It would be a massive understatement to say that there are a lot of books about vampires out there. Vampires have become a publishing phenomenon, almost a genre unto themselves. We are being buried under a wave of vampires. The problem is that even Sturgeon's Law, (ninety percent of everything is crap), doesn't quite get it. The upside is that some amazing novels (The Passage, The Twelve, and Salem's Lot leap to mind) have used this theme.
I wouldn't say that The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black is in that company, but it's pretty damn good. This is one of those books where you have to ignore the synopsis, because it makes the book sound lame. Trust me and forgive the crappy pun, but this book has teeth. The basic premise is that vampires exist, and are being managed by being exiled to abandoned and guarded cities called Coldtowns, ala Escape From New York. Ms. Black does an excellent job in her portrayal of the social phenomenon of vampirism in the modern day, from reality shows to streaming videos and blogs, but the heart of the story is not the world but the very personal story of a teen girl named Tana, and how vampires shape her life.
Without giving away most of the plot, I can tell you that she undertakes an unwanted road trip to the nearest Coldtown with a motley cast of characters including her ex-boyfriend and a mysterious vampire. As I have said in previous reviews, what gives this book such force is that Ms Black does not pull her punches. For the most part, in this book vampirism is violent and bloody and cruel, and its effects upon those who come in contact with it are almost always tragic. Most of the romance of the Vampire myth is blown away in this book, as are most of the characters that represent it.
One of the real strengths of this book is the main character, Tana. Ms. Black has created a vibrant and touching heroine, and she earns the term. She is put through her paces, too, as Ms. Black deals us an almost unbearably tense story that kept me on the edge of my seat, yet is free of panting melodrama or unbelievable heroics. Vampires or not, most of the book is gritty and grounded in realism, although there are a few too many close calls for Tana. Near the end of the book I really felt that she had just about used up her lucky rabbit's foot, but that is a small complaint.
Some of the sideline characters are less vivid than they could be, and the latter third of the book feels a little rushed, as if Ms. Black wanted to wrap things up quickly, but these also are small fish. I got through this book quickly enough, because I couldn't stop reading. I wanted to know how Tara's tale would end, and in the end, that is one of the best problems that a book can give you and Ms. Black did it very well.