Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

And here's what I thought:  I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of this book at ALA, so I was able to read it before it comes out in September, 2013.   Holly Black is an author I'm familiar with, so I expected to enjoy this book --- and I did.

I liked the original idea here of the Coldtowns, where the people inside are quarantined, and where the outside world, while separated, is still very much affected.   The concept was cool, and the author did a great job of crafting the whole thing, whether it was the physical aspects of the Coldtown, or the people inside.  I also liked how she made the media an integral part of how people on the outside both romanticized and feared the Coldtowns.    I also really liked that she brought in realistic elements into the Coldtowns, like how if you entered one, you'd need to bring a lot with you, because everything worked on a barter system (smart!)

I also thought the first chapter was one of the best I've read in a long time.   It doesn't happen all the time, but it's wonderful when a first chapter starts out and you find you're reading faster and faster because you want to know what's going to happen next.    And speaking of chapters, Holly Black did something I found really added an interesting flavor: she adds a little quote at the start of each chapter.  These are quite varied, and I made sure I was reading each of them, because they were each like a little treat.  For example, "And what the dead had no speech for, when living, they can tell you, being dead.  The communicated of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living." - T.S. Eliot

As far as characters went, I thought Tana was written well.  As a main character, there's a lot of background explained for her, and I felt she was pretty realistic.   Our two main supporting characters are her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, and a edgy, bad-boy vampire named Gavriel.  I actually thought Gavriel was a much more interesting character than Aidan (and frankly, wished Aidan would just get eaten up and disposed of).  And, as far as vampires go, there were some interesting details in this book, which I always appreciate.   After all, how many vampire books can you read without feeling like the subject material has been beaten into a dry pulp?

However, the overall feeling I got from this book was that it was a bit of a bumpy ride.  As much as I liked some of the concepts and characters, the pacing felt really off at times.  There's no doubt in my mind that the book is well-written, and Holly Black has a deft hand with her prose.  She spent time with backstory, which I understood, but somehow, it sometimes felt a bit forced in -- kind of like when you're driving fast in the far left lane, and you come up behind someone going slow, and you have to take off your cruise control.

So, overall I thought it was okay.  This book is a nice combination of the familiar and the new, with a couple of interesting characters.  Was it the best book I've read this year?  No, but it's a pretty good one.

First lines:   Tana woke lying in a bathtub.  Her legs were drawn up, her cheek pressed against the cold metal of the faucet.  A slow drip had soaked the fabric on her shoulder and wetted locks of her hair.  The rest of her, including her clothes, was still completely dry, which was kind of a relief.  Her neck felt stiff; her shoulders ached.  She looked up dazedly at the ceiling, at the blots of mold grown into Rorshach patterns.  For a moment, she felt completely disoriented.  Then she scrambled up onto her knees, skin sliding on the enamel, and pushed aside the shower curtain.


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