I’ve recently read two books which you could easily argue fit into the same genre. Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies both show a gritty, not-so-ideal world where humanity is on the run. In Black’s Coldtown, vampires rule in hedonistic, deadly bastions around the world while in Warm Bodies humans have succumbed to a growing zombie horde, and many zombies are evolving into something even worse…
But that’s where the similarities between these stories ends, and where I have a hard time reconciling that both of these books are so popular. Warm Bodies is an amazing read, and fresh in more ways than you can count. Warm Bodies takes the unconventional step of giving you the bad guy’s perspective, actually telling the story from the point of view of a zombie…all in a context of an unlikely love story where (yes, believe it or not), zombies can evolve in EITHER direction, towards further degeneration into something worse than a zombie, or towards becoming human again through the power of human emotion and yes, love.
Black’s Coldtown is something else entirely. Admittedly I haven’t read Holly Black’s other books, and her skill with words is undeniable. Vividly described scenes of gore and mayhem throughout Coldtown will have your blood chilled lower than the surface temperature of Mars. The main character, Tana, encounters interesting vampires and humans alike during the story as we see her struggle to survive in a dark, vampire-infested world. But that’s where the fascination with this book ends and the disappointment begins.
Remember all the complaints you heard after Twilight became popular, about Bella Swan being such a weak character? Compared to Tana, Bella Swan is a woman of grace, personality, and verve. Coldtown falls flat in its unrealistic characterizations of relationships — everything from Tana reacting nonplussed to the near-complete massacre of her peers to her abrupt, contrived love-relationship between her and bad boy vampire, Gavriel. By far, though, the most fatal weakness in Coldtown can be seen in the so-called main heroine, Tana.
Tana has the personality of a luke-warm cup of caffeine-free coffee. Over the course of the book she seems to internalize the idea of vampire dominance and a crappy world where humanity is snack food, playthings, or worse. Tana spends most of her time trying to survive, and you would think that all this terrible treatment at the hands of vampires would make her shun them, but no: enter sexy Gavriel, vampire bad boy. She and Gavriel witness cold-blooded, gory murder without batting an eye lash. Perhaps this is intended to make Tana and Gavriel appear like ‘strong’ characters, but it does a better job of making both protagonists appear like indifferent robots.
SPOILER ALERT: By the end of the book Gavriel has fallen in love with Tana, and apparently Tana has no qualms about being with a vampire who views murder as little more than another form of artistic expression.
Coldtown wants us to believe that because Tana and Gavriel truly love and care about each other by the end, somehow it’s OK to overlook the fact that they are both emotionally-numbed, indifferent murderers who have little to no grounding to anyone other than each other. It’s like the author decided she wanted to write an “Us Vs. the World” love story, with two psychotic killers as the main hero & heroine. Bella Swan, for all her faults, showed strong attributes of courage, sacrifice, and resourcefulness by the end of the Twilight series, especially in the final book, and Bella’s actions were magnified by her willingness to PROTECT EVERYONE she cared about and create a future for her daughter. The zombie hero in Warm Bodies shows an equal ability to care for others and aspire to something greater than just ‘getting the girl’. Good stories don’t just make us identify with a character despite what they do; they give us something we can admire in that character.
Pick up Warm Bodies and you’ll probably lap it up in a day, with a satisfied smile after it’s all over. Pick up The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and you’ll finish feeling just, well, cold, and looking for a time machine to get those several hours of your life back. Luckily, there’s always another good book around the corner.