Silvia Moreno-Garcia, overhyped as she is in SFF circles, is rather hit or miss for me. Her YA novel Gods of Jade and Shadow was nice enough, but overly simplistic compared to the way it was sold (which may be more marketing’s fault than the author’s) and then Mexican Gothic was so much fun and a really great horror novel that had a lot more to say than just “oh look, creepy house”. Maybe I just like Moreno-Garcia’s newer books more than her backlist because while this vampire novel of hers was perfectly alright, I didn’t find anything special about it whatsoever.
CERTAIN DARK THINGS
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Published: Tor Nightfire, 2016
eBook: 352 pages
Audiobook: 8 hours 46 minutes
My rating: 6/10
Opening line: Collecting garbage sharpens the senses.
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?
Oh what a cool book this could have been if the many cool ideas it contains had been spun a little further, if there had been a little more plot and substance, a little more depth to the characters. The way it stands, this is a vampire novel that stands out only through its use of mythology and the Latinx cast of characters.
Atl is a vampire, belonging to one of several vampire sub-species/tribes, and she is on the run from the evil vampires (from a different tribe) who killed her family. In Mexico City, which is supposed to be vampire-free as opposed to the rest of the country and maybe even the world, she meets Domingo, a teenage boy who lives on the streets and makes a little money collecting garbage and doing odd jobs here or there. As Domingo loves to read comic books about vampires, he becomes obsessedw ith Atl, the first real one he’s met, and wants to become her servant/errand boy/lover/friend.
Meanwhile, we follow Nick Godoy, son of the vampire who had Atl’s family killed. He is a villain who’s easy to hate because he’s just evil. Unfortunately we don’t get to learn a lot about him as a person, or about his past. All we know is he hates Atl and wants to capture and torture her. Because he that’s his idea of fun. Not a very well-written villain, as stories go, but at least you don’t have to examine the blurry lines between good and evil while reading this book.
Lastly, there are a few human characters in addition to Domingo whose perspective made this book a lot more interesting. Ana Aguirre is a cop who has fought her fair share of vampires in her day. Rodrigo, on the other hand, works tighly with Nick and is more familiar with the criminal underbelly of Mexico City. Not only do these two provide some much-needed fleshing out of the world, but it was almost refreshing to follow a character who doesen’t revere vampires but rather fears them.
I was entertained enough while reading this book but in almost every single chapter, there were instances where I thought to myself “This has so much potential! Why not do something with it?”. First of all, the setting of Mexico City. I have never been there so I would have appreciated at least some description of the characters’ surroundings. And even if I grant you that this book wasn’t written for me specifically, and you don’t have to describe every tree or building that your characters pass in the story, there’s no argument against creating atmosphere. Which was sadly lacking here.
The world building is very basic and by that I don’t just mean the actual physical world our characters inhabit. The interesting aspect of this vampire novel is that it doesn’t offer the same old tired tropes we know from all those European vampire stories we know. Atl isn’t plae, she has no problem going out into the sun, and she doesn’t have fangs. But Atl’s type of vampire isn’t the only one! While we get glimpses or one-liners about what others there are, I would have loved to eplore them more and to see this bit of world bulding incorporated into the actual story, rather than just be exposition. The world didn’t feel lived-in or real, is what it comes down to.
The characters are similarly pale with the protagonist Domingo remaining one-dimensional throughout the entire book. Domingo isn’t even a person except in his relation to Atl, the vampire he meets and gets immediately obsessed with, only to immediately fall in eternal love with her. All he wants is be near her, help her, kiss her. Any agency he does have comes from his want to serve Atl. The only thing that makes him endearing is his naivete and his unquenchable optimism. So brownie points for that.
Atl has a backstory, of which we learn a little, but you guessed it, I would have liked a bit more.
This isn’t a big book at 350 pages and I don’t often say this but an extra 100 pages really would have done it a world of good. Then again, the beginning of the book was almost only exposition, mostly Atl explaining the world of vampires to Domingo, and the plot itself is super thin as it is. Girl comes to town, finds herself a willing little helper, girl wants to leave town. She meets with a few people, there is one confrontation, decisions are made. The end.
I still think Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a writer to watch,but I am also becoming more and more convinced that her earlier books weren’t quite ready yet. Or, to say it differently, if she wrote a book about Mexican vampires now, after having written something as fantastic as Mexican Gothic, it would be a much stronger book. I still want to read some of her backlist, but for the next book I’ll choose her latest, Velvet was the Night.
MY RATING: 6/10 – Good-ish