Let’s start with this: it takes a LOT for a vampire novel to impress me. I’ve read so many, seen the stories told and retold, even steeped myself in bloodsuckers and their lore for my thesis in college (the English department had no idea what to make of me.)
So when I tell you Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a gripping, gritty new addition to my list of Vampire Books That Rock, know that I’m not saying that lightly.
What’s it about? From the description:
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.
During the escape from the party house-turned-abbatoir, Tana feels the graze of a vampire’s tooth. Her next few days will be filled with uncertainty: it’s not enough of a bite for her to be sure she’ll turn Cold, but she doesn’t dare return home to her father and sister if the infection is raging through her body.
Tana and her determination made this book for me. Other people in her world worship the vampires; the parties constantly streaming from within the Coldtowns have made them into celebrities. But Tana is far from starstruck, and is often actively repulsed by what she sees going on inside the Coldtown’s walls. Inside, away from the cameras, the humans who’ve elected to stay live on what scraps they can find. They squat in abandoned houses, bartering for food. At night, they vie for the vampires’ attention, hoping one of them will take note and make them Cold, too.
Tana is a character with agency. She fights for herself and her friends. When setbacks hit, she adjusts rather than despairing and waiting to be rescued.
The worldbuiding is interesting, not only the rules and lore behind the vampires, but also the human response to their rise. Sure, you’ve got your hot vampires, your beautiful, brooding fiends (and of course, the kissing thereof), but these vamps aren’t Louis du Pont du Lac or Edward Cullen. They’re unrepentant killers, and humans are cattle to them. The cattle might wear pretty dresses and provide an evening’s entertainment, but in the end, they’re food.
Ms. Black doesn’t pull punches, either. She’s created a brutal world and doesn’t flinch from showing it. I love her for it.