Author: Holly Black
Publisher & Release Date: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Sept. 3
The Hook: Holly Black revisits the vampire mythology she created in an awesome 2009 short story. Vampires are real. And if you’re infected by a vampire, you have 88 days to try to beat it – if you can keep yourself from drinking the human blood you desperately crave.
The Lowdown (from jacket): “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.”
Overall Impressions: I loved this book – the story, characters and world-building had me from the first chapter. I haven’t enjoyed a vampire story so much since Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. Ms. Black excellently plays that knife-edge fascination with vampires – their immortality, forever un-aging and beautiful – and fear of their inhumanity and otherness. She never lets you feel a vampire is safe.
From my character notes:
- Tana – Wild card. Mother was infected. Wants to do the right thing.
- Aiden – Tana’s ex. Charming. Infected. Weaker than Tana.
- Gavriel – Russian aristocrat gone bad. Vampire. Wild, loyal, broken. Has a plan.
- Lucien – Manipulator. Big vampire star among humans. Gavriel’s maker. Has big plans.
- Midnight & Winter: Blogger twins. “No more birthdays.” She’s the driver, he’s occasionally trying to put on the brakes.
Tana’s the narrator, but her story is the result of getting inadvertently caught up in others’ stories – the game of cat and mouse between Gavriel and Lucien, the twin bloggers’ mission to become vampires, the bloody politics of Coldtown. She faces a range of villainy, both in terms of scale and perpetrators.
The party-turned-bloodbath leaves Aiden infected, Tana possibly infected, and maybe-helpful-but-definitely-mentally-unbalanced vampire Gavriel locked in Tana’s car trunk, all on their way to Coldtown.
But Tana is not without childhood baggage in this venture: Her mother was bitten by a vampire and infected. Her father, who adored his wife, locked her in a basement, determined to get her through the 88 days without consuming human blood so she’ll remain human. After 30+ days of hearing her beloved mother’s begging and cajoling, Tana undid the locks. Her mother, desperate for blood, attacked the nearest human – Tana. And her father, who believed in always doing the right thing and that you can always know what the right thing is, killed his wife to save his oldest daughter.
Tana and her father are not close, but through it all, she strives to do the right thing. Even when she just wants to curl up and cry or stab someone or simply walk away from the situation someone else has put her in. But Coldtown isn’t all betrayal and secret plans. She makes new friends – the awesome Jameson and Valentina – and she saves someone important to her.
The idea and consequences of mercy weave throughout the book, as does being true to one’s self. In the end, I think, everyone is… or was.
And the reader was taken on a fantastic ride.
The Highs: The ending – a perfect fit for the characters and just the right balance of closure and open-endedness.
The story Gavriel tells Tana about Koschei.
The multiple POVs that build the world: Tana narrates the bulk of the story, but we get Gavriel’s backstory through his eyes, Lucian’s in his own point of view, and the occasional chapter from Tana’s younger sister Pearl and other characters’ blog posts.
And this is such a minor point, but the main character’s name is Tana. And the main character in the short story was Matilda. (Bonus – she’s mentioned in the novel.) Her best friend’s name is Pauline. All rather different from most of the names I’ve encountered in urban fantasy stories.
If you’ve read the short story -it has the same title- something very important happens to Matilda on Sept. 3, 2013. This book is set a few years after the short story, but in the real world, it was published Sept. 3, 2013. Coincidence?
Buzzkills: I don’t understand why cash is useful in Coldtowns. Did I miss where you could get goods from outside delivered? (Entirely possible.)
Some of the human blood bank imagery was a bit much for me.
The Source: Advance reading copy from publisher, obtained at a conference.
Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a beautiful antique garnet necklace was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.