Apr. 7th, 2016

capfox: (Ravenclaw Quote)
A return?

Book #1: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Author: Holly Black
Provenance: Borrowed from Westmount Library

So maybe it’s not fair, but when I hear “vampires” around the realm of YA fiction, my initial reaction is not to jump in and give it a try. Like, I know it’s not fair – my favorite TV series ever is Buffy, and that wasn’t light on the vampires or the YA – but it happens. And so I put off reading this book, even though I’d heard some pretty positive things about it, because, well, vampires. But then I got through the Darkest Part of the Forest, and the Curse Workers Trilogy, and I wanted some more Holly Black, and, well. Here we are!

And I’m really glad I tried it, because man, this book actually worked really well for me. So here we have a world where there are vampires, and very publicly so: from within the government-established vampire/vampire-hangers-on safe zones called Coldtowns, media-savvy and internet-enabled vampires send out alluring images into the rest of the world of all the parties and debauchery taking place within. It can seem glamorous to a lot of people.

But not so much to our main character, Tana - she’s not really enamored with vampires, particularly when she wakes up in the bathroom in the morning following a house party that turned into a blood-sucking massacre. All that’s left alive in the house are her ex-boyfriend Aidan, and a vampire chained to the bed, Gavriel. And the vampires who did this? They’re probably still in the house. AND Aidan isn’t actually okay; he’s been bitten, and left to go cold.

Yes, of course the vampires here don’t have to work the same way as vampires elsewhere, so here’s how they do: if you get bitten, then you have the vampire virus in your veins; after a short incubation period, you start craving blood, but you’re not a vampire yet. No, you have to actually taste some blood for that. If you do, congratulations, you get to die and become a vampire for real! if you don’t, your bloodlust will get worse and worse, but after months of waiting with it, you will pass it from your system and return to normal. A mechanism with much potential for tension, and it works well for the book.

So Tana ends up having to try getting everyone to safety, and she takes the vampire, too - and here, safety means to Coldtown, where at least if they have vampires about, they won’t hurt any more random people. First they have to get there, though.

I don’t want to go into more plot details here, but I will say I was generally quite satisfied with it - there are some pretty horrifying turns, but they’re earned, and the story’s really quite well thought and written out. I definitely churned through the book quickly, which is a real testament, because there were parts that were uncomfortably gory to read, too.

But it’s not just the plot that really works - there are some very real, complex characters in this book, that play off each other well. Tana’s view of herself, and Aidan and other people’s views of her, have a real tension to them - Tana makes herself do things she might not otherwise want to or feel comfortable with because she doesn’t want people to define her boundaries, almost defensively. And other people view this (particularly Aidan) as bravery. And there’s similar sorts of character points, too. I also liked Aidan a bunch - the cockiness, the degrees of caring and daring, the shading over into hunger and impatience. And Gavriel and other characters (like a pair of twins who really, probably, likely want to be vampires, maybe) also come through well.

Beyond which… I love the way Black handles representation. I love that it’s so little remarked upon when various racial or LGBTQ people saunter through the story just being people. Aidan is actually probably the best-realized bisexual character I’ve ever read in anything, and there’s a trans character who really works and where again, it’s just treated as part of a personal story.

Minuses? Well, I do feel like the main villain could have used a bit more time and build-up as an actual character than they got. Gavriel is probably not quite as solid to me as the other characters, which may be slightly on purpose? And there’s some world-building stuff I’d have loved to see more of, but it was full enough and long enough that I can’t really ding it much for that.

All told, this is a really good book that does a lot of things with a fairly high degree of difficulty well, and even if I wouldn’t start with this book if you haven’t read any Black (*cough Darkest Part of the Forest *cough*), it’s also a good standalone story, and I give it quite the high recommendation.

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