Book: Certain Dark Things
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Source: Owned (Purchased for Tickly My Fantasy book club at Katy Budget Books)
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Neo-noir
Purchase: These links are only for your convenience and do not include affiliate links
From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a pulse-pounding neo-noir that reimagines vampire lore.
Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized.
Atl needs to quickly escape the city, far from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in.
Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive? Or will the city devour them all?
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia has been on my radar for several months now. I first saw that gorgeous cover come across my “Recommendations” feed in StoryGraph, and I immediately added it to my “To Read” list. So, when the Tickle My Fantasy book club at Katy Budget Books decided to make it their January 2022 monthly read, I felt it was the perfect excuse to buy this book and read it. Imagine my surprise when I read the author’s introduction and discovered it’s actually a reprint! How did my vampire-loving heart miss out on this glorious gem of a book for the past several years?
Certain Dark Things takes place in near-future Mexico City, and it primarily follows Domingo, a street kid obsessed with vampire media and comic books, and Atl, an Aztec vampire on the run from a ruthless drug lord vampire who killed her entire family. When Domingo and Atl first meet, Atl decides to use Domingo to help her survive long enough in vampire-free Mexico City to secure passage to South America. Domingo, on the other hand, is just excited to finally meet a real vampire, and a very pretty one at that.
This would appear to be a set up familiar to many recent vampire novels. Unwitting human meets vampire. The two fall in love and live happily ever bloody after. However, Certain Dark Things is nothing like the average vampire story. There are no good people in this story. Every one of the characters made the choices that led them where they are, and they all continue to make choices that have dire consequences.
For example, Atl wouldn’t even be in Mexico City and on the run if she hadn’t overridden the decision of her clan’s leaders to take revenge. That revenge cost her dearly, and now she is trying to escape the same fate as her family. During the course of the story, she also has to wrestle with whether or not she even deserves to escape. She constantly questions herself and her abilities. Atl led the life of a pampered princess, and now she is thrust into the unknown and harsh world of reality. She is forced to learn how to survive in a place that is every bit as deadly to her as she is to humans.
Meanwhile, Domingo is a Mexico City street kid born and raised. He has lived in subway tunnels since getting kicked out of his home several years before. He never finished school, so he makes enough money to feed himself by sorting, collecting, and selling scraps from garbage heaps. He is familiar with the city’s dark underbelly, but he maintains his youthful innocence and optimism in spite of all of this.
Domingo’s innocence is slowly tarnished as he helps Atl run from the ruthless Necros vampire, Nick, who is after her. He does things for Atl that he would never have done or thought of doing before, and he does so out of nearly blind devotion to Atl. He is given many opportunities to leave Atl, but instead he continues to help her. Domingo is blinded by his awe of and obsession with vampire lore, and it leads to bittersweet heartbreak and being surrounded by death.
While Domingo and Atl are the primary focus of the story, Certain Dark Things also explores the relationship between their nemesis, Nick, and Nick’s keeper of sorts, Roderigo. Roderigo has been working for Nick’s father for years as his Renfield (think daytime gofer for vampires with the derogatory nickname based on the character in Dracula).
Nick is a different type of vampire than Atl, and he has an insatiable appetite for blood, alcohol, and violence. While Atl hails from ancestry older than the Aztecs and has bird-like qualities, Nick is a Necros. He is like the shark of the vampire world. He has rows of razor-sharp teeth, and his bite is deadly. Necros can also control humans by forcing them into a blood exchange. Nick’s strength and ruthlessness are what make him a dangerous foe for Atl.
Roderigo thinks Nick’s obsession with Atl is not healthy and will lead to many problems. He isn’t wrong. In Mexico City, vampires aren’t the only things that are deadly. Human gangs have run Mexico City for many years, and they do not take kindly to the vampires’ intrusion. Both Nick and Atl are in danger from this threat the longer they stay in the city, which is an interesting idea – vampires may be strong and powerful, but even they can’t escape if enough humans want them dead.
Intriguingly, Moreno-Garcia uses the relationships between all these different vampires and vampire varieties to explore the idea of colonialism. Nick, and vampires like him, originally hail from Europe while Atl and her clan are native to Mexico. Both Atl and Nick are part of vampire families that are funded by drugs, and the story is told under the guise of rival gang wars. However, the idea that the Necros drug lords are encroaching on the territory of Atl’s family and other families like hers mirrors the European invasion of Mexico and South America during colonial times.
European vampires brought disease with them when they came over the ocean. Diseases that not only killed humans but weakened the blood supply for native vampires. Then, the European vampires began taking over native Vampire territory through violence and subversion. This is a familiar story to any history buffs, and I think it was intelligently wrapped into the story of Certain Dark Things. It added a layer of realism to the story and helped give context to character actions without overcoming the story itself.
Obviously, this book is way less Twilight and way more vampire drug lord gang wars in a cyber-noir Mexico City with some John Wick style fights thrown in for good measure. In fact, there were several scenes with Nick and Roderigo in them that reminded me heavily of Iosef Tarasov’s behavior in John Wick. It didn’t hurt that this book is neo-noir just like that movie and the stories are similar in that it’s a rival gang against one surviving member. I’d love to see this book made into a movie in the same style as John Wick!
I gave Certain Dark Things four out of five stars. It is a very unique addition to vampire lore that explores new ideas and introduces so many unique vampire varieties. I’d love to read more stories about the different types of vampires and their histories and how they live. I also really enjoyed the perspective of rival gangs as a way to explore the horrors of colonialism and its effects on native peoples, both living and undead. The only thing keeping this book from a five-star rating was that it’s too short! I would have liked to read more about the history of the different vampire clans, but maybe we will get that in the form of a few short stories at some point. Either way, this is still a great read that I’d recommend to vampire lovers anywhere.
Have you read Certain Dark Things? What about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s other books? What do you think of her ability to write in such a wide variety of genres? Let me know in the comments below!
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