Release Date: September 3, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: Finished copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review
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.
Tell Me More: I first encountered “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” as a short story in Holly Black’s collection, The Poison Eaters and Other Stories. It was atmospheric and lovely, but compared to the other stories, its power over me was short-lived. I do remember thinking that I would probably like it better if it had been longer, and two years later, I learned that Black had expanded the original story into a full-length novel. Sadly, I still did not find that certain quality I was looking for in this version of the story, despite my appreciation of its world.
When it comes to paranormal stories, I’ve found that the most important thing for me as a reader is a protagonist with whom I can at least sympathize, if not identify. The protagonist is the reader’s way into the paranormal world, and if they aren’t compelling or relatable enough to follow, it is difficult to be invested in what happens to them. I never quite reached that point with Tana, and my distance from her kept me from being anything more than an impartial viewer of the events in the story. I felt bad for her, and I was interested enough to keep reading about her, but I wasn’t captured by her journey. There are several points in the novel where the reader is taken back to turning points in Tana and Gavriel’s past, as well as the development of the Coldtowns, and I often found myself more interested in these flashbacks than what was actually happening.
Pacing-wise, Coldtown takes the scenic route through Tana’s journey. One could say that it is fitting, considering that vampires are immortal, and time doesn’t mean the same thing to them as it does to humans. But as a reader, I couldn’t appreciate the slow pacing as much as they might. Even when the flashbacks end, the plot itself has barely moved an inch, and there were moments when I had to put the book down, feeling as though I’d been reading for an hour when really, I’d only passed 30-something pages.
This is not to say that the writing is bad. Black’s signature prose is still powerful as ever, especially during the flashbacks to Tana’s childhood, and I almost felt like I was in the basement with her, losing the last remnants of my own mother to an insatiable monster. Coldtown itself pulses with an indestructible presence, as if to say “we are here and we will never leave” to any readers who still doubt that this could be possible. The human desire to settle and to hold on to the world is still very much present in these vampires, and Tana herself has to confront that desire and figure out if it still lives in her.
The Final Say: Though hampered by a crawling pace and characters that are difficult to get to know, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown still brings a chilling take on vampire lore and the things that make us human, even when we feel like monsters.
Holly Black is a best-selling author of contemporary fantasy novels for kids, teens, and adults. She is the author of the Modern Faerie Tale series (Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside), The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), and The Good Neighbors graphic novels (with Ted Naifeh) The Poison Eaters and Other Stories, a collection of short fiction, and The Curse Worker series (White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart). She is also the co-editor of three anthologies, Geektastic (with Cecil Castellucci), Zombies vs. Unicorns (with Justine Larbalestier), and Welcome to Bordertown(with Ellen Kushner). Her most recent works are the middle grade novel, Doll Bones, and the dark fantasy stand-alone, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.