Mexican author Silvia Moreno-Garcia is having a big year. Following the deserved success of Mexican Gothic last year, 2021 is seeing not only the release of her new political thriller Tender Was the Night but the re-release of two of her earlier books, both in different genres. The first of these – The Beautiful Ones – was a beau-monde style fantasy set in an alternative Central America. The second Certain Dark Things is a vampire novel set in Mexico City, first released in 2016 when it was well received but struggled to find a readership. Which makes this re-release a welcome one for the growing legion of fans of this mutli-talented author.
In the world of Certain Dark Things, vampires have always been with us but it is only in the late 1960s that their existence was revealed to the world. At that point many countries moved to expel or control their vampire populations, causing them to move to more welcoming areas. One of those areas was Mexico, which already hosted an endemic vampire species (ten different species are known in this reality). These more aggressive vampire species have now taken over the drug and crime trade everywhere except Mexico City where human gangs and “sanitation” crews have managed to keep all vampires out. This is just the tip of the world building that Moreno-Garcia does, much of which stays unexplored except in a detailed appendix which outlines all ten of the vampire species (most of which readers will not encounter otherwise) and other details of their relationship with humans.
The book itself revolves around a range of characters. The centre of these is street kid Domingo who falls in with a young Mexican vampire called Atl. Atl is one of the endemic Mexican vampire species, known as a tlāhuipochtli, which date back to Aztec times where they served as priestesses in blood-related ceremonies. Atl is on the run from a vicious group of Necros, European vampires who have taken over the crime business in Northern Mexico and in doing so have all but wiped out Atl’s family. In this world vampires are not made but are born into long running tribes. Vampires do take human servants, known colloquially as “Renfields”, but cannot turn humans into vampires. The danger mounts as Nick Godoy, violent Necros vampire with a grudge, together with his father’s human servant Rodrigo, close in on Atl at the same time as a local human gang who want to see all vampires run out of Mexico City.
As with her other books, Moreno-Garcia peoples her tale with a range of flawed characters. While Domingo and Atl are the centre of the novel, those after them and those who help them in their quest to escape and no less well drawn. And, most importantly, the fates of those characters are always up for grabs. No one is ever safe.
Just when readers might think that the vampire sub-genre is tapped out someone comes and reinvents it. Certain Dark Things has everything readers might expect from a vampire tale – sexiness, violence, a range of weird powers – but reinvented and recast in new ways. This is partly due to the huge amount of world building that Moreno-Garcia has done in the background for what is, in the end, a fairly intimate and contained story. For example, only three types of her ten species of vampires are encountered in the book (although at least four others are mentioned).
Silvia Moreno-Garcia continues to demonstrate an ability to deliver in, and to some extent reinvent or reinterpret, any genre. Certain Dark Things puts a new spin on vampire mythology in a violently propulsive tale of survival and revenge. And while Moreno-Garcia has yet to revisit the same genre twice, given the rich world she has created it would no doubt be a fascinating journey if she did return to this one.