The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly BlackHolly Black's novel Tithe was my first brush with the genre of urban fantasy (not that I actually knew what it was called at the time), and for a young girl whose reading diet was mostly made up of high fantasy, Black's story about faeries living and hiding in plain sight in modern-day New Jersey was a very refreshing change. Tithe was followed up by Valiant and Ironside and still today those three books remain high up on the list of my all-time favourite urban fantasy books. As a consequence I've kept close watch on Black's work, especially her young adult novels. The Curseworkers trilogy left me disappointed; the story failed to get me invested and I never even read beyond White Cat. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, a vampire novel based on a short story by Black with the same title I'd read and liked, caught my interest however, and is, I found, much more my cup of tea than The Curseworkers was.

Like her Modern Fairytales-trilogy, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown deals with the two separate spheres of the mundane and the supernatural and what happens when they meet and interact with each other, focused on a teenage girl caught in between both worlds. Unlike the faeries in New Jersey, however, the vampires in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown don't live hidden away and unknown to humanity. Officially, the human world and the vampire world are kept apart by the walls surrounding the cities where the vampires and the humans who worship and wants to be like them lives (called Coldtowns), but they do a poor job of truly keeping the two spheres from merging. Vampires and their lascivious lifestyle have become a nation-wide phenomena: the Coldtowns are littered with cameras, broadcasting the glamorous façade of vampire life to the world outside.

But the vampires are less trapped in Coldtown than they appear. Everyone knows it is dangerous to be out after dark, but that doesn't stop Tana and her friends from throwing a party that last well into the night. Early the next morning Tana wakes up in the bathroom behind a locked door with everyone beyond it dead and sucked dry of blood. All except two, that is – in a bedroom she finds her ex-boyfriend Aiden, who during the night has been bitten and is thirsting for human blood to complete his transformation, and a vampire who tells her his name is Gavriel. Both of them are in chains, and against better judgement Tana decides to free them and help them get to Coldtown rather than leaving them at the mercy of the rising sun.

Holly Black - Tithe  Holly Black - Valiant (A Modern Faerie Tale) Holly Black - Ironside (A Modern Faery's Tale #2) Holly Black - The White Cat (Curse Workers #1) 

On the road to Coldtown, they meet Midnight and Winter, a sibling pair who have decided to pursue immortality and to document every part of it to put out on their blog. These two melodramatic goth-kids with their ardent wish to become vampires and their insistence to video tape every second of their journey for their blog-readers are certainly amusing but at the same time deeply tragic characters. At its heart The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a book about alienation, particularly among teenagers. It is in youth culture especially the vampire have become a romanticised creature and to teenagers the lure of Coldtown is strongest. Anyone can get into Coldtown and the promise of eternal, inhuman life draws all the odd kids looking and longing for strength, transformation or an escape from their grey everyday lives into its lethal embrace. In Coldtown there is no shortage of vampires, though, and those at the top of the food chain are more interested in keeping the new arrivals mortal and full of fresh blood than bringing them over to the undead side. The darker parts of life in Coldtown, and vampiric existence overall, are glossed over in the broadcasts, leaving only the glittering, decadent image of the Eternal Ball: vampires and humans dancing the night away, every night of the week – forever. This is what Midnight and Winter and thousands other young people are searching for, but once inside Coldtown the beautiful illusion begins to crumble.

To Tana that illusion was stripped away years ago, when she was only a child, and she still bears the scar to show for it. To her the horror the vampire world presents is not veiled, and yet she finds herself inexplicably drawn to it, even as it repulses her. In The Coldest Girl in Coldtown it is not only the mortal and the vampire world that mingle and merge: the line between humanity and monstrosity is scarily thin, as is the one between life and death. It is almost as if the book itself is struggling with defining its focus – every chapter opens with a quote about death, often glorifying it, even though Tana rejects any thought of becoming undead, and the POV keeps shifting between vampire and human, the past and the present.

Bram Stoker - Dracula The Vampire Chronicles, Anne Rice Lost Souls, Poppy Z Brite

In creating her vampires it seems a little like Black has wanted to have the cake and eat it too, because they are monstrous, aristocratic, mad, romanticised, courteous, shunned, chaotic, bloodthirsty and controlled – all at once. They are the hybrid children of Count Dracula, Louis and Lestat (The Vampire Chronicles, Anne Rice), and Zillah, Molochai and Twig (Lost Souls, Poppy Z Brite). To that Black adds a complex, interesting heroine, a well-executed love story and a plot that twists and turns like the labyrinthine streets of Coldtown, and has me hoping that this, too, eventually will turn into a trilogy.