This review contains mild spoilers.
I’d heard about Holly Black. I knew she had some kind of connection with Cassandra Clare. I read The Iron Trial, which they co-authored, and enjoyed it. So I decided to check out this Holly Black person’s other books. And, since The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was the only one available at any library at the time, I picked that one.
The blurb doesn’t give many overt clues but this book is about vampires. Specifically, how America is dealing after a vampire epidemic has spread across the world. Tana, the main character, believes herself to be going Cold (infected with vampirism) and she must deal with the consequences.
I think my big issue with this book stems from the flashback/point of view changes. Small chapters are interspersed throughout the novel to reveal more about Tana’s history with vampirism, how Gavriel came to be a vampire, and the journey of Tana’s younger sister, Pearl. These chapters aren’t necessarily weak but they interrupt the flow of the action and are at times completely jarring to read.
The majority of the book is told in third person limited, which means we’re experiencing Tana’s thoughts and emotions but it’s not being told in first person. So it’s a little weird when all of a sudden our attention is directed to Gavriel or Pearl. Technically it’s keeping to the same style of narration but after sticking so closely to Tana it becomes difficult and uncomfortable to move back and forth between other characters.
Plus I feel like Gavriel’s scenes aren’t necessary. I would have much preferred him to explain certain things about his past to Tana. Each time I gained insight into Gavriel’s life as a reader, I felt Tana’s perception of him changing even though she wasn’t privy to the same information. Without her receiving any of these explanations, I feel like I begin to have an advantage and I’m no longer experiencing events the way she is.
Tana’s flashback scenes about vampirism and her mother get repetitive but, for the most part, remain vague as ever. The flashback/alternating point of view chapters eventually begin to feel like an attempt to leave the reader on a cliffhanger for longer than necessary. Instead of building anticipation, these chapters stop the action dead in its tracks and, once stalled, it takes a long while to build up again.
Another issue I have is with Tana’s … well, with her intelligence. After hearing so much about how her mother, while Cold/infected with vampirism, mauled Tana as a child, you’d think that Tana would be a little more careful around Cold people. It seems highly unlikely that she would help out a vampire just because he looks like he needs rescuing. But it turns out you can give Tana sad puppy eyes and she’ll put herself in mortal danger for you, no matter who or what you are. It makes for a lot of incredibly stupid decisions from Tana, which somehow manage to sound reasonable. She rationalises things until I’m nodding and thinking, ‘Yeah, I see your point.’ It’s only upon later reflection that I realise I would have wanted to shake Tana if I knew her in real life.
It’s starting to sound like I disliked this book immensely, which is not the case at all. In fact, a lot of these issues are more prominent in the first half of the book. By the end, the action picks up and flows more smoothly and organically, reeling me in for the story that has been waiting all along. To be honest, I enjoyed the last part of the book so much that I had almost forgotten about all these issues until I sat down to write this review.
The plot (minus pacing issues) and world-building are fascinating to me. Holly Black has given thought not just to her characters’ immediate environment but to the greater country and the world as a whole, offering fleeting mentions of how everyone’s coping with the outbreak in vampirism. Explanations about the world take place naturally; bits of information are offered throughout the book, leaving the reader to piece most of it together without being smacked in the face with a tonne of exposition.
I also enjoy that, while Tana is clearly wary of Gavriel, he doesn’t use that to his advantage to pursue her. That’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately, and I find it irksome how many YA heroes—particularly in paranormal romances—basically frighten the heroine into a relationship. It’s really not a high bar to set for a male character and yet I always find myself mildly impressed when the standard is met.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown left me feeling excited and enthusiastic. Holly Black’s writing overall is engaging, poetic, and easy to read, masking a lot of smaller problems throughout. I enjoyed it so much that I forgot all the things that were bugging me during the first half of the book. There’s an awesome story in these pages, but you do have to sit through some repetition and slow-moving action to get to it. I can absolutely understand why there are so many mixed reviews out there. I was considering giving it three and a half stars but even with all the issues I think it still fits my four stars criteria.
I rate it ★★★★