Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s books should be made into movies. I’ve read three of her books by now and thought the same thing each time. Her writing is so visual, and her stories are atmospheric and full of action. She also takes common genres and tropes but then infuses them with Mexican culture, history, and mythology. And surprisingly, each of the three books I read were completely different (other than those similarities I just pointed out).
Certain Dark Things is a blend of urban fantasy and crime noir. It’s set in Mexico City in an alternate reality where vampires have been living among humans for years. Moreno-Garcia writes about the many ways that different countries tried to regulate or drive out their vampires, with limited success. Only Mexico City has succeeded in remaining vampire-free, thanks to strict rules and vigilant organized crime. But now one vampire has returned, and she’s being followed…
Atl is a vampire on the run when she meets Domingo, a young man who lives in a subway tunnel under the city. He finds her beautiful, so when she asks him to be her “friend”, he willingly provides a small blood donation (and hopes to take it further). Once Domingo realizes how much Atl needs help, the two work together to find a way to get out of town and escape her pursuers, a sadistic vampire named Nick and Rodrigo, the companion who’s trying to keep Nick under control. On top of this, there’s a vampire-killing cop who’s trying to solve a vicious murder and she’s on both Nick and Atl’s trails.
Moreno-Garcia builds on vampire lore and expands it by creating lots of different species of vampires, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Atl is one of the least terrifying variety. She’s strong and can fly (sort of) but Nick, a Necros, can control people with his blood and Bernadino, a Revenant, can steal your life energy with a breath.
She also builds on a wealth of movie, novel and comic book lore about vampires – Domingo is a huge fan of everything vampire-related, but most of what he knows from fiction turns out to be completely false (they don’t disappear in a cloud of dust, for example). And vampires genuinely don’t want to have sex with humans. There’s a lot of discussion in this book about the role of Renfields and their relationships with the vampires they serve.
A book like this can have tons of action and cool vampire powers, but what matters to me is the characters, and I loved the relationship that this book builds between Atl and Domingo. Atl is scarred and very flawed. She’s made bad decisions that impacted her entire family. Domingo is alone and struggling to get by without getting sucked into a crime syndicate. He follows Atl blindly at first, but they both come to know each other over time. Bernadino and Ana (the cop) were also great side characters, thoughtfully developed. And of course, the dog. It’s an oddly touching book despite all the bloodshed.
The intro to this book explains that Moreno-Garcia first published it in 2016, but the public’s fascination with urban fantasy and vampires was in decline (“the market had been bled dry,” she explains). At the time of its release the publisher downsized and the book went out of print. But recently demand for the book surged and it’s being re-released next week.
I was one of those people who read a ton of urban fantasy – vampires, werewolves, and fairies – about 10 years ago. I got bored with the sameness of it after a while, but this book reminded me of what I love about the genre. It plays with the tropes but doesn’t just regurgitate them. Instead it’s a great spin on vampire lore, detective noir, anti-heroes, and love on the run.
I’m thrilled to see Moreno-Garcia getting the attention she deserves, and I love reading a book like this that brings in cultural and mythological elements that are foreign to me. I loved the sense of place that she brought to this book; I never forgot that we were in Mexico City. Her descriptions are vivid so whether the characters were in a beautiful old mansion, a festive plaza, an outdoor bar, or a subway tunnel, I felt like I was there.
If this were a movie, I’d describe it as Blade Runner meets Desperado. But with vampires. However you describe it, it was a fun, exciting read that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Macmillan-Tor/Forge. Its publication date is September 7, 2021.