It’s a long time since a vampire book caught my eye. It’s difficult these days to find genre novels that are well written, thoughtful and original. Even rarer to find a YA-category novel with a female protagonist that isn’t primarily angsty romance.
Which is not to say Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (published 2013) is without romance. It even has an HFN ending. But the romance is not central to the plot, and there’s no clichéd love triangle or idolisation of unhealthy behaviours. If anything, one purpose of the story is to expose the seductive glamour of vampires as an abusive fiction.
Tana, our heroine, is seventeen, an accidental sole survivor of a massacre. She’s not a Chosen One and has no special powers, but she shares a trait common to many heroes: a stubborn determination to do what is right, even in the face of mortal terror.
Immortal terror too, of course. The story is set in a world where vampire infection is rife, and where whole cities have been walled around. These are the Coldtowns of the title – although the first part of the title, The Coldest Girl in … is misleading and probably just for effect. (How many titles start with The Girl …?) The lives of the dead and undead within these enclaves are glamourised Reality-TV-style and broadcast to the world, luring in a steady stream of wannabe vampires with their fresh, warm, human blood.
If the basic plot is a wild, roller-coaster ride (I read the second half in one sitting), the book’s unifying theme is death, where life is warm and death is cold. Vampiric infection is perceived as a creeping cold. The vampires themselves are not the evil of demonic possession, but rather once-humans cursed with – and corrupted by – abnormal lust and power.
There are also some nice historical touches, with scenes in Paris, Vienna and Russia. In many ways, this is a very traditional vampire tale, but with a modern approach, a thriller with elements of both horror and romance.