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Largehearted Boy wins the Best Book List of 2013, says me. This is his annual, endless list of Best Of book lists from around the web. So much to read. Dammit. I’m trying to be a little choosier with my to-read list to make room for a few classics.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is only my second vampire book this year, the first was George R. R. Martin’s Gothic steamboat trip Fevre Dream. In fact, my knowledge of vampire fiction is seriously lacking. Black provides a nice list of vampire books to check out in her Acknowledgements, including:

Don Sebastian de Villanueva series by Les Daniels

Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice

Sabella, or the Blood Stone by Tanith Lee

Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite

Sunglasses After Dark by Nancy A. Collins

and more.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Tana wakes up around dusk in the bath tub after sleeping through a party. At first she’s groggy and simply grateful she didn’t wake up to friends showering on her. Then she looks around and realizes what she’s woken up to: Her friends have been drank and there’s a mess of blood everywhere. Not all her friends are goners though. Aidan, her charming, lothario ex-boyfriend is strapped to a bed infected, but not yet dead or cold. Then there’s Gavriel, a half mad vampire chained just out of reach and ready to feast.

Yesterday, he might have been human. Or maybe he hadn’t been human for a hundred years. Either way, he was a monster now.

There’s no time to make decisions about who to save and who to leave. The only thing for her to do is take her infected ex and Gavriel to Coldtown, one of the many walled quarantines established for vampires and the people who desperately want to be one of them. Tana has a vague idea of the glamorous parties Aidan can expect once they reach Coldtown, thanks to live online streaming. 

Entrance is mostly one-way, so I thought the majority of the book would be the three of them on the open road. Will they/ won’t they surrender to quarantined life in Coldtown? But they arrive there fast. So what happens for the rest of the story? Other than to say that it keeps escalating, I’m not telling.

We start off in the high drama of a massacre and never really pause to look around much. There’s a few quieter moments, but for the most part this book is jam packed with action. And no matter how dark it gets, Black does a killer job compelling her readers to look for the bright side even when it’s not clear what a happy ending could possibly look like. There’s always a chance that no matter what has happened to them, they may still come out okay. This is partly because the stages of becoming a vampire are like a disease. If an infected doesn’t drink blood for a feverish 80 days they won’t turn cold, but those are an excruciating time for the person and anyone trying to keep them locked up.

One of the common traits of vampires is charisma, something film actors and authors don’t often pull off. Gavriel has it in spades and his madness isn’t annoying, as I feared it would be. Plus, he knows how to deliver an insult and you’ve got to love that.

I want to watch both your ashes blow away across the face of the bloodied moon.

One thing I noticed, but hadn’t thought about until now is how some YA authors use a dirty trick to heighten the stakes. Perhaps it’s because young teens, the target audience, don’t typically have children and therefore wouldn’t immediately relate to a parent fighting for their child. The closest equivalent is to put the main character’s younger sibling in danger. As I don’t have kids, this plot device works every time.

Anyway, I loved this story.

Sometimes books get bogged down setting up the rules of the world and what makes its brand of vamps unique. Here Holly Black contributes a few new elements – the history and structure of quarantined Coldtowns, slang and news coverage (these parts were new to me at least)- while still nodding to the folklore and fictions that have come before.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is hard to put down, and going back to it feels like sneaking away on a mini vacation. Be warned: You may be tempted to read parts of this out loud. Black’s sentences sound really good out loud.

We all wind up drawn to what we’re afraid of, drawn to try to find a way to make ourselves safe from a thing by crawling inside of it, by loving it, by becoming it.

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