ajar, allowing vampires to enter.  So far, so I Am Legend.  Wandering through the house in shock, she stumbles across her ex-boyfriend Aiden, tied to a bed and obviously bitten, and a rather attractive young vampire, Gavriel, mysteriously chained up on the floor.  As the undead perpetrators of the carnage creep closer, Tana makes the snap decision to save Aiden AND the vampire, narrowly escaping out the window, bundling them into her car and heading for Coldtown, a walled party prison-city for vampires, infected humans and all the gothic hangers-on who hope to one day win favour and be made immortal.  Of course, with a Cold ex and a half-crazy vampire for company, nothing's going to be simple, on either side of the Coldtown wall.  This is the story of Tana's self-discovery, of Aiden's transformation, of Tana and Gavriel's mutual attraction, of Gavriel's past and of Coldtown's secrets.  It's complex and intriguing and exciting, and I loved it.

Part of what makes it so good is the mixture of brilliant influences and interesting reference points.  I thought Gavriel was pure Anne Rice, an old-fashioned seductive, black-haired, slightly mad vampire who holds a delicious attraction for Tana.  Lucien, the bad boy of the piece, was a bit like Caius from The Twilight Saga in my head - young, blonde, arrogant - with more than a touch of Lestat in him too.  The hangers-on and rather pathetic wannabe-immortals reminded me of the fang bangers in the True Blood series, the ones who just wanted to be around vampires because OMG IMMORTAL.  The city itself was a tad Warm Bodies-in-reverse, a prison to keep vampires out of the way, a lawless place where parties go on all night and every debauched whim is catered for.  And each chapter is garnished with a literary quote relating to death or immortality.  It's very elegantly done.

The constant social media theme was also quite interesting, bringing the novel right up to date.  Live feeds coming from inside Coldtown - Lucien's famous party feed is one of the most popular - are eagerly followed by schoolgirls on the outside (including Tana's sister Pearl).  People have posters of their favourite personalities from television, whether vampire or bounty hunter.  People blog and vlog from inside the walls, and there are huge communities of wannabes whose sole aim is to get into Coldtown, meet up with friends inside, and transform into their 'true selves'.  Tana, Aiden and Gavriel fall in with two of these - siblings Midnight and Winter - near the walls of Coldtown, and their obsession with documenting everything via social media is a bit sickening.  The 'too much information' thing at work, even in the most inappropriate of situations...

Soooo, yes!  I really enjoyed the book.  It was beautifully written and very immersive, so that after a while I think I even dreamed about Coldtown once or twice!  Always the sign of a good book.  The attraction between Byronic Gavriel and Katniss-esque Tana was the right balance of seductive and pithy, dangerous and tender, as the best vampire romances always are, and there were a couple of twists that I didn't see coming until they hit, which again, is always a good sign for me.  I'll definitely be checking out more from Holly Black at some point, and highly recommend this one for anyone who likes their vampire novels well written and with a clever dose of fresh lore to... um... sink their teeth into.

Notable Quotables:

  • "Vampires were always more beautiful than the living.  Their skin was without blemish, marble smooth, and poreless.  The older they got, the more their unnatural red eyes grew bright as poppies and their hair became as lustrous as silk.  It was as if whatever demon possessed them, whatever force kept their corpse from the grave, had refined them in the blaze of its power, burning away their humanity to reveal something finer.  They looked absurdly gorgeous, glowing from the television like fallen angels.  Even from the beginning, that was a problem.  People liked pretty things.  People even liked pretty things that wanted to kill and eat them."
  • "Gavriel sat stock-still.  Inside him roiled such turmoil that he feared that should he move, he would smash every piece of furniture in the room, crack every pane of every window, until there was nothing but shining splinters where the parlour had been."
  • "You play with fire because you want to be burned."
  • "Tana thought about how much fun it must have been, once upon a time, to be a vampire and have forever stretching out in front of you - an endless carnival of nights.  They must have felt as almighty as angels, looking down on the world from their windows, choosing to spare each passerby."
  • "... the third option, the possibility that there's something monstrous inside of us that can be unleashed, is the most disturbing of all.  Maybe it's just us, us with a raging hunger, us with a couple of accidental murders under our belt.  Humanity, with the training wheels off the bike, careening down a steep hill.  Humanity, freed from the constraints of consequence and gifted with power.  Humanity, grown away from all things human."

Source: I got this book out of my local library.