Saturday, 30 November 2013

Review | The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

by Holly Black

My Rating: 

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

I'd be surprised if anyone who reads the blurb of Holly Black's latest novel doesn't want to pick it up and read it, it just sounds cool. I first stumbled across this book just before it was published in a copy of SciFiNow, where it was being reviewed; the first thing that struck me was that gorgeous cover, then the incredibly interesting premise. I didn't have this urgent need to purchase a copy as soon as it came out but I remembered it, so when I did come across it in Waterstones and the cover was even prettier up close and I had a little bit of birthday money left I went ahead and bought it.

As I said this novel has a very interesting premise, and its opening scene is just fantastic. The way Black describes Tana waking up in a bath tub - like something out of a Ke$ha music video - is incredibly well done and, for lack of a better word, realistic. Obviously we don't live in a vampire-ridden world full of cornered off Coldtowns, but there is nothing melodramatic about Tana's behaviour when she comes across the bodies of the other people in the house; her shock and her hysteria feel real.

However, for me the novel began to gradually lose something after that first scene, particularly as the pace became rather halted by every other chapter which included a flashback or concentrated on a character other than Tana. As a whole, without some of those extra scenes, I felt as though the novel could have been shorter than it is - and it's not huge to begin with! In that sense it seems it's quite easy to tell this world started in a short story.

Having said that I do think the worldbuilding itself is brilliant. Vampires and vampire culture are not unheard of in YA fiction, so whenever another author takes on the challenge of bringing their own flare to such famous mythological creatures there's often the chance they're not going to do it well! A lot of fictional vampires tend to be miserable, brooding creatures who are constantly complaining about their fate - and if I'm being honest there was still a little something of that in this book - but through her inclusion of the Coldtowns and both the people trying to get into them and the people already there, Black explored many different aspects of vampirism and the consequences of it.

Now enough of the world, let's talk about our heroine. If I'm perfectly honest I still haven't quite decided whether I like Tana or not. There were definitely ways in which she stood out from other YA heroines; she's one of the few heroines I've come across who hasn't treated having a boyfriend as the be all and end all, and let's face it there aren't many of them. The only two that immediately spring to mind are Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) and Saba (Blood Red Road).

Instead Tana treats her relationships like an ordinary teenager does (unfortunately I wasn't an ordinary teenager - I was still fairly sure all boys were riddled with diseases when I was 16). She's perfectly aware that her previous relationship with Aidan wasn't 'true love' and she wasn't looking for it. He was cute and available, so she dated him. We need more of this in YA, I think! 

I initially enjoyed her relationship with Gavriel because it was more about a need to be physical and a need to feel wanted more than anything else. Unfortunately, by the end of the book, the two of them have magically fallen in love over the space of a few days in which a lot of people have died, and Gavriel becomes yet another brooding, 'woe is me' love interest. When did vampires become so depressing? Dracula had a whale of a time in his book!

I'm bored of brooding love interests and I'm also starting to get pretty bored of all these similar family units in YA fiction. Once again we have a girl with a younger sibling she loves, one dead parent she loved and one living parent she doesn't get on with very much. Not to mention Tana's little sister is in fact the most unhelpful little sister ever known to man. Plenty of young people have families which are 'dysfunctional' (I hate that word) and that they are represented in fiction is wonderful, but not every teenager has a miserable family life. In a lot of YA fiction there seems to be this need for the hero/ine to have some form of tragic backstory in order for them to be liked. I love a tragedy just as much as the next person, but I'd love to read about more people in YA who are actually pretty boring. I want to read about the people who aren't bullied, who are doing fine at school, who get on perfectly well with their family, and then I want to read about those people still being extraordinarily heroic anyway.

As for the side characters, I disliked most - if not all - of them. Aidan was infuriating (if I was Tana I would have left him on the side of the road somewhere) and Winter and Midnight weren't much better. Gavriel was a little more tolerable because every sentence he spoke was brimming with hysterical grandiosity; he's like the love child of William Shakespeare and Lestat.

So, to summarize, would I recommend this book? Yes, I probably would, especially to people who love reading about vampires. The worldbuilding here is cool, and it's certainly an interesting take on vampirism and contemporary culture.

Would I read it again? No, probably not. It was a fun read, but I didn't actually like most of the characters - in fact I can't remember what most of them were called! Even if you don't like someone you can still read about them if you're given a reason to read on, but this book just didn't provide me with that reason. Personally I hope it stays as a standalone, I don't really care what happens to Tana and Gavriel next. But like I said I did enjoy the world, and I think a selection of short stories set in this world would be wonderful.

Thanks for reading! J.

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