The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black – Review by Meg Cannistra
Tana lives in a dark world, one where vampires exist and the threat of turning Cold, of being infected by a vampire, is a grim reality. After awaking to a house filled with her friends’ corpses, Tana gathers her courage and escapes a group of vampires with her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, and a mysterious vampire, Gavriel. Together they travel to Coldtown, a barricaded, prison-like city where the living and dead coexist and the rules are dictated by the inmates.
Holly Black packs a punch with The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Coldtown is a gloomy world that lures wanton teenagers into danger with its dark and beautiful facade. Vampires are celebrities, broadcasting never-ending parties to eager viewers. However, beneath the mystery and decadence the vampires craft for television and web casts is the gritty, cracked reality of humans being drained dry and tortured behind the cordoned city’s walls.
Black uses this setting to amplify Tana’s internal conflict and her confusing feelings about vampires. As a child, Tana’s mother went Cold and was eventually decapitated after attacking Tana for her blood. Tana grieves her mother and understands the ramifications of going Cold, and yet, she continues to have fantasies about becoming a vampire. She dreams of both her and her mother transforming into vampires and living together in eternity. It is through this desire that we come to understand Tana’s struggle. Unlike some of the teenagers who run away to Coldtown, Tana has faced real grief. It is this grief that gives her strength. It helps her see through the glamour and into the cold, dead heart of the vampire world.
Her ability to focus on the horror of the situation rather than its beauty makes Tana a protagonist worth rooting for. She is the dynamic female protagonist I’ve been craving in my fantasy fiction. Before The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I went through a rough patch with books I wanted so badly to like but couldn’t because the female protagonists that boasted strength and cunning were too busy worrying about love triangles and waiting for their male counterparts to rescue them. Tana doesn’t wait, nor does she does constantly worry about love. Tana has bigger issues and those issues come equipped with a mouthful of sharp teeth and unquenchable thirst for human blood. When trying to escape Aidan’s bloodlust, rather than succumb, she acts: “Taking a deep breath, she gave herself a little pep talk: Get over our fear of this or get over your fear of murdering in cold blood someone you care about, because those are your choices.” She’s always moving forward and her being a fiercely active protagonist, is part of what kept me invested in her as a character.
Along with her being active, what’s particularly unique about Tana is that her character arc isn’t about finding her power—it’s about Tana realizing she’s been strong her entire life and coming to accept this. Tana is brave from the start. Despite her not always believing she is, she manages to save two people from the vampire massacre and kill three dangerous vampires. Later in the novel, Tana understands that it’s not necessarily being in Coldtown that makes her strong but that she has always been this way. Like most teenage girls, Tana never truly realized her power because she didn’t understand it herself and feared her own strength. Finally, however, she realizes how important it is to embrace one’s strength:
“She was the girl who went back to try to do the impossible thing. Outside Lance’s farmhouse when all she wanted to do was run, she’d forced herself to go back through that broken window. When she’d managed to escape from the room with the skylight, she’d still gone back for Aidan…And if she could go back and do all those crazy, impossible things, then maybe she could be crazy enough to go forward and save herself, too.”
For me, this is the heart of the novel; this is what resonates after reading the last line. Most girls struggle with being told they are too much and feeling insecure because of this. Black strikes right at the heart of the matter by giving us a protagonist who learns it is all right being strong and not hiding this strength from the world. Black tells the reader it is not embracing power that makes people monsters, it’s what gives us the ability to survive the darkness this world sometimes hands us.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a breath of fresh air in young adult horror. It peels back the skin, revealing the genre’s ability to tell a coming of age story in a way that hits readers in their core.
Meg Cannistra is a recent graduate of Hamline University’s MFAC program that focuses on writing for children and young adults. She lives in New York with her two cats, Doom and Gloom, where she works for a small publishing house. Meg likes writing and reading stories about monsters, mermaids, and girls who kick butt.