The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

“It felt scary, as if she were stepping across some invisible boundary, as if she might not know herself afterward. As if she were becoming the self she’d always thought lurked just underneath her skin. Her coolest possible self.”

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is very much old-school Holly Black: edgy aesthetics, gritty/snarky dialogues, and an abundance of morally gray characters. 13-year-old me would have loved it. Alas, present-day me found it to be just entertaining, campy even. Although this was published during the YA vampire ‘craze’ I do think that the world-building makes this a more original take on the trope. In this world vampires are known to exist and (mostly) contained in walled cities called, you guessed it, Coldtowns. There, vampires live alongside humans who are either infected, and may in turn become vampires, or simply looking for an alternative and wannabe-anarchical way of living.

Tana, our protagonist, is a teenage girl who wakes up from a party gone very very wrong. She and her now-infected ex are the only survivors of a vampire-lead massacre. They are joined by a mysterious vampire boy who may or may not have their best interest at heart. Eventually, they are joined by other edgy characters who are the embodiment of early-tumblr-days and travel to the nearest Coldtown. Tana has to contend herself with the groups’ shifting dynamics and allegiances, all the while fighting to keep her humanity alive. As with most of Black’s female protagonists, Tana has a complicated relationship with her mother, a not-like-other-girls attitude, and an annoying sister. The love interest is quintessentially Blackesque. He is a very intriguing and hypnotic person with an edgy way of flirting and an even edgier wardrobe. The characters surrounding Tana and her li are barely fleshed out. Her ex in particular. The guy’s characterization was all over the place so by the end I really questioned why Black tries to make him salvageable (when he has no redeeming qualities or interesting character traits). The finale really reminded me of Black’s other books, as they always seem to culminate in a royal-type of event that turns into a bloodbath or something of that nature.
Still, this was a relatively enjoyable romp. The plot’s fast pace flags down after the characters enter Coldtown but the shifting group dynamics held my interest. I did find Tana to be one of Black’s blandest leads. She was likeable enough but I would have liked her edgy vibe to be backed up by some actual ‘grinta’, instead, aside from her actions at the beginning and at the ending of the story, she is relatively passive. Which is a pity as I do think that her character could have been a lot more complex.

All in all, this makes for a good Halloween read as it has the kind of terrific and sumptuous descriptions one can expect from Black’s work (lots of descriptions about clothes, senses-related experiences/feelings, blood galore).

“In the dream, she and her mother were together, undead, dressed in billowy white gowns with ruffles at their collars and at the hems of their skirts. They ran through the night together in a darkling fairy tale of blood and forests and snow, of girls with raven’s wing hair and rose-red lips and sharp teeth as white as milk.”

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ¼

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