Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Vampirism as an epidemic. An interesting premise that doesn't quite work in Holly Black's latest book. Tana wakes up after passing out at a party to find everyone violently murdered by vampires. They missed her because she was behind the shower curtain in the bathtub. When she finds her ex-boyfriend, Aiden, and a vampire, Gavriel, chained in a room, she helps them escape as the vampires return to the crime scene. If you are looking for light entertainment with not many plot twists, fair world-building, and a vampire love story then you'll enjoy this one. The gory, violent start grabbed my attention with a main character who seemed unhinged because of her guilt over causing the death of her vampire mother as a young girl; however, the story sputters later in the novel and doesn't come together in a satisfying way for me.

Tana was scratched by a vampire along with Aiden who was bitten at the party. After their escape, they traveled to Coldtown knowing their vampire symptoms would show in 48 hours. Coldtowns were cities where vampires and humans were trapped and quarantined after an outbreak of newly turned vampires infecting too many humans as a result of the side effect of crazed bloodlust. Outside the cities vampires were hunted and killed, but inside they were left alone. Coldtowns showed how vampires and humans lived side-by-side glamorizing the immortal life of vampires and broadcasting to the world lavish vampire parties and decadent lifestyles. Daily deaths were common in these towns and not broadcast with the vampire as predator and the human as prey. The Coldtowns were supposed to keep vampires and people from leaving but Lucien's gang managed to leave and return. Humans could leave with a marker but that was a rare occurrence and not always honored by authorities.

Tana knew that if infected by her scratch at the party, she and Aiden had another chance to not become vampires by spending 88 dangerous days dealing with the infection quarantined in Coldtown.  No cops or bounty hunters would come looking for them and she wouldn't put her dad and sister at risk of getting infected. Also, the success of this method was not guaranteed. Tana, Aidan, and Gavriel picked up two humans who wanted to become vampires in Coldtown. The one girl was addicted to her celebrity online status and was choosing to be a vampire for all the wrong reasons. Her twin brother questioned the intelligence of their actions but followed her anyway.  They represented those who found the thought of being immortal tantalizing and basked in the glow of an online presence that gave them an identity. Tana's younger sister was lured by the Coldtown glamor while their father thought of vampires as monsters, no longer human. When Tana got there she found that the humans were easy prey for the vampires and it was difficult to survive at the bottom of the food chain. She did find good people in Jameson and Valentina who became trapped when the quarantine happened, but they are the exceptions not the rule.

The world-building explained the Coldtowns and politics of vampires, but human prejudices toward vampires and vice versa could have been clearer. Tana valued her humanity above all else and the overarching message of "is a vampire human" and according to Tana, yes, got muddied at the end of the story.  Gavriel was attracted to Tana because she saved him and showed kindness, while her fatal attraction was tied in with the guilt of causing her mother's death and being bitten once. Tana's father was the character most prejudiced against vampires seeing them as monsters but his point of view wasn't explored in-depth. Instead he seemed to be in denial over the horror of how he protected their family. At the end when Tana started acting more like a vampire who kills, versus a human the overarching message of being prejudiced against those who are different was lost. When Tana setup a camera at the end, I thought she was really out of character reminding me of Midnight and Lucien who were into the celebrity status. Yes, she was also trying to show how to detox her vampire poisoning or whatever you want to call it, but someone had already done that on the Internet so wasn't she showing the same self-narcissism the others showed? The whole "you are now famous," for killing a vampire seemed contradictory to what she represented as a human being. Then throw in the lack of remorse when killing other vampires and she seemed like the monster or more like her father.

Holly Black has written many novels and is skilled at the craft. I thought the book was interesting until everyone went their separate ways in Coldtown. That's when the plot weakened for me and the love story didn't quite work. Gavriel was an ancient vampire and up to that point Tana kept surprising him by being unpredictable. When Tana's motivation became to save her sister it pulled the story away from Gavriel and Tana's romance creating two story lines that weren't as interesting as Tana's self-destructive behaviors found in the beginning. Or perhaps too many characters started to dilute the main and secondary ones. I wasn't particularly interested in Valentina and Jameson although I understand they were supposed to represent "good" people in a dystopian society. I would have preferred the annoying Aiden getting more page time.

I struggled with this book's use of flashbacks to give the back story of vampires. Flashbacks interrupt the narrative and I have a personal dislike for most that I come across. This is more personal taste and they have to be really well done for me to not skim. I tend to feel annoyed because something exciting was happening in the plot and blammo, I'm back hearing some ancient vampire history. Then I buzz through the chapter to get back to the action and miss some crucial detail that would fill in the gaps of the world-building because of my impatience. I say this because I might have done that with this book and that is why I wasn't sure how Lucien's minions got out and perhaps I misinterpreted the overarching theme. I should read it again but it just didn't sustain my interest enough.

2 Smileys

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