Holly Black's young adult vampire novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is everything a vampire novel should be: scary, angry, exciting and darkly sexy. It's a book that will make parents uneasy and give kids dangerous ideas. It's the lineal descendant of groundbreaking vampire stories like Poppy Z Brite's explosive debut Lost Souls, a hymn to the glory of a screwed-up adolescence, self-destructiveness as a learning opportunity, and the ferocious, unbreakable bonds of true friendship. It strong espresso to the weak tea of books like Twilight. With a shot of whisky.
Tana, seventeen years old and lately separated from her shitty boyfriend, awakes one morning in a strange bathtub after a crazy party, only to discover practically all of her friends are dead in a heap in the living room, drained of blood by vampires who broke in some time after she passed out and made short work of them. In a bedroom with garbage-bags taped over the windows, she discovers the shitty boyfriend, alive, bitten, and chained to the bed. Beside him, also in chains, is another vampire boy. She decides to rescue both of them and manages to get them into the trunk of her ancient Crown Vic just as the Old Ones who drained her friends batter down the door, just missing her as she gets away in the bright sun.
Thus begins Coldest Girl, and its complex and tremendous backstory. Vampires are real, have been around for ages, but had closely policed their numbers through ruthless culling. When a young man was turned by a mysterious vamp, and raced across America, setting off an epidemic of vampirism, the story got out. Now, vampires are quarantined in "Coldtowns" -- massive prison-camp/ghettos whose other residents are the screwed up people who voluntarily lock themselves in, hoping to be turned by a vampire; and the "Cold."
Vampirism's epidemiology is complex: after you've been bitten once, you go through a 12-week period of intense craving for human blood. If you give into it -- if you let the madness of bloodlust drive you to tear out some friend's throat -- you die and are reborn as a vampire. If you resist, the infection burns itself out and you are back to normal.
Tana knows all about this. After all, when her own mother was bitten, her father shut her in the basement behind locks and chains and warned Tana not to let her out, no matter how much she begged.
Black's vampires and their prey inhabit a thoroughly modern world, one where celebrity vampires webcast their 24/7 parties from Coldtown by means of solar-powered cellular modems; where Coldtown runaways send texts back to their families and blog their adventures for their "fan bases"; where Homeland Security and the cable networks vie to capture the public's cooperation in framing the vampire wars. It's a fitting progeny for Dracula, a novel also firmly about modernity's fight with ancient horrors and superstitions, with its reliance on electric lights and telegraphs to give humanity the upper hand in its fight against the timeless magic of immortal apex predators. And, like Stoker, Black tells much of this story in letters -- though her "letters" are apt to be emails, texts, and blog-posts.
Black is a tremendous storyteller who doesn't flinch from difficult subjects, nor does she patronize her readers with simplified language or morals. Her world is filled with tragedy and hope, poetry and blood, and is destined to be a favorite of a generation of smart, weird, awesome kids.