Monday, September 23, 2013

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Holly Black
Read: August 31 - September 2, 2013
Published: September 3, 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Reader
Source: BEA
Category: Vampires, Horror, YA
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

Official Summary: Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black. (From Goodreads)


When The Coldest Girl in Coldtown begins, Tana has just woken up from a night of partying with her friends. She apparently slept in a bathtub, although she doesn't remember how she got there. This is mildly alarming. However, when Tana discovers that nearly every other person in the house has been brutally murdered by vampires, she soon determines that where she slept off her hangover is the least concerning thing in her life. Narrowly escaping the massacre, Tana somehow ends up on a road trip with the two other "living" people left the house, her ex-boyfriend Aidan, who's been infected and is starting to crave blood, and somewhat inexplicably, a chained vampire named Gavriel. 

Whenever I read a vampire book and the undead are portrayed as a hidden race living on the fringe of society, I don't understand why these powerful creatures aren't out in the open trying to take over the world. Aren't they stronger and faster and more durable than any human? Thus, I'm always fascinated and a little giddy when a story puts vampires out in mainstream society. I was especially excited that Holly Black let her vampires loose in modern America. 

What would happen if vampires were unleashed in our celebrity and reality TV obsessed nation?  How quickly would we become desensitized to blood drinking, and murder if it was broadcast live over the airways, and becoming a vampire was seen as the ultimate death experience? I really liked the ways this book looked at our culture, and the fact that Black was not shy about the gory details. The more I read, the less I was freaked out by the blood flow, which I think is the point.

Tana lives in exactly this kind of world. However she's never gotten into the vampire hype until she is literally forced into it. She ends up on a surreal road trip with Aidan and Gavriel, heading to one of America's Coldtowns or walled cities for vampires, infected humans, and anyone else who wants to get in on the action. 

Tana drove me crazy at times. I didn't always agree with her choices. But I respect the fact that that she was always true to herself. She did what she thought was right without much if any waffling or questioning. Although I was sure I'd loathe ex-boyfriend Aidan when the book started, he really endeared himself to me throughout the course of the story. But the person who stole my heart was Gavriel. Of course he's a beautiful vampire and can be charming, but Holly Black doesn't romanticize him much beyond that. Gavriel is dangerous and also possibly insane. Tana knows she shouldn't trust Gavriel, but she's drawn to him, and goodness so are we. Gavriel's role in this story is my favorite. Beneath all that wildness is someone with whom Tana finds a connection, and their slowly building romance was truly wonderful. 

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is primarily narrated by Tana in third person, but every other chapter is shorter and features background/side information. The alternate chapters recount Tana's history, or other information about characters or themes in the book. This story actually has a fairly large cast of colorful characters besides the three main road-trippers. While I think these sections were vital to the telling of the story, they did slow down the flow of the book for me at times. 

I read the entirety of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown with a vague sense that I was waiting for something to happen. Perhaps that's the nature of a book that features a road trip to a town where people are either dead or on their way there, living in a perpetual state of limbo before death claims them.  I know this is not really anything that I can quantify or explain, but I felt slightly unsettled while reading this book and not in a pleasant way. However, I do think there were two reasons for this feeling.

The first is that The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is very much a bloody, atmospheric vampire tale where the setting is as important as the story. Holly Black is commenting on our culture and the role of vampires in it. It's not a book that works well if you're speeding through it to find out what happens next, although it did keep me turning pages until the end. As Steph pointed out in her review, I'd probably enjoy more on a second read. It's a book that has the potential to get richer with age and a closer look. 

Second, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is not about big revelations or getting from point a to point B although there are both in this book. But I think that's also the point. No matter what happens to Tana, what she does or what she becomes, she remains fundamentally the same person. I really like how this message played into the overall vampire themes. 

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a beautifully written tale for anyone who still enjoys a good vampire book. It also features a really great ending. Although there is room for a sequel, I hope that Holly Black doesn't write one (she has said this is a standalone). Not because I wouldn't like more story, but because I think another book would water down its impact. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone


  1. I really like learning that this is a standalone (yay for more noncontemporary standalones!) I don't tend to like vampire books but I feel like this one might be an exception-it just sounds like it takes a different tack and is worth checking out. I hope to do so soon!

  2. Oh, I didn't realize it was a stand-alone. When you described this vamps+people society, I immediately thought about True Blood and Sookie Storehouse series which is very similar and Sookie has a lot of traits that Tana has. I like the premise, but as you said, it seems like people's main issue with this is that the don't feel like it's going somewhere big. I'm usually not a big fan of now-past-now writing and it rarely works for me. I'm still not sure about whether or not I'll read It, but you've written a lovely review nevertheless.

  3. Now I'm torn. I has fully banked on you disliking this one, only because a handful of my other friends had, so I figured your opinion would seal the deal and I could turn my back on this for good, but now you just make me want to pick this up! *hmph* You and your reviews, Lauren, are messing with my TBR. Looks like I'll be giving this a shot after all. (Besides, I love Holly Black, so why not? And it's a win-win?) Beauifully persuasive review, as always, Lauren!(;

  4. So I am getting a Blood of Eden meets Sookie Stackhouse vibe from this review. I definitely want to read this because a) vampires are my first true love in the world of paranormals b) Gavriel (what a fab name) sounds awesome because I love when vamps are of the scary, slightly insane variety and c) it's HOLLY BLACK writing. She is a favorite of mine--I love her characters. And it's a STANDALONE! Wow. That surprises me!

    Great review, L:)

  5. I love when I come across noncontemporary standalones because there such a dying breed in YA right now. I think the last time I feel a standalone vampire book was well....never. I sort of love the whole topic of vampires, I'm not a fan of twilight or anything (i did read the books in all honesty but i never LOVED them) but i do enjoy reading a bunch of different takes on them. (Vampire Academy was good.) That being said i've heard so many mixed things about this one that i'm kind of on the fence but you seem to really have liked it so i'm thinking maybe! :)
    great review Lauren! :)

    Lily @ Lilysbookblog

  6. Okay, first of all, thank you for the grab code! I'm still undecided on the whole Warner/Adam issue, but the button is so gorgeous, I must have it. MUST. And now I do. :)

    I don't really understand the concept of vampires in hiding either. I think Holly's approach is much more convincing. And we would be desensitized in a heartbeat, no question about it.
    I have an arc of this, but it just didn't work out with my reading schedule. I should move a few things around and get to it sooner, I rather like the sound of it.
    Fabulous review, Lauren!

  7. Ok, I'm not a huge paranormal or vampire reader but I just bought this one last week because it was so cheap for Kindle and I was SO intrigued by the sample. I'm really glad I read your review because a) I feel like I know what to expect, particularly about the atmosphere and pacing and b) I usually like a lot of the same books you like so it makes me more excited to read this one! With October almost upon us, this will be a perfect "creepy" read!

  8. I'm so glad you enjoyed this. I agree with you pretty much 100%, but especially about Gavriel--I loved that he was this beautiful, attractive vampire, but also unstable, broken, dark, and dangerous. And not dangerous in a sexy way, but in a truly horrific way. I also really loved your point that Tana doesn't change in the novel... and yet it works. It's one of those rules that I never thought to question, but if anyone is going to break it, I'm glad it's Holly Black.

  9. I really enjoyed reading your take on this book, Lauren! This is the first I've really heard about how Black appears to be examining our society's reality TV obsessed culture, and the place that vampires and death could play within it. That's the sort of fascinating concept I want to know before starting a novel. You make this novel sound very intelligent (and I do appreciate intelligent YA novels). Still not crazy about the vampire thing, but I am interested in seeing how Black both uses and subverts the typical tropes here.

  10. If you've ever enjoyed a vampire story, give THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN a chance. Black has made the vampire hot again.
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  11. I ended up loving it. From the beginning of the story where Tana wakes up amongst a houseful of dead people - to the suspenseful ending -- I LOVED IT. It's the first vampire novel in a long time that I've loved so much -- and it doesn't disappoint. It's whimsical and gory and fabulous.

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