In Holly Black’s dystopian take on the vampire tale, vampires no longer lurk in the shadows; they’re making their existence known by infecting as many people as possible. Coldtowns-entire cities that are closed off and used to quarantine vampires and the infected- are developed to contain the threat. Behind their fortified walls, Coldtowns are completely lawless, run by the vampire gangs who control them. There are some people who enter Coldtown because they’ve been bitten and have no other choice. Others go because Coldtown is known to be a 24 hour orgy of decadence and debauchery and they want to be invited to the party that never ends. No matter your reasons, once you enter, it’s nearly impossible to leave.
17 year old Tana Bach wakes up in a bathtub after a night of drinking at a house party to find everyone has been slaughtered by vampires. Everyone except her jerk of an ex-boyfriend Aidan who’s been bitten and left tied to a bed and a strange, handsome boy with glinting red eyes named Gavriel who is bound in chains in the corner of the room. It’s obvious to Tana that Gavriel is a vampire, but he clearly isn’t the cause of the bloodbath. Gavriel is chained and weak but for some reason he’s trying to help Tana (unlike Aidan who’s trying to bite her). Whoever was responsible for the massacre is still in the house, waiting for sunset, which is fast approaching, to finish the job. Tana does what any self-respecting girl who finds herself in a room with her recently bitten ex-bf and a handsome vampire stranger would do, she vows to rescue them both and she manages to do it. But not without exposing herself to vampire venom in the process. The three set out for the only place vampires and soon to be vampires can go- Coldtown.
Anyone who’s spent any significant time in a car with other people knows that one road trip is the equivalent of weeks of casual hangouts. Especially when your ex-bf keeps trying to feed on your blood. In a strange role reversal it’s the mysterious ancient vampire Gavriel who is protecting Tana from her lecherous, blood thirsty ex-bf Aidan instead of the other way around. The situation is perfect for a little on the road bonding between Tana and Gavriel.
As a reader I had a bit of a girl crush on Tana from the moment she resolutely decides she’s doing the saving rather than waiting to be saved. Perhaps this is also the reason why Gavriel is immediately intrigued by this mortal girl who decides she is going to save the ancient vampire simply because it’s the right thing to do. We later find out that Tana has reasons to be compassionate and Gavriel has reasons to appreciate kindness, but that comes later. Tana is also drawn to the mysterious boy with the beautiful lips and thick black lashes that fan his cheeks when he closes his ruby red eyes. And then there’s Gavriel’s voice. He is deadpan, wry, clever and speaks with a silky Russian accent (audiobook or inner monologue, you need the accent!) which is simply sexy. We learn that Gavriel has endured some recent trauma which has left him a touch mad (as in crazy) and causes him to speak in riddles at times. For instance, he offers to repay Tana’s kindness with “jewels, lies, slips of paper, dried flowers, memories of things long past, useless quotations, idle hands, beads, buttons, and mischief.” Gavriel’s poetic way of speaking only adds to his old world charm.
Gavriel is a fully fleshed out and perfectly flawed character. He isn’t a perpetual teen, nor is he a wizened sage in a young body. As Tana points out, a vampire who’s been alive as long as Gavriel does not age, instead he grows away from humanity. Gavriel is “not older than when he died; just entirely stranger”. This is one of the best descriptions of the vampire age paradox I’ve ever read. Spending time with Tana and Aidan on the road reminds Gavriel of the part of him that was put in suspended animation when he turned into a vampire. He travels to Coldtown with Tana and Aidan not because he has to, but because he wants to. It’s like Gavriel took the day off from being an immortal to just be a teenager. I so wanted to go with him.
Holly Black gives us a believable, imaginative and wholly additive world in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. This book is a standalone, which is perfect. As much as I loved the characters and Gavriel’s prose (I want a book of Gavriel poetry!), I couldn’t think of a more perfect ending to this story. But if when you reach the end and you’re still crazing more Coldtown, just do what I did. Read it again.