It’s weird how Silvia Moreno-Garcia is so hit or miss for me. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t start with the books which made her famous, and which I still really want to read. Instead, I’ve hopped around her timeline somewhat, based on what was available to me, and can safely say that her newer works kick ass but her older ones kick only rocks.
Alas, Certain Dark Things falls firmly into that latter category despite being reissued with some extra stuff at the end, including a book club guide and a fun section of drink recipes inspired by the novel. CDT is set in a parallel future, in a world where vampires have been out since the 1960s, to varying but mostly negative receptions. There are at least ten distinct bloodlines, and as restrictions have clamped down in Europe, the native vampires there have spread out to other parts of the world, including Mexico. Now the Necros, who are very much like the traditional Dracula-types common in Western pop culture, are making big plays against the local Tlahuelpuchi. Atl, the last daughter of one of the latter clans, is on the run and hiding in the allegedly vampire-free zone of Mexico City.
Domingo is a young trash picker who lives in the sewers. When he catches the eye of beautiful, mysterious Atl on the subway one night, he thinks his life is about to change. And change it does, but not for the better, as he finds himself caught in the middle of a war between vampire clans, drug dealers and corrupt cops in this bloody, savage neon-noir.
First, I love that name “neon-noir”, which strikes me as a pretty awesome subgenre description, even if there isn’t a whole lot of mystery going on in this novel, just a bunch of brooding criminals circling each other till the final confrontation. But plot is not, seemingly, the point of this book. The greatest strength of CDT lies in the entirely fresh world-building, which reconsiders and reworks your typical urban fantasy scenarios into something vividly new. The different species of vampire are intriguing, and the depiction of an alternate universe Mexico City compelling.
Otherwise and unfortunately, this felt a lot like reading Christopher Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends sans humor or suspense. Atl is deeply annoying and Domingo reminds me of Elite’s Samu only dumber. And I can appreciate what Ms Moreno-Garcia is doing with Domingo: poverty and loneliness are hard things, and falling in with a vampire who’s rich, sexy and powerful is a a hell of an aphrodisiac, but that ending was so stupid as to beggar belief in this being anywhere near a love story. Have I mentioned that Atl is deeply annoying? It helps that she freely admits that she’s a spoiled dumbass but frankly, it’s only the traditions of her upbringing that make her a better person than Nick, the Necro with such a hard-on to kill her, who’s also a viewpoint character here.
As with Domingo, I felt for the other human viewpoint characters, Rodrigo and Ana, who did what they felt they needed to in order to survive. But that didn’t mean that I had to like any of these people or think anything more than “oh well” when they reaped what they sowed. If I wanted to read about five self-sabotaging dummies, I’d just doomscroll through Twitter. The only character I did enjoy was Bernardino, who provides some of the few moments of suspense in the narrative despite not being deemed worthy enough to have his own chapters.
There are no heroes in this novel, and while I don’t need to like or even relate to characters in order to appreciate a story, I found this one just too drearily angsty to enjoy for more than its world-building. Hopefully, the next book I read by this author will be less of a slog. Oh, and I must say that the new cover for this reprint totally slaps, so that’s another thing it has going for it!
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was published today September 7 2021 by Tor Nightfire and is available from all good booksellers, including
Five Self-Sabotaging Dummies is surely the name of someone’s next band. What a great phrase!
Speaking of Mexico City, I’m in the middle of Roberto Bolaño’s _The Savage Detectives_, which, while not explicitly alternate, is set there (with excursions) and populated almost exclusively with people who are obsessed with poetry. The book is wonderfully over-the-top, though it might be a bit horny-young-man for your preferences.
Bolano is definitely on my long, long list. Did you ever hear of a book that came out recently, A Lonely Man by Chris Power? https://www.criminalelement.com/book-review-lonely-man-chris-power/ It’s set in Berlin and namechecks Bolano on the first page: I think you’d like it!
As for Mexico City itself, I very much love SM-G’s descriptions of the place. I included a link up there, under her newer works, to my review of Velvet Was The Night (whose working title as described in the afterword of CDT was INCREDIBLY cringe, so much so that my brain has refused to remember it.) The characters are all incredibly flawed and often selfish, but they were so much more relatable than the ones here or in that awful romance of hers I first read. I’m super glad she’s getting the name recognition that publishers are digging up her lesser works in order to cash in tho! Hope she’s making tons of money!
I read 2666 in 2011, and the tag on the back of the book tells me I bought The Savage Detectives in 2012, so it spent a mere nine years in TBRland.
A Lonely Man does sound like it would be my kind of thing, not least because of my own (very peripheral and second-hand) dealings with Russian intelligence, and how I took myself out of the running for an editorial position at an oligarch’s project once I found out who was behind it. Anyway.
I enjoyed reading what you wrote about Velvet Was the Night!