Review: CERTAIN DARK THINGS, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Vampires have been long used (and sometimes over-used) in horror/paranormal literature, so that at times it seems that nothing new can arise from that corner of the genre. Then books like Certain Dark Things come along, and new life is breathed into the concept.

For starters, this story is set in Mexico City – quite a far cry from the usual mid-European foggy wilderness one would expect whenever vampires are concerned – and this gives the novel a very peculiar quality, enhanced by the discovery that there are several kinds of vampires, each with their own unique appearance and customs: in keeping with the various world-wide legends about a blood-sucking creature that preys on humans, the novel postulates that vampires are not all alike and they don’t necessarily look like pale-faced Count Dracula.

While the existence of vampires is a well-known fact in the history of the world as depicted by the author, their presence is not tolerated everywhere, and Mexico City is indeed one of the places where they are unwelcome, with “sanitation squads” making regular checks, not unlike those of the police in a totalitarian state, to root out and deport – or exterminate – any stowaway blood-sucker.  Mexico City is, at least on the surface, a place where only drug cartels and other kinds of criminal groups can operate, but among the widespread corruption and the tired indifference of the authorities there are always dark areas where the occasional vampire can slip into the cracks.

This is what happens with Atl, the only surviving member of a clan of vampires whose roots go back to the Aztec civilization: her family was exterminated by a rival gang of Necros – which are a more “classical” variety of vampires – and she’s trying to bide her time until she can cross over to Bolivia where she will have better chances of survival.  The Godoy family, here represented by brash, young Nick with his human sidekick Rodrigo, is on Atl’s tracks with the goal of eliminating the last survivor of the competition, although Nick has a further agenda, that of exacting vengeance on her for humiliating him when she managed to escape capture.   Quite unexpectedly, Atl gains an improbable ally when she meets Domingo, a homeless teenager who survives by selling useful objects he searches for in trash dumps: at first she sees him only as a blood source and an errand runner (a “Renfield” in the vampire speak quite ironically derived from Bram Stoker), but his status will change as the danger increases and her enemies close in.  The last point of view of this quick-paced, fascinating story is represented by Ana Aguirre, a police officer trying to do her job as honorably as possible in a city where dishonesty and lack of care are the rule.

The background for Certain Dark Things is wonderfully detailed, the characters well-drawn and believable – especially the “bad guys” whose ruthlessness and lack of any moral code is drawn with the skilled finesse they require – and the whole vampire culture is an intriguing revelation, but for me the real focus of this story is young Domingo: everything revolves around him, to the point that all the other characters, on every side of the fence, acquire depths and facets only in relation to him. In a way, he is a catalyst, and as it happens with every chemical reaction, his presence changes things.

On the surface, Domingo is a discard of society, not unlike the garbage he collects in search of valuable articles: his family rejected him, the rag-tag band of street kids he first joined treated him badly, and he now lives alone in the abandoned tunnels of the subway, leading a hand-to-mouth existence that nonetheless affords him a modicum of freedom and self-respect. With these premises, one could expect him to be angry, hateful, cynical – not so: Domingo is a gentle soul full of dreams, gifted with guileless innocence and an awkward goofiness that is quite charming.  He’s fascinated by vampires and possesses a collection of graphic novels that taught him all he knows about them, or rather all he believes he knows: when he first sees Atl and her guard dog on the subway, far from realizing what she is, he simply sees a figure from those novels – a stark, black and white living illustration from those comic books, and that’s how the reader perceives her too, because Domingo is indeed our eyes and ears, allowing us to see the world through his perspective.

No one can remain indifferent to Domingo’s view of the world, nor to his loyalty: what starts as a sort of inescapable fascination for Atl, who has no other plan but to use and discard him in the fashion of her people, becomes steadfast devotion and unshakable support even in the face of mortal danger.  The harrowing few days in which Domingo and Atl try to stay one step ahead of their pursuers, while seeking the means to leave Mexico City, see the young man’s change from unprepossessing street urchin to protector and shield: where he could not find the strength to stand up to those who mistreated him in the past, he now can find it for Atl, giving himself up to whatever awaits him down the line.

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

And for her part Atl cannot remain indifferent to Domingo’s attitude and starts to see him as a person, if not an equal, going against everything she has been taught and the warnings of Bernardino, the ancient, creepy Revenant who accepts to help her.  The feelings she starts to develop toward Domingo don’t come out of the blue but stem from the realization that, being alone and the last of her clan, she needs not follow the ancient rules but can forge some new ones, be a law unto herself.  Even Bernardino, for all his ancient cunning and the dire warnings he imparts on Atl, seems to recognize something in Domingo, a quality that distances him from mere food and cannon fodder: there is a hint of acknowledgement, almost respect, in the old vampire that remains unexpressed but is however there.

At some point, during the course of the novel, the fascination exerted by vampires on human is likened to the attraction of the moth to a flame: in the same way, the reader is irresistibly drawn into this story, caught by the relentless pace of the action and held there by the fascinating characters and their journey.  An amazing find, indeed.

My Rating:

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Posted on May 5, 2017, in Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Excellent review, Maddelena! I couldn’t agree more. I loved this book and all the characters, in fact. This is a world that ought to have more books written about it, so I’m hoping some day Ms. Moreno-Garcia will write another story about these characters and setting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a wonderful review and I’m so happy that you loved this too. I’m with Tammy – I would definitely like to see more of this world and would pick up further books in a New York minute.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Christy Luis

    Yay, so glad to hear that you enjoyed this one! I’m listening to it right now and really enjoying the setting in Mexico City (talk about unique), the friendship between Atl and Domingo (also unique), the depth of the worldbuilding (did we mention unique?)…and Ana is a just plain fantastic character. I guess it’s all around a great read, so far 😀 And your rating seems to bode well for the ending! Now I’m super excited to finish it. Thanks for the great reivew!

    Liked by 1 person

    • OOO, how is the audio? I liked this one but I think audio would have made it work even better.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Christy Luis

        The narrator Dan Bittner doesn’t sound very, er, Mexican; but I think he nails the teenaged-boy voice. His girl voices are a liiiitle squeaky, but I’m still really enjoying the narration overall. He gets all the inflections so perfect!

        Like

    • Thank you for reading! 🙂
      The characters are indeed amazing, and IMHO the skill of the author comes across both in the evil ones (where it would be far too easy to go over the top, while here they are chillingly real) and the “good guys”, who have enough shades of gray in them to make them quite fascinating.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Christy Luis

        I hadn’t thought much about the “bad guys” until you mentioned them in your review, but you’re right! Having a Necros narrator really helps differentiate the subspecies and it’s so interesting to see how his genetics impact his motivations. And as you said, having those “shades of grey” in the “good guys” is just as important as making the “bad guys” relatable. I’m really impressed so far!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Even though I’m not partial to audiobooks (I get too easily distracted, and retracing your steps does not work as well as with a printed book), your comments made me curious about this one’s audio version. And I’m glad you’re enjoying this story, one of the best vampire-based novels I’ve read lately 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • Christy Luis

            He’s such a great narrator, one of my “ya” faves 😀 You might really enjoy listening to it just for enjoyment since you’ve already read it and know what’s going on. I love doing that- listening to books I read a long time ago, etc., or just want to reread.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s been a while since I read a vampire story (that’s not a straight up horror) as fun as this one. I’m glad you enjoyed it too! I was just approved for her upcoming book that I requested at NetGalley, I can’t wait to see what more she has in store 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I loved this book, glad to see you did to. I saw you and Mogsy talking about the new one. It sounds *very* different from this, but I’m still excited for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great review. I have to admit being almost automatically turned off by any vampire book (Still suffering from TWILIGHT overload.), but you make a great case for giving this one a try. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • In my opinion, Twilight was the reason vampires got such a bad name…. 😀
      Jokes apart, there are no sparkles here, nor sappy romantic entanglements, so you might safely try to… cure yourself of your Twilight Syndrome with this one!

      Like

  7. Brilliant review! I really enjoyed this one too – especially Bernardino.

    Liked by 1 person

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