Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Cold Cold Heart (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black Review)

Holly Black has taken on brownies, goblins, dwarves, nixies, merfolk, spriggans, urban faeries, and magical curse workers. But through all her flights of fancy, she had never tackled one of the hallmarks of the modern fantasy revolution. I am talking about, of course, the dreaded vampyr (insert the sound of Andrew of Buffy fame narrating), the strangely seductive, sometimes sparkly, but always captivating creature of darkness that has provided fodder for some of the most popular books in recent times. She tried her hand at a vampire story in a short story in the anthology, The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire, and then expanded this story into a complete self-contained (gasp! and hooray!) novel, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

Actually, this isn't entirely true. Holly Black did write about vampires in 7th grade, which she shared during School Library Journal's Day of Dialog this year.


Throughout her life, she has been fascinated by these monstrous creatures and read scores of books that explore the lives of these creatures of the night. It is no surprise, then, that Black both pays homage to the works of Anne Rice, Tanith Lee, and other writers, but has also created a vampire universe like no other. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown reveals an alternate reality where the plague of vampirism is contained by establishing Coldtowns that are used to quarantine both vampires and their victims. As a skilled storyteller, Black has carefully constructed her world through intricate world-building that is part of her plot and character development. She throws readers right into the story as Tana wakes to find that she has survived a bloodbath. Vampires have massacred everyone at a party she attended, leaving only her, her ex-boyfriend, Aiden, who they infected, and Gavriel, a handsome and secretive vampire, alive. Tana is no weepy, clumpsy damsel; she is driven and purposeful. After all, she rescues Aiden and Gavriel. But she's not superhuman, either. She's a normal teenage girl dealing with trauma and pain, with guilt and loyalty. Unsure if she's been infected or not, she chooses to enter Coldtown and fight against the infection. And that's when things get really interesting, including vampire superfan bloggers, vampire reality TV stars, unexpected allies, and yes, more about Gavriel and his dark past.

Now let's address the sparkly elephant in the room: vampire fiction, specifically the Twilight craze. Like many, I loved these books and then found them problematic, especially in the portrayal of Edward and Bella's relationship. At the same time, Bella's desire to become a vampire, to assert her own agency, was both empowering - and disturbing. Crushing on vampires is still stigmatized, whether it's because of the supernatural themes or the anti-feminist ideas. During a panel during last year's LeakyCon conference in Chicago, aptly called "Bad Books and Why We Love Them," Holly Black (with John Green, Margaret Stohl, Robin Wasserman, Megan Whalen Turner, and Maureen Johnson) defended readers' right to read whatever they like, that there is essentially no such thing as a bad book. Instead of judging readers, we can give them access to books and choices about what to read, which are the keys to success in reading. And we can like what we like. This discussion was a revelation and I constantly return to it when faced with recommending books to readers. Several times I have had interactions with patrons who have said they did not want to read a specific book that looked frightening to them. In this moment, they were owning their tastes and preferences - and making an adult choice to reject a book they did not want to read. I expressed how impressed I was by their ability to communicate their needs. It comes as second nature for adults to dismiss or accept reading selections, so why shouldn't young adults have the same opportunities? We can own our love for seemingly problematic texts and realize that each reader gets something different from them. And there many reasons why vampires in all their incarnations have long captivated us, as Black said during the Day of Dialog, "In our domesticated hearts is a yearning to get close to death and escape…and maybe watch others get close and not escape. We are fascinated by extremes of human behavior and our own monstrousness. Imagine how much weirder and worse it could get.” By drawing us into Coldtown, at the edge of life and death, Black shares a tale of what it means to be human. And this, whether you're jadded by the vampire genre or a paranormal superfan, is something anyone can sink their teeth into.


1 comment:

  1. Stayed up all night reading this. 5 stars easily. I wonder if this is it or if she'll write more vampire books?
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