"This is a vampire book? I mean, that's okay, I just had no idea it was about vampires." ~Me, a few pages into The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
It says a lot about my faith in Holly Black that I would buy a book without knowing anything about the plot.
It says a lot about her abilities as a storyteller that I would read and finish a book that features a protagonist cast from a tedious, "I haz teh noble, must save everyones" mold. Tana, the titular coldest chick in Coldtown, has a penchant for heroism that often blunders straight into Too Stupid to Live (TSTL).
(This is where I note that if you want someone to have your back, I'm NOT your girl. Point of fact, unless you're my spouse, pet, very close family member (distant relations need not apply), or bestest bud, my mantra in times of crisis is "Every woman for herself!" The only contact you'll get from me is footprints on your face as I book it out of town at lightspeed.)
So Tana's pseudo-heroism makes fuck-all for sense to me.
The premise: Vampires are real and part of the cultural landscape, with entire cities quarantined and walled to contain bloodsuckers and those infected from a vampire bite--"coldtowns." Because we love our reality TV, cameras are posted throughout these coldtowns and footage is fed to the normal, not undead populace at large. Big Brother, the Vampire Years.
For many centuries, vampire lived in secrecy, always killing their dinners/victims and never allowing an infected human to go free and "turn" into a new vampire. But recently, one vampire went rogue and begat and begat a whole bunch of new vamps, ultimately leading to the development of coldtowns, a means of controlling the infection.
Tana is an otherwise ordinary teen until she wakes up on morning in a bathtub after a wild party. "Where are my pants?" is hardly an unusual question after a long night of getting loaded, but Tana's sich is complicated by the fact that everyone in the house where she awakes has been killed--by vampires apparently. She stumbles around the house, looking for her boots, and finds her ex-boyfriend chained in a bedroom with a vampire, also chained. It's morning, but obviously Tana's ex is meant to be a snack for the vampire come nightfall.
Tana, in what will be a long string of "why bother?" moves, decides she must save not only Aiden, her obnoxious ex, but also the vampire. But in the process, she gets a small scratch, a possible bite, from one of the other vampires that is still lurking in the house. (Me, I would've grabbed my boots, lied to Aiden about finding help, and like Elvis, left the building.)
Aiden has already been bitten and is hankering for blood. Point of fact, he ravenous and dangerous. If he can abstain from drinking blood for eighty days, he won't turn; if he does drink human blood, he dies and arises perpetually young and beautiful. This is also true for Tana, assuming her bite has given her the infection.
Anyway, Tana decides that it's up to her to keep Aiden from immortality, because...I don't know why. Aiden seems to be a-okay with going nosferatu, and it's really none of Tana's business anyway. I'm not entirely sure why Tana is so opposed to the idea. Something about not becoming a monster and being able to see her little sister, but...meh...her motivations left me cold. Colder than an infected person.
As the title suggests, Tana, Aiden and Gavriel (the vampire) do the road trip thing and head for the nearest Coldtown. Along the way, they pick up a couple of gothy, vamp groupies, who are also headed for Coldtown in hopes of becoming vampires.
As per the genre, there's ample amounts of gothy, emo goodness, right down to the gauzy, ethereal fashions and dreamy, rave-style parties that go on every night. Stuff which, I confess, gives me the happy. As does Holly Black's storytelling voice.
Tana, however, maintains her pattern as the girl who must save everyone, bolting stupidly into danger like a panicked horse into a burning barn. It might work if the people she was saving were worth the effort, or, for that matter, people. At one point, she gets sort of miffed about vampires killing each other, and I'm like, "Seriously? Dude, they're vampires, the thing you are desperate not to be."
The best part of the story is Gavriel, the gorgeous, raven-haired (of course) vamp that she saves at the beginning. On the run from other vampires, Gavriel is the quintessential man of mystery. The unfolding of his backstory and motivations is the only reason to keep turning the pages.
Unfortunately, his appeal is dampened by his insta-love for Tana. This is the tropey "Very old man in a young body who inexplicably falls madly in love with a very young woman (a child really)" narrative. Hey, presented in the right light, i.e., a story that develops both characters and their relationship, it can work (for example, Liesmith by Alis Franklin). Here, however, it doesn't. Outside of the debt he owes her for saving his undead bacon, there's really no reason for the attraction. Maybe TSTL is what he wants in a woman?
Oh, and things really go downhill when Tana's little sister decides to run away and join her in Coldtown, setting up the standard endangered child cliche, which, as usual, only makes me hate the child. If the kid is that stupid, she's a turd in the gene pool. Bleh.
And yet...Holly Black, ya know? This is yet another book where the author's dexterity with words dragged me along even though key aspects of the story faltered and stalled like an old engine.