Holly Black is no stranger to the fantastical. As the acclaimed author of the bestselling Spiderwick Chronicles series, her latest book The Coldest Girl in Coldtown has been billeted as one of the stand-out books of fall 2013. And, it does in fact rock. So much so that I have read it twice since its release in September, a rare feat.
While The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is not perfect (I have a few quibbles), there are many aspects of the book that will leave you coming back for more of this fantastic novel. Here are my top 10, in no particular order:
1) A sumptuously fantastical yet lifelike world: Black begins with a simple premise: what if vampires were real and “out” in society. In her rendition, the government quarantines vampires in camps, to keep them from infecting the rest of society. The unlucky humans left in these closed off hotspots and those crazy enough to move there form an alternate society with a primal pecking order. In these “coldtowns,” the oldest and most powerful vampires rule with an iron fist gloved in silk. Billed as an endless party and broadcast as the ultimate reality TV show, coldtown video feeds glamorize the elegant beauty of vampires, who become celebrities. Black gets the details of this world right, down to the vampire hunting bounty hunters and the school assemblies about the realities of vampirism. It’s fascinatingly original yet somehow not so farfetched that it’s entirely removed from today’s reality.
2) Going “cold”: Sometimes, the process of becoming a vampire seems a little too simple. Black adds an extra complicating layer to the process, which she calls “going cold.” In The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, vampirism is an infection that puts you into a maddening state of limbo. If you consume human blood within eighty-eight days of being infected by a vampire’s toxin, then you become a vampire. If you resist the increasingly terrible hunger pains, however, you will be cured of the infection and revert to full humanity. This caveat creates mountains of dramatic potential that Black employs very effectively.
3) A poetically mad hero: Gavriel, the hero of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, is unreliable and teetering on the brink of sanity. A man with a tortured past, he finds himself drawn to the heroine because she is the only person who ever saved him. Gavriel’s madcap antics and unpredictability make him both entertaining and an interesting foil for Tana, the heroine of the story.
4) A bootstrapping heroine: Although not entirely reliable herself, Tana has to step up to the plate when saddled with a crazy vampire, a cold ex-boyfriend with his sights on her jugular, and a pack of angry vampires chasing her. She also comes with a dramatic past that shapes her outlook on love, vampirism, and family. Tana is a heroine you can sink your teeth into, with a great developmental backstory.
5) A fabulous cast of supporting characters: Too often supporting characters get short shrift in young adult fiction, while the main couple receives all of the developmental attention. In The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Black does an excellent job of fleshing out supporting characters that refract her main couple in interesting ways. My favorites are the brother and sister duo Midnight and Winter. Gothic vampire groupies with an internet following, they embody at once our wired culture and our fascination with the undead.
6) Puts the grizzly back in vampire fiction: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is in many ways a homage to classic vampire fiction, like Dracula and Anne Rice’s extensive vampire repertoire, updated for the twenty-first century. Gone are the staid, stoic vegetarian vampires of Twilight. Black brings back vampires in all their gore and glory.
7) Bad-ass cover: This one speaks for itself. The cover conveys just the right tenor: creepy cool.
8) Just enough romance: There is romance, but it does not overwhelm the rest of the story. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is decidedly a tale of adventure and self-discovery with a dab of romance.
9) It’s a standalone novel: In YA especially, there are not enough standalone novels. There is something to be said for the self-contained nature of standalone novels. Too often, good stories are overextended and ultimately flounder under the weight of a series of three or four books. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is short, addictive, and punchy. I hope Black keeps it a standalone novel.
10) The hook to end all hooks: Blacks starts The Coldest Girl in Coldtown with an absolutely amazing, adrenaline-pumping hook. She launches you into her world running, and you don’t stop sprinting through the pages until you reach the very end.