Author: Holly Black
My rating: 4 of 5
Tana lives in a world fascinated by death. Vampirism has seen an unprecedented spread across the nations, like some terrible plague. But mostly, anymore, it’s a plague that is contained, locked away in “Coldtowns” where it won’t touch people’s normal lives. Children watch TV shows broadcast from within these Coldtowns and see a life portrayed as glamorous . . . and even though it means death, they think they want it. Not Tana though. She’s seen what it’s like to be turned first-hand, and she wants no part of it. But when a normal high-school party turns into a tragedy, she finds herself dragged straight to the Coldtown she wanted to avoid, protecting her ex-boyfriend Aiden from himself and helping a vampire boy, Gavriel, against her better judgment. But no matter how deep she is dragged, Tana is determined to do whatever it takes to go home.
Having just recently complained about the excess of vampire stories in contemporary literature, I find myself in the awkward position of having read and enjoyed one. To be fair, I didn’t realize The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was a vampire story until after I started reading, and by then I was too into the story to stop. Plus, Holly Black’s a great author, so it was worth at least giving it a try. I did appreciate that, while it is a vampire story, the setting feels almost more zombie/post-apocalyptic. The whole socio-economic setup, as well as the actual dynamics of how vampirism works were well developed and original in this book, making it definitely more than your typical “girl meets vampire” story, although there ends up being some of that as well (you have been warned). The writing style and story development worked quite nicely as well, although I found it awkward that the plot mostly focused on present-tense Tana but also occasionally drifted to other people and other times. I would have preferred sticking to just one, or maybe having a few consistent points of view that are distinctly separated and labelled. Another thing that I found . . . uncomfortable about this book was the excessive emphasis on the topic of death–both in the story and in quotations at the chapter heads lauding death in various aspects. I know the story is dark anyhow, but maybe it pushes the topic a bit far. Or maybe that’s just me. Just, if you struggle with this topic, exercise caution about reading this book, that’s all. I really enjoyed the character development, especially in Tana. She’s not your typical heroine, neither is she totally pure and idealized, but she’s willing to push against the flow, find the truth in the midst of the glamour, and do what is necessary even if it’s not pretty. I think that if you enjoy YA paranormal stories with a darker tinge, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown might be an enjoyable story for you. I enjoyed it in spite of myself.
Author: Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5
Throughout the magickal world, an Insidious Humdrum is sucking the magic away, leaving gaping holes of magickal vacuum scattered all over Great Britain. And the only thing standing between the magickal world and this great threat is a boy who spent the first eleven years of his life not even aware that magic exists. Simon Snow: the most powerful magician in the world–and also the most incompetent at controlling his own abilities. If not for his best friend Penny, it’s doubtful that he would have even made it through his first seven years at Watford. Of course, Simon would have more time to devote to his studies if he weren’t so obsessed with his vampire (unconfirmed) roommate, Baz. And as Simon and his friends enter their final year at Watford, Simon finds himself even more distracted when Baz doesn’t return to school–clearly he’s plotting something particularly nasty. Or maybe not?
From the first time I read Fangirl, I’ve always thought that I enjoyed the Simon Snow parts of the story perhaps the best of all, so I was thrilled when I discovered that Rowell had actually developed the idea into a complete (rather extensive) story, Carry On. I was even more pleased when I read it–it’s a very enjoyable story. Any initial tendencies to compare the story to Harry Potter (which seems a pretty obvious comparison when reading Fangirl) are quickly brushed away when reading the actual book; the similarities are superficial while the distinct originality absolutely shines. I particularly love the way Rowell developed the use of magic here, the way it relies so much on everyday language (it makes sense when you read it). The story is definitely Rowell’s, featuring plenty of geeky conversation and an adorable love story, but it’s a Rowell story set in a completely different genre. I’m pleasantly shocked at how utterly well it works. The number of geeky/pop-culture references is fun, but not placed in such a way that much would be lost if the reader doesn’t catch the reference. I found it particularly interesting that an American author writes a story here about British people–in first person. I was never led to believe that it was a British book–the flow is too American somehow–yet I was convinced that Simon himself and his friends were British, which is quite an accomplishment. The style, vocabulary, and references were just enough without being so overkill as to seem fake. Finally, the characters themselves were interesting (adorable) and were developed nicely through dialogue and the perspectives of other characters, as well as their own first-person thoughts, such that I felt like I knew them by the end of the book. Basically, if you like contemporary fantasy and also enjoy shounen ai stories, Carry On is just about perfect. You should check it out if you haven’t already.
Author: Robin McKinley
My rating: 5 of 5
Rae’s mom would be perfectly happy if her daughter spent her entire life being your average barely-graduated-high-school baker with a slightly bad-boy boyfriend (maybe husband at some point)–and she would especially be happy if Rae completely avoided all contact with or allusions to her dad’s entire side of the family with their dangerous magic handling. As a matter of fact, Rae (or Sunshine as she’s known to just about everyone for her obsession with sunlight) would have been just as happy to make giant cinnamon rolls and millions of muffins for the rest of her life too. But things change, and one evening’s drive out to the lake (which should have been perfectly safe) leads to a traumatic encounter with a group of vampires, and perhaps more significantly with herself and her own latent, untrained powers. And suddenly, Sunshine’s life is irrevocably changed in more ways that she even realizes.
Sunshine is pretty much one of my favorite books ever–one of those that I’ve read so many times that I only let myself read it every few years anymore. I mean really, awesome urban fantasy, vampires, and cinnamon rolls–what’s not to love? Plus of course, Robin McKinley is an incredible author; one of the best, in my opinion. The flow, the language, the atmosphere, the characters, and the interworkings of all the tiny details of this story are just perfectly crafted to work together and really allow the reader the fullest possible experience of Sunshine’s story. I love Sunshine’s character. It’s not often that I find a brassy, relatively-uneducated character like her that I really relate to, but she’s pretty much wonderful and so human. I also find it fascinating that McKinley is basically re-telling the story of Beauty and the Beast (for the third time) in this book–using a vampire as the Beast! That’s pretty novel, I must say, but it works brilliantly, especially in the setting she’s built here. Also notable, if you’ve read many of her other books, this one’s a bit racier than most–sex comes up multiple times throughout, and there’s some more adult language at places as well–so I’d say this is a 16+ (although I was definitely younger the first time I read this, and was duly shocked at times. Oops.). For adults who enjoy vampire stories (in a non-Twilight sense, promise) and even more for those who like solid urban fantasy, I think Sunshine is an incredible story that I wish a lot more people would read. Highly recommended.
Author: Heather Brewer
The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, vol. 4
My rating: 4 of 5
Vlad thought life was tough when he was dealing with school bullies and keeping the fact that he’s a vampire from his girlfriend. His eleventh grade year promises to be a bit more complicated. His uncle Otis is facing trial for crimes against Elysian law–and likely facing death, which Otis is keeping a deep secret from his human love, Vlad’s guardian Nelly. Meanwhile, Vlad encounters an unusual vampire who seems to know more than he’s willing to tell–and who dearly wants to drink Vlad’s blood. Soooo not okay. Not to mention, Joss is back in town in full vampire-hunter mode, intent on revenge. Which is really heartbreaking, because there’s a part of Vlad that still thinks of Joss as a good friend. Add to that the morally ambiguous grounds of drinking from a human girl who wants him to (and keeping that a secret from everyone), and Vlad’s got a very challenging year to handle. But hey, he’s the prophesied Pravus; he can handle it, right?
I have consistently enjoyed the Vladimir Tod books, including Eleventh Grade Burns. I think I’ve said this before, but they’re a refreshing change from the majority of the vampire stories you see out today. They’re not so much nasty paranormal romances; more just solid, exciting teen paranormal fiction. The plot is interesting, surprising, suspenseful, and pertinent to stuff kids deal with today, even if it does deal with huge prophesies and life-or-death situations. There’s a lot of honest discussion of stuff like integrity, character, true friendship and family, and making tough choices that is truly beneficial. Plus, it’s just enjoyable to read–nice text flow and a pleasant blend of intense action and comforting slice-of-life situations. I really, truly love the characters here, too. In this particular volume, there’s a definite darkening of the storyline as Vlad’s situation becomes more and more troubling. But even in the dark, troubled times, there’s a sense of forward motion, of purpose. I would recommend Eleventh Grade Burns to anyone who likes YA paranormal–just do read the first three volumes first, or you’ll be pretty lost.
Mangaka: Yana Toboso
My rating: 4 of 5
In a world where humans and vampires have forged a working alliance, Millennium Academy is an elite school designed to train vampires (and the odd human–I mean it, he’s odd) to protect the peace. It would seem that Aldred, the headmaster’s son, would be a misfit in a school filled with such skilled vampires who are able to easily control the mystical weapons that are their vampiric heritage. You see, he’s the only vampire in the school who can’t create such a weapon. But Aldred makes up for his lacks with a combination of bluster, determination, leadership, and true friendship that somehow draws others to follow him. And when he encounters Kei, a seemingly emotionless boy who was raised solely to house a legendary mystical weapon, Aldred will find even his extreme optimism challenged as he discovers he is able to wield Kei’s weapon–at the cost of drinking Kei’s blood, which Aldred hates. Not that he has much choice. The world as they know it is ending, and it will take all they can give to stem the tide . . . even if it means changing who they are to protect that which is precious to them.
I’ve been waiting for years, just hoping that Rust Blaster would finally get an English translation–and it’s finally here! As you may recognize, this is the debut manga by Yana Toboso, the creator of the delicious Black Butler. While not as mature as Black Butler (has become), being Toboso’s first manga, Rust Blaster does show a lot of the same trademark qualities that make Toboso’s work extremely popular. The art is gorgeous–lots of bishounen and just generally a very attractive style. You really don’t see the extreme learning curve in the art that you do with a lot of mangaka, which is really nice. And while there are a lot of shounen mores (it would be easy to compare Aldred to, say, Luffy or Naruto it his attitudes at points), the story is actually well-written and interesting. The characters are a bit more stereotypical that I’m used to seeing from Toboso’s writing, but not painfully so–there’s definitely an enjoyable individuality about them that goes beyond the base types that are at their roots. And while this is a vampire fantasy, complete with violence and blood splatters, it’s also a cute/funny school story that has a lot of humor, and the parts with Aldred and Kei almost nudge into a shounen-ai feel at points. Toboso packs a lot of variety into a single 6-chapter manga, but it all works pretty well and is an enjoyable mix. I think I’d recommend Rust Blaster to basically anyone who enjoys manga and doesn’t mind a bit of blood and fantasy violence–but I’d particularly recommend it to fans of Black Butler, since it’s really neat to see the mangaka’s beginnings.
Mangaka: Bisco Hatori
My rating: 4 of 5
Chiyuki dreams of seeing a thousand years of snowfalls, all the while knowing that she’ll probably never live to even see her eighteenth because of a congenital heart condition. When she meets eighteen-year-old Toya, a handsome vampire whose bite would give her a thousand years of life by his side, it might seem that Chiyuki has found the ideal solution. The only problem is that Toya is too nice to doom anyone to living that long–and that he hides that niceness under a bristly, snappy exterior. Add to the mix happy-go-lucky, flirtatious werewolf Satsuki and impudent bat-servant Yamimaru, and mayhem, conflict, and all-around fun are bound to follow.
For being Hatori’s first serialized work, Millennium Snow is quite nice. I know some of the plot elements sound like a Twilight rip-off, but the two stories are actually quite different. The outstanding feature of Millennium Snow is the characters: Toya’s almost-tsundere-ness is charming, and the Chiyuki-Yamimaru pair’s impudently picking on him is hilarious. Personally, I’m a big fan of Satsuki, probably because he reminds me a lot of Tamaki from Hostbu. I think this manga is significant in that it experienced a 10-year hiatus between the first two volumes and the final two. The art style of the first two volumes is very similar to the earlier sections of Hostbu–a little immature, but pretty, expressive, and very Hatori-san. As for the final two volumes, I think the manga has benefited from the time and experienced gained from Hatori’s work on Hostbu, although there’s a definite style-gap between the new volumes and the first two. It’s cool though to see these great characters in Hatori’s pretty, updated style. I think the story and characters are consistent across the volumes enough to carry it even if the art is definitely changed. Definitely recommended, although I might recommend reading some of Hatori-san’s other works first.
Author: Heather Brewer
The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, vol. 3
My rating: 4.5 of 5
You’d think starting high school would signify a fresh start, some significant changes. But no, Vlad’s still dealing with the same old, same old: massive cravings for blood, scary vampires out to kill him, the usual. Hey, his middle school principal’s even followed him to high school to make things even better. Trouble is, when everything seems to be going incredibly scary–to the point that Vlad’s scaring himself with the changes he’s undergoing–his best friend Henry seems to be avoiding him and his uncle Otis is nowhere to be found. At least he’s dating the girl of his dreams . . . if he doesn’t end up eating her for a snack by accident.
Having reached the third volume of the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, I’m still impressed by how fun, accessible, and generally outstanding they are in the overwhelming flood of vampire stories currently available. Tenth Grade Bleeds is a solid follow through from the first two stories, showing continued growth in Vlad’s character, the vampire mythos as a whole, and the Pravus storyline. I think, more than some, this volume focuses on Vlad’s own internal character and growth since, for a good part of the story, he’s kind of left out on his own. I mean, his aunt Nelly’s around, but he doesn’t exactly spill his vampire problems on her, generally speaking. So he’s got a lot of time (scary, dangerous time for part of it) alone to think about things. I think this volume’s perhaps a bit darker than the previous volumes . . . but that’s likely just because it’s fresher in my mind. The others were actually pretty dangerous and deep too; it’s just that the light, easy writing style makes it easy to overlook exactly how dark they can be. Speaking of which, I absolutely love Brewer’s writing style. It almost makes me think of Japanese light novels rather than your usual American YA–mostly because it flows lightly and fluidly without getting too caught up in itself. It’s thoughtful but easy to read–plus full of attitude and fun. I would definitely recommend this series, and Tenth Grade Bleeds in particular to anyone, even if you’re not typically a vampire story fan.