Wednesday, January 08, 2014

What We're Reading: Urban Fantasy

Tana Bach is a typical 17-year-old. She is looking forward to her senior year, and is recovering from the most recent break-up with her exasperating on-again/off-again boyfriend, Aidan. She’s been invited to an end-of-the-summer party, but she’s not sure she wants to go, because she is sure Aidan will be there. And, if she goes, she will have to go alone because Pauline, her best friend, is away at drama camp. She determines Aidan shouldn’t keep her from seeing the rest of her friends and decides to attend....

Very early the next morning, Tana wakes up in the bathtub. She has no memory of how she got there, and the details of the party are sketchy--she remembers that Aidan was there and that for most of the night she was miserable. She leaves the bathroom, trying to be quiet so as not disturb anyone still sleeping. And then she realizes that the bodies she sees aren’t sleeping: There is blood everywhere, and all of her friends are dead. From the wounds, and the amount of blood, it must have been a vampire attack. As she creeps through the house trying to find her purse, she discovers Aidan. He is tied to a bed and, while he is still alive, he has been bitten. On the other side of the room is a vampire, shackled to the wall. He has been positioned just out of reach of Aidan and in direct line with the windows, which will allow in the light from the rapidly approaching sunrise. 

Tana is torn. She could run, save herself and never look back. But she would always know that she doomed both people (if they are, in fact, both people – one may be a monster, the other one definitely is). Or, she can attempt to save them. Without really thinking, she chooses the latter and sets herself, and them, on a road that leads no where but Coldtown: a government-established quarantine area set up to contain the vampire outbreak from the general population. It is the only place Aidan may be safe as he attempts to fight off the infection (and others will be safe from him if he does turn). And it is where the vampire is supposed to be. But getting to Coldtown can be difficult. Getting into Coldtown, more so. And once you enter Coldtown, you cannot leave.

In The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black creates a believable world in which a vampire infestation has gotten out of control and the government has attempted, in a completely believable manner, to create quarantine areas complete with government bureaucracies (and complacent government workers), innocents struggling to get out, wannabes trying to get in, and cameras capturing the “action” 24 hours a day for broadcast on web and television screens. It is a chilling look at how our culture could react to a medical pandemic. Within this situation she has placed interesting and relatable characters on a ticking-clock quest. The plot explores issues of character under dire circumstances and how we, as individuals and as a culture, define who or what is a “monster.”

Black is clearly familiar with vampire literature and lore, and plays with the conventions without breaking them. While she romanticizes the vampires, as our culture is currently wont to do, she never minimizes the horror of what it means for the “undead” to prey on the living (nor does she minimize the living’s fascination with, and desire to become, the undead).  The Coldest Girl in Coldtown will appeal to those interested in vampire novels, paranormal romances, or anyone who enjoys the macabre!

(You will find this book in the Young Adult Fiction sections...)

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