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.