Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (2013), narrated by Christine Lakin

Tana lives in a very different Massachusetts than I do. Vampires are a very real danger, and once people are bitten and infected, they go cold. They will start to hunger for human blood and if they give in, they will turn into vampires. If they resist (or are kept from) this temptation, they may die of their illness. Or maybe they'll live through it. Certain towns, like Springfield, MA, are walled off into Coldtowns, housing vampires, infected people, and those who want to become vampires because they're caught up in the glamour and excitement of the lawless Coldtown lifestyle. Tana has never been drawn to that life, but the day she wakes up after a party to find the remains of a slaughter, a bound vampire, and one of her friends infected, she knows that Coldtown is where she'll now be headed.

So yes, this is about vampires. Please don't dismiss it. Forget all the vampire stories you've read since Twilight made it a thing, because Holly Black's offering far surpasses all of them. She has created a new mythology, a new set of rules, and a captivating story. There was a clear separation between the few vampires of old and all the young vampires created in the current outbreak. Much of the plot centered around the relationship between these two camps and the ways in which the older vampires tried (and failed) to rein in the rampant spread of new vampires, who they viewed as competitors for a limited food supply.

Tana had a bad early experience when her mother was infected and Tana narrowly escaped with her life. She is pretty bad-ass and like any young person she makes mistakes, but she learns from them. She is kind, even to vampires, and selfless. She is especially protective of her younger sister Pearl, but also feels responsible for her infected friend and the vampire she just met. If I had to choose an ally for a trip to Coldtown, I could do much worse than Tana.

Balancing out Tana's smart, reasoned approach was her friend Aidan. It was clear why Tana and Aidan didn't last as a couple, as his uninhibited flirting with seemingly every girl and guy he met was an obvious damper on the relationship. Reckless and a little wild, when he became infected, it was clear he would give into his thirst and become a vampire. Still, he was a good person and made for an appealingly flawed ally.

Most mysterious of all was Gavriel, the vampire that completed the group as they left the massacre at the beginning of the story. Nobody had been kind to Gavriel for longer than he could remember and he was deeply touched at how Tana not only spared his life, but continued to show kindness to him. Gavriel has his share of secrets of course, and I loved his back story of growing up in Russia, becoming a vampire, and his role in the present internal strife in the vampire community.

This was a great choice in the audio format. I could have done without the dramatic music interrupting when I least expected it, but that is my only complaint. The narrator displayed an impressive range, convincingly doing male voices and accents, with enough subtle differences to tell the characters apart without making anyone sound too exaggerated. This is probably the longest audiobook I've listened to, clocking in at a little over 12 hours, and I will hesitate before picking another of that length. Because I rarely listen to more than an hour a day, by the time I finish the beginning is no longer fresh in my mind.

The ending was satisfying to me, but still rather open. I don't know if that means there will be a sequel or not, but I'm happy either way. I don't know how The Coldest Girl in Coldtown compares to Holly Black's other books (since it's my first), but as a vampire novel it definitely rises above the fray. Altogether an excellent choice!

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