The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
I didn’t know that Holly Black’s novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was a vampire story when I picked it up and started reading it one evening; I was afraid it would give me nightmares, so I had to find a place to put it down and finish it the next morning.
The protagonist, Tana, wakes up after a high school party to find all her friends dead except for one, Aidan, who is “cold,” which means he’s been bitten and will come down with a virus sort of vampirism which will make him want to bite a person. If he does, he’ll become a vampire. In their escape from the party house, they pick up another vampire, Gavriel, who has been chained up by the vampires who killed Tana’s friends, and Tana feels the teeth of one vampire on the back of her leg as she escapes through a window into sunlight. So she spends some of the novel not sure whether she is “cold” or not.
There’s some romanticizing of the figure of the vampire in this world. Tana thinks that vampire attacks aren’t usual in her part of the US, that “things like this happened in Europe, in places like Belgium, where the streets teemed with vampires and the shops didn’t open until after dark.” On the other hand, she thinks about how excited her little sister would be if a vampire hunter came, “like Hemlok from TV, the huge, bald former wrestler always decked out in leather. He would know what to do. Her little sister had a poster of Hemlok in her locker, right next to pictures of golden-haired Lucien, her favorite Coldtown vampire.”
The first “Coldtowns” were founded in big cities when “the military put up barricades around the areas of the cities where the infections broke out.” Tana, Aiden, and Gavriel are heading for Coldtown when they meet up with a vampire-romanticizing brother and sister who call themselves “Midnight” and “Winter” and who are also heading for Coldtown, even though they’re not cold. They have plans for becoming vampires.
Once inside Coldtown, Tana is protected from any romantic ideas about vampires by her memories of an early experience with her own mother turning “cold.” She also meets people she couldn’t have imagined before, like Valentina, who has “a reason that Tana had never even considered for wanting to be young forever.” She sees Midnight unable to stop herself from draining Winter’s body and killing him, but then uploading the video to her blog because “we always say that we want to see the real stuff.” One of Midnight’s blogging friends dies trying to find out more about the nature of vampirism. He speculates “maybe it’s just us, with a raging hunger, us with a couple of accidental murders under our belt. Humanity, with the training wheels off the bike, careening down a steep hill. Humanity, freed from the contraints of consequence and gifted with power. Humanity, grown away from all things human.”
As Tana learns more about what it means to become a vampire, Gavriel, who she has saved and who has in turn saved her, tells her “we labor under so many illusions about ourselves until we’re stripped bare. Being infected, being a vampire, it’s always you. Maybe it’s more you than ever before. You, distilled. You, boiled down like a sauce. But it’s you as you always were, deep down inside.” She is trying to reconcile that idea with her childhood fear: “if you didn’t believe in monsters, then how were you going to be able to keep safe from them?”
Tana’s journey from innocence to experience makes her “the coldest girl” because she can see the dangers of using power without experience. She wants to be sheltered from the kind of knowledge that vampires acquire, “the way they had studied cruelty for so long to know just how to hurt you best.” Ultimately she finds out that she wants to stay as human as she can for as long as she can.
Probably I could have read this book deep into the night, but fear of the unknown got to me, as it does to many of us.