Friday, October 18, 2013

The Price of Power

Holly Black

What could be a more frightening thought than teens who aspire to be vampires? Not for love, as with Bella and Edward, but for the desire to stay beautiful and young forever. That is the picture Holly Black paints in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

Black taps into that teen mindset of invincibility and carries it to its logical extreme in thought-provoking and haunting ways. She lays out the "scientific" parameters of infection versus "turning," after a vampire bites a human (there's an 88-day "cold" period during which, if an infected human does not feed on the blood of another human, he or she can theoretically return to a "normal" human state), and the elaborate Coldtowns that the government has built to contain the infected. Black gives a back story that explains how vampires are "made" and the complicated way that Lucien--a power-grabbing vampire whose nightly broadcasts within the oldest and most famous Coldtown--has achieved his status.

Once there were strict rules designed to "control," or at least track, the vampires' lineage--and the mysterious vampire Gavriel (aka, the Thorn of Isra) played a part in it. But Lucien has changed all that. The human heroine, Tana, makes a decision to rescue Gavriel, and gradually uncovers his complex past, and reveals a complicated history of her own. It's an epic book, with a size to support it, yet it reads in a flash. Black melds her characters' addiction for power, glamour and blood with sly commentary on today's youth-obsessed culture. The humor comes as easily as the book's gothic elements.

If you've not yet read her Doll Bones (aimed at middle graders, but which will appeal to her YA fans, too), it makes a fascinating contrast to this book. With a very different tone and equally serious (though less gory) themes, it too explores friendship, family, loyalty and independence. In many ways, Coldtown, with its exploration of hierarchy, the breaking of rules and fierce love, shares more of the aura of her Curse Workers series. This reader can't wait to see what she does next.

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