Monstrous monsters, humans as well

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown - Holly Black

I downloaded The Coldest Girl in Coldtown from the Google Play shop on kind of a whim, and polished it off in a day in a half on my Nook-- I had just finished another urban fantasy book and wanted something vampire-ish but not totally trash.  Since this was Hugo-Nominated, I gave it a try. 


This book is Dark-- it's a vampire dystopia, where the disease of vampirism is rampant, and the Infected must be confined in Coldtown-- to turn to vampires, to die, or sweat out the disease, but in any event, to never return to human life outside any Coldtown's walls.  


I loved the book in the way that painful, truthful, uncomfortable stories about damaged people reacting to painful things can be loved.  Suffice it to say I winced a lot and occasionally was a little nauseous on the characters' behalves; I wanted to kick our heroine's ex-boyfriend and fellow adventurer Aidan in the head a few times for being such a jackass a few times, and generally wanted to set the world on fire for Gavriel, our hero/villian/vampire/monster in chief, not to mention our heroine, Tana, who prior to the events of a vampire attack at a party she'd been at with Aidan, had already not been having the best of all possible lives, though she'd done what she could to put a shine on it for her little sister.  Fuzzy end of the lollipop doesn't begin to describe it.


This is an adult book (as I see it, given all of the killings & gore, despite the lack of sex and the author's history writing YA) written with teenage characters and adult characters, all of whom are wonderfully flawed and not fully conscious of the reasons for all their actions.  You could take a meta view and say "so and so reacted because of PTSD" or "this character wasn't really a monster, he was just misunderstood" and look at the book as an analysis of youth and aging, of arrested development despite the passage of time-- or you could look at it as an action/adventure roadtrip story, that happens to have teenagers & ancient vampires and some seriously deluded bloggers and other dumb kids who veer into the story at one point or another.


There are lots of layers to be peeled away-- I pretty much couldn't put it down, because the story was awful, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, moments of the grotesque interspersed with beautiful prose, reflections on what it meant to be human (or not) and what it means to be able to choose, for better or ill, and how that shapes us.  The only "bad" part about the story, such as it is, is how the author chose to deal with Tana's reactions to Aiden, but I could understand her choices and I think my criticisms are more feminist quibbles than what was wrong for the character or any character in those particular shoes.  


The world of the book feels very real-- very gritty & seedy & cold, like dirty ice on your skin.  It's a book to reread, and make you ponder-- aren't we all entitled to love, even the monsters?