The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black. Little, Brown and Company, 2013.
Since the recent widespread outbreak of vampirism, vampires are supposed to stay in Coldtowns, safely locked away from regular humans who don’t want to be bitten. But when Tana wakes up in a bathtub the morning after a house party, she finds the rest of the house full of the drained corpses of her high school classmates. The only exceptions are her double-timing ex-boyfriend, Aiden, tied to a bed, and a vampire chained to the bed next to him. With more vampires in hearing, clearly out for them all, Tana does her best to help everyone escape. And since Aiden has been bitten and Gavriel is already a vampire, the nearest Coldtown is the logical destination, even though there’s no way out once she goes in. As they meet up with teen blogging star twins Midnight and Winter on the way, Tana realizes how different she is from the other not-Cold people headed to Coldtown: she doesn’t believe in the romance of vampirism and really hopes to stay human. If she has been bitten and can resist the urge to drink human blood for 88 days, she should be safe. That’s easier said than done when she arrives in a place where all of the humans are eager to poke tubing into themselves for vampire snacking in hopes of proving themselves worthy to be turned. She’s also fighting her attraction to Gavriel – which worked even though he is clearly a monster – and Gavriel turns out to be involved in high-level vampire politics. Soon the stakes are higher than she could have imagined, and her ideas of staying low-profile are impossible.
I’m not really into vampires, but this is one well-told, compelling story, one that questions the cultural romanticizing of vampires. Tana and Gavriel are complex characters, and even Aiden refuses to stay characterized as the low-life boy scum he first appears to be. There are a whole host of interesting side characters, from the roof-dwelling human who grew up in Coldtown to the beautiful pawn shop clerk, Valentina, who loves him. Bill Willingham, of Fables, makes a cameo as Bill Story, the graphic novel-writer turned journalist investigating the vampire phenomenon. He – and the book – are asking the question: is the monster of vampirism added with a bite, or is it already there inside everyone and released? Tana struggles to find a way to be honorable and kind in the midst of betrayal and cruelty. Once again, Black combines an edge-of-the-seat story with great characters and serious moral dilemmas into a book neither my love nor I could put down.