Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black

The beginning: Tana wakes up after a party to find that everyone else is dead. She’s surrounded by the bodies of kids she’s known since kindergarten, and there’s a scrape of a bite on her leg that might mean she’s going to become a vampire. When she goes upstairs, she finds two people still alive: Her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, who has been bitten and is in the process of becoming a vampire, and a vampire boy called Gavriel, chained to a bed. When Tana finds them, this is what she thinks:

No one else was going to get killed today, not if she could save them. Certainly not someone she’d once thought she loved, even if he was a jerk. Not some dead boy full of good advice. And she hoped not herself either.

So she saves them.

The end (spoilers in this section only! Skip it if you don’t want to know!): Oo, lots of characters I don’t know. That’s the worst. But on the upside, lots of talking about what’s happened so far. Evidently Tana is infected, and she saves her little sister before staying in Coldtown to try to ride out the infection. (You can be human again if you survive for eighty-eight days without finishing the transformation by drinking human blood.) Also she evidently killed two vampires I haven’t met yet, bully for her, and Gavriel tells her he loves her, in a weirdly charming way:

“I love you, you see — and I fear I have no way to say or show it that isn’t terrible, except coming here. I would kill everyone in the world for you, if you wanted.” He seemed to notice the look that passed over her face, before rushing on. “Or not, obviously.”

Or not, obviously.

And then the ending is ambiguous as to whether Tana does manage to ride out the infection, or whether she gives in and becomes a vampire, or what. This kind of ending is good because, really, you know she probably dies. But you can choose to believe she’s tough enough to live, without feeling that the author has undercut the seriousness of the stakes.

The whole: Evidently I’m back from my vampire hiatus. My expectations for The Coldest Girl in Coldtown were low; or actually, my expectations for my own ability to enjoy a YA vampire novel were low. I thought I might never enjoy another YA vampire novel ever because all I’d be able to think about would be the uncomfortable relationship between sex and death that vampires represent, and how weird and yucky that is in books marketed to teenage girls who already have lots of conflicting (and scary) messages about sex. So really all The Coldest Girl in Coldtown had to do was not repel me.

Which it did! Hooray! It did because of this line:

“You can’t win when someone else makes all the rules,” Pauline warned her. Tana didn’t listen.

Pauline is saying this in reference to Tana’s relationship with her then-boyfriend, Aidan, whom Tana is determined to be cooler and chiller than (not like all the crazy girls he dated before her), but it’s a pretty good precis of the book. Tana is  always playing a game she can’t win, a game where someone else has made all the rules. Though she knows this, she ignores it: She keeps on fighting to win, no matter how impossibly the odds are stacked against her.

Gavriel could have been a serious failure of this book: He’s a centuries-old vampire who has a soft spot (or more) for a teenaged human girl. Holly Black dodges this as best it can be dodged by making Tana ferocious. Her rescuing of herself and the people around her isn’t particularly due to her being the specialest of snowflakes. It’s due to her being dogged, and pissed off, and unwilling to hand a win to the people who have pissed her off. When she asks Gavriel what he sees in her, he tells her: “In all my long life, though there were many times I prayed for it, no one has ever saved me. No one but you.”

That’s a pretty good reason, actually.

All of which to say that the representations of gender in this book were very good. With Twilight as a cultural backdrop, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown gets a lot of points from me for its easy avoidance of the many pitfalls of teenaged-girl-meets-mysterious-powerful-boy stories. As a story qua story, though, the plot doesn’t fully succeed. There are several important revelations in the final third of the book that should have felt staggering, but instead fell a little flat. Black hasn’t built enough of the world to make revelations about the world seem important; it’s only the characters that she’s made matter.

That said, she makes the characters matter quite a bit, and for that alone, I recommend The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. It’s fun, and I like Tana as much as I’ve liked any YA heroine in quite a while.

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  • Ana @ things mean a lot

    I’m excited to read this! The gender stuff in Doll Bones was handled so well – it made me want to read all of Holly Black’s books.

    • Gin Jenny

      I read a Holly Black book a long long time ago and found it unexceptional, but I liked The Coldest Girl in Coldtown enough to want to read more by her. Doll Bones definitely included!

  • Alice

    It’s nice to know YA books can get representation right :) Although I don’t think I’ll be reading this, I need to avoid Vampires for a little longer. *Can still only think of Twilight when Vampires are mentioned*

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahaha, I understand. I felt that way for a very long time.

  • Heather

    I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would as well. I’m pretty much dried up on vampires (heh), but this was a nice surprise. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    • Gin Jenny

      I like a nice surprise where books are concerned. It was sad when I thought I could never love vampire books again.

  • rhapsodyinbooks

    I thought Tana was very dumb when it came to guys. Aidan is a jerk but she keeps on helping him. She finds his gender-offensive behaviors “cute” which I didn’t like either. On the other hand, I thought Gavriel was an excellent character. I also liked the discussions on the nature of evil. (No, I don’t actually remember books this well; I had to go back and read my own review – ha ha, which is why I blog! LOLOL)

    • Gin Jenny

      I’m really surprised you felt that way!! I thought one of the best things about the book was the way she acted with Aidan. She helped him because the alternative to helping him was him being dead, and even though she finds him deeply annoying in a lot of ways, she doesn’t want him dead. And I liked it that she was no longer interested in him romantically, under no illusions about what kind of person he was, AND still really fond of him in some ways; and that she does not have, and never had, the power to make him act differently. So she just interacts with him as he is. I liked it because it’s exactly the way she responds to every challenge that gets thrown at her — she doesn’t wail about it, she figures out how she’s going to deal with it. Aidan’s just another thing she has to deal with.

  • Jen McDowell Mullen

    Indulging in a little vampire reading every once in a while is, well, fun. I’m glad this one turned out to be entertaining. I already have Black’s Doll Bones on my list, but may make room for this one, too.

    • Gin Jenny

      It is fun! I hear good things about Doll Bones too though.

  • Care

    Whatdoyouknow, I just read a vampire book. Am I not full of surprises? Matt Haig’s The Radleys and it was pretty good. Better than expected when I discovered that it was about a family of vampires (doh). I can’t for the life of me remember why I bought it or how I had forgotten what it was about.

    • Gin Jenny

      I have not read The Radleys but I remember it because of how crazy awesome I think its cover is.

  • Riv @ Bookish Realm

    I read this one in January and it was quite enjoyable – unfortunately there’s nothing else for me to compare with other than Dracula, since I have read nil other vampire books. But I liked the whole atmosphere of this book and you make some great points on Tana in this review.

    • Gin Jenny

      Really? You’re probably fine without reading that many vampire books. A lot of them are terrible.

      • Riv @ Bookish Realm

        I’ve actually never been that interested in the whole vampire-thing and this book I won once, so I probably wouldn’t have picked it up myself. Just goes to show though that there are good reads even among the kinds of books you don’t think you are interested in. I kinda enjoyed the whole focus on social media as well.

  • Jessica

    You might have convinced me to come back from my vampire hiatus! Plus, I haven’t read any Holly Black yet, and I’ve been wanting to.

    • Gin Jenny

      I was happy I came back from mine! Holly Black is worth it!

  • The Literary Omnivore

    I agree; it fizzles at the end, but Tana is just a blazing inferno of a character. I wanted everything to turn out well for her, I liked her so much. Plus, I really wanted to see her reunite with Pauline—the way she used Pauline to motivate herself to survive just kept breaking my heart over and over, in the best possible way.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yes, me too. And I’d have loved to see some of Pauline in person, too! It would be fun if Holly Black wrote some more books set in that world — not sequels, because I like how she left Tana and Gavriel, but just other books. It would be neat.

  • Words for Worms

    Ooooh this sounds like something I could sink my teeth into (pun completely intended.) But no, really. I want to read this!

    • Gin Jenny

      NICE. NICE. That is a PUN right there.

  • Jess – A Book Hoarder

    I just got this audiobook from the library so I skipped your end part but now I’m excited for the book.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yay! I hope you enjoy it!

  • Kailana

    I have been looking forward to reading this, but haven’t got to it yet. I am reading Doll Bones, though, and liking it!

    • Gin Jenny

      Doll Bones is next on my list!

  • Charlie

    I want to read this because I loved Black’s contribution to Rags & Bones (also about vampires), and I’m really happy to hear it’s not like Twilight. I’d been staying away for similar reasons.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yeah, Twilight really polluted the well of my potential enjoyment of vampire novels. I’m delighted that all the books are written and all the movies are out and I don’t have to hear about it anymore.

  • Christy

    I’m kind of off all YA novels for a while, well at least the dystopian and paranormal ones – I never did have much interest in the other types in the first place. But when I’m ready to come back to them, this is one that I’m interested in.

    • Gin Jenny

      Fair enough! There is certainly a glut of them on the market, and I’ve been on an unofficial break from them as well. So I can say authoritatively that this is a good one to come back to, when you’re ready!

  • samantha1020

    Adding this one to the TBR list for sure because I’ve been meaning to read more YA this year. I think that I’ve tried this author before now but I’m not positive. Great review :)

    • Gin Jenny

      I think I’ve tried her before, too, but I cannot for the life of me remember if that’s really true. I think I maaaaaaybe have?

  • Nish

    I am not very fond of vampire novels myself (severely burned by TwIlight) and so far I haven’t felt very compelled to read Holly Black books. These days YA is so full of vampires and series books that it’s quite hard to keep up.

  • Arizona Pet Shipping information

    Love this read, couldn’t put it down, well done excitement love mystery and romance with a strong female heroine love it! Creative idea, more believable scenarios than typical vampire generate.

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