It’s probably true that a lot of people are suffering from vampire fatigue, especially with the pretty, sparkling vampires of Twilight and the pretty, brooding vampires of The Vampire Diaries and the pretty…well, you get the idea. But The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black’s latest novel, reads like a love letter to old school vampires. And it works.
It’s not that the vampires in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown aren’t pretty—that tends to go with the territory—but Holly Black is taking vampires back to a time when there was still some horror to them. She manages to accomplish something that honors the tropes of vampire fiction while still making it feel fresh.
The novel takes place in a world where vampires are real and humanity knows all about them. Usually, vampires are restricted to penned in areas called Coldtowns. But occasionally, some get out.
Coldest Girl begins with Tana, a seventeen year old girl, waking up after a sundown party (from dusk ‘til dawn). Tana, having drunk too much, passed out in the shower. When she wakes up, though, everyone at the party is dead. Well, almost everyone. She finds her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, trussed up in bed and a vampire restrained next to him. She escapes and rescues both Aidan and the strange vampire, Gavriel, rescuing them from other vampires who seem to want to see them dead.
Unfortunately, though, Aidan’s been infected. The bite of a vampire infects a normal human, turning them Cold. If they feed on human blood while they’re infected, they’ll turn into a proper vampire. If they don’t feed, however, they can fight off the infection. Unfortunately, they have to keep from feeding for eighty-eight days, the upper limit of the infection. Aidan doesn’t seem to be that strong.
Of course Tana knows all of this because her mother was infected. Her father kept his wife locked up in the basement telling his two daughters not to open the door under any circumstances. But after hearing her mother plead and cry and beg, ten year old Tana opened the door. And her mother attacked her, trying to drink from her. Her father was forced to cut off his wife’s head.
Tana thinks she might be infected, too—an injury sustained in the rescue attempt. So all three of them—Tana, Aidan, and Gavriel—make for the nearest Coldtown, Springfield, the largest of them all.
Along the way they meet up with Midnight and Winter, two other kids who are trying to get into the Coldtown, wanting to become vampires. Because of course cults have sprung up around the beautiful and dangerous vampires, spurred on by reality television and blogs and live feeds from inside the Coldtowns.
As might be expected, nothing goes as smoothly as it’s supposed to. And Gavriel and Tana form a very special relationship. One which is also made more complicated when it ends up that Gavriel is not exactly what he claims to be. Tana, who has been thrust into these circumstances, must take control. Otherwise she’s liable to become just another meal for a vampire…
While the novel feels original, Black doesn’t reinvent vampires here. If anything, she draws on some of the familiar tropes of vampire fiction. There’s a touch of Anne Rice to some of the flashback scenes, for example. And anyone who ever read a Vampire: The Masquerade book wouldn’t feel out of place. But Black employs these tropes in a way that keeps them fresh, transporting them to a world of teens and blogs and reality television and YouTube videos.
But most of all, vampires in Black’s world are dangerous. She stresses their hunger and the bloody lengths they’ll go to sate it. The costs of pursuing the lifestyle are shown. Vampires are still sexy and pretty and desirable beyond belief, but that desire is all too often poisonous to those who have it.
Anyone who’s read any of Holly Black’s previous work knows that she knows how to write. She’s really great with descriptions here and gives a great sense of the vampire world—what they wear, how they act. And while I’m not usually too captivated by descriptions of any kind of physical intimacy, one scene in the novel had me practically fanning myself.
If you have any interest in a well-written vampire tale, one with action and romance and horror and more than a few kick-ass moments, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is well worth your time. Do yourself a favor and pick it up.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is available September 3rd from Little, Brown
Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator and reviewer who still can’t resist a well-written vampire story. He writes regular science fiction and fantasy columns for LitReactor. You can follow him on his website, and he tweets @rajanyk.