Review: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

‘There is a point when a man may swim back to shore, but he was past it. There was nothing left but to be swallowed by the enormity of the sea.’

***Content warnings for blood letting, gore, murder, death of a parent and a sibling, torture, mentions of sexual, physical and child abuse.***

Please note this review mentions the author Poppy Z.Brite who now lives as Billy Martin and no longer writes under that pen name.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia. That should just be the review. Her range in her writing never ceases to amaze me, same with her never wanting to limit herself to one genre. I’ve been lucky to review her work a few times on the blog and several times this year but I honestly think my love has grown with this one. Because this one, is her take on vampires.

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?

I love vampires. I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s books. So you can bet I loved this book. I always enjoy non euro centric or takes on vampires that are more outside the American lens. As an example, one of my favourite takes is on it is Let the Right One in. Mostly for how cut off that small, devastating story is from the larger world but also with how brutal and confronting it is about the dynamics a creature like a vampire would create between people. Certain Dark Things does that but takes it an alternate Mexico City, drenches it in blood and creates a thrilling story around it.

We first meet Domingo, a man who works as a garbage picker, lives essentially on the streets and people watches for a hobby. Despite the hand that’s been dealt him over the years, he remains a cheerful soul with an optimistic outlook. I think the choice to begin this story with an almost naive point of view is a great decision, mostly for the reader’s benefit. He meets Atl with an almost immediate encounter as he sees her and her dog, Cualli, on the same train and she asks him to come home with her. Upon getting there, he discovers she is a Tlãhuihpochtli. An subspecies of vampire. It’s from here the story starts to run at break neck speed, evolvling into Moreno-Garcia’s dubbing of ‘neon noir’.

I abolutely loved the amount of different vampires and sub species in this book. We get to meet a fair amount of them, at least 3 of those listed in the glossary added with this reprinting of the book. And what’s done really well is the information about how each one differs and how it’s told to the reader but never at the cost of the urgency of the storys plot. See Atl is on the run, Domingo is along for the ride and so are we. As we meet Renfields, the clan chasing Atl, the other vampires she needs to enlist to her cause, this worlds version of Mexico is laid down and built around this race to get Atl to safety. That kind of world building is hard to come by, especially while being established so quickly in a more concise book and it’s no surprise to me that this is the author who handled it well.

A total side note but reading this book gave me a lot of the vibes I got when I first read one of my favourite books, Lost Souls by Poppy Z.Brite. That book is a very 90’s take on vampires, between the grungy, dirty aesthetic to the more experimental writing but wher the book was equal parts the story, the set up of the supernatural/vampires and the relationships between the characters. I can see some similarities between Atl and Domingo that’s both sweet and tragic here, that would related to (a lesser extreme) between those of Lost Souls. That little construction of a microcosm in a much bigger, violent world really appeals to me.

I don’t really have much else to say but that I loved this. It’s gorgeous, it’s sad and powerful. Atl is the morally grey, layered lady vamp I always want to read about and I would love anything to spend another book in this world. Silvia Moreno-Garcia does it once again. Thanks for checking in everyone and happy reading to you all.

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