I don't know what it is about Holly Black. I'm fairly confident that in literally any other author's hands, a great deal of this book would have had me rolling my eyes right out of my head, but something about this book just...worked for me. I warped back to a time many a year ago when this genre and its tropes were all fresh and new and exciting to me, when I was an easily-pleased twelve-year-old girl sitting on her bed reading LJ Smith for the first time, with warm fuzzies and bated breath.
So, while I'm aware that there are issues, and while I can't quite ID why some of these tropes and characters work for me here when I've scathingly dismissed similar premises elsewhere, I just can't bring myself to hate on this book. I really enjoyed my time with it, and that like literally almost never happens.
I NEED THIS OK?
One of the biggest things that Coldtown had in its favor, for me, was that I rarely had any idea where it was going. There's not any immediately distinguishable plotline - no Meeting the Supernatural True Love in School, no Secret Princess/Chosen One, no Murder Mystery - and that in itself is incredibly refreshing. Like, I didn't even realize how refreshing that would be, to not have to endure another fucking cliche-ridden recycled plotline that I've read a thousand times before, until I started Coldtown*. IN THIS FAMILIAR WORLD THAT I TRAVEL, THERE STILL EXIST MYSTERIES TO BE DISCOVERED~~~~
*okay so it gets a whole lot more familiar in the last third or so of the book but I'll get to that in a moment.
Rather than relying on one of the four Approved Genre Romance Plots to get us through, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown sets its focus on Tana, our heroine, as she emerges from one really shitty party with a simple goal: stay human. That's it. That's all she wants, that's all she needs to do to win the game, that's her pursuit through almost the entire book, and yet it's enough to drive us through three different settings, dozens of characters, and ultimately keep us pretty invested in and compelled by the story. Tana's journey is FULL of complications and setbacks and moments when the thing she needs most slips right through her fingers, and I cared about 400x more during any one of those moments than I have in the last fourteen books I've read combined.
In worse hands, a story like this could be really meandering - the setting shifts frequently, and since you have no idea what the overall plot arc is going to be, it's difficult to use that to gauge progress. BUT, because Tana's goal is so simple, and Tana almost always has some sort of plan to achieve it, the story manages to feel tight? It's not like she wanders around for days without knowing what she's doing. She's always on her way from point A to point B, always following through on a plan, the plan just gets...revised a lot xD.
The story is roughly split into three separate parts with three different feels: it begins with a short, vampire-complicated road trip, followed by a difficult-to-categorize bridging bit introduces us to Coldtown, and transitions from the roadtrip to the big damn vampire political/revenge scheme, which serves as the climax.
Of the three, I actually enjoyed the road trip most, though it's not particularly fun for the characters. As a reader, though, it serves as a great stretch of world-exploration and development, which I appreciate, because what Holly Black has created here is super intriguing. Coldtown, like her Curse Workers series, has this very distinct "alternate reality" vibe - it's not an underground world of monsters only select people know about, it's not some fantasy kingdom that never was, it's not the distant future we'll never see, it is HERE, it is NOW, but different. It feels grounded, and lived-in, and like this is what the world could be like under these circumstances. It feels real, and that's something that I find incredibly rare in YA.
Tana's America is post-apocalyptic/mid-apocalyptic/at a stalemate with its apocalypse and also adjusted to it. The vibe here is more "outbreak movie" than "dystopia", and vampirism is treated like a plague rather than a supernatural occurrence...
Read the full review at You're Killing.US.