I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Published by Thomas Dunne on October 25 2016
Genres: Adult, Horror
The nitty-gritty: Dark and deliciously dangerous, with a unique take on vampires that will make jaded readers sit up and take notice.
Atl looked at him, and her face was not really human, it was a bird’s face, though it lacked a beak. Instead of hair she had lustrous feathers. She shook her hand and the feathers disappeared, leaving only pitch-black hair behind and a face that was so thin and sunken it seemed positively emaciated.
I have to admit that I honestly thought this was young adult before I started reading, but it surprised me (in more ways than one!) by being most certainly not YA. Certain Dark Things has made my list of all-time favorite vampire novels, and I’m so happy to have finally read a book by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. If you like your vampires dark, nasty and complicated, then this book is for you. Just about every element makes this special, starting with the setting. The story takes place in Mexico City, a place teaming with gangs, a corrupt police force and government, and even vampires, although technically the city is a vampire-free zone.
Domingo is a homeless teen who survives by scouring the landfills for junk he can sell. He may not have much, but he’s at home in his corner of the world, and his street smarts keep him alive and off the radar of the sanitation crew. He’s seen a lot, but one thing he’s never seen before is a real vampire, since they were banned in Mexico City, and border patrols keep a close eye on any trying to get in. Until one day, Domingo spots an intriguing girl walking with her huge Doberman, and because he’s seventeen and she’s beautiful, he decides to follow her.
When the girl asks him back to her place, he assumes she wants to pay him to have sex, but that’s not quite the case. The girl turns out to be a vampire named Atl, part of a vampire subspecies descended from the ancient Aztecs, and what she needs from Domingo is blood. Atl and Domingo come to a tentative agreement, as Atl needs a “Renfield”—a human who can help her out during the daylight hours. But Domingo soon learns that Atl needs way more help than he can give her. It turns out she’s on the run from another vampire named Nick Godoy, and she’s come to Mexico City to try to hide from him.
Unfortunately, Nick and his Renfield Rodrigo are hot on her heals. Not only that, but when a savvy cop named Ana with a reputation for killing vampires starts investigating the murder of a young girl, clues lead her to Nick, and suddenly Atl finds herself the target of more humans and vampires than she can handle.
Certain Dark Things has a fairly simplistic plot—Atl is being hunted by Nick and his gang, and later by Ana, and it’s all she can do to stay one step ahead of them. But what’s not simplistic is just about every other element in this story, and I have to start with the world building because it blew me away. Moreno-Garcia has come up with a world with ten different vampire subspecies, and each one has its own quirks, abilities and dangers. In this story, we really only get to know three of these subspecies, but I love that she took the time to dream up seven others that didn’t even make it into the book! (Think about that for a minute.) Atl’s species drinks only the blood from the young, hence her interest in Domingo. She can also shapeshift into a bird-like creature and even fly. Nick, on the other hand, is a Necro, the subspecies that most resembles vampires from popular culture that you and I are familiar with: they sport long fangs, are often pale and don’t do well in sunlight, and many are well-off financially. The author goes into a lot more detail, and every word about each subspecies fascinated me. There’s even a handy glossary at the end of the book that gives a brief description of each of the ten subspecies, and despite the lateness of the hour when I finished the book, I couldn’t stop reading until I had inhaled each detail. Many of the subspecies originated in different countries, so there is a wonderful aspect of diversity inherent in the story.
The characters and the relationships between them are just as detailed as the world-building. Atl is an interesting combination of tough and vulnerable, and I loved how she tries to keep her distance from others, but you can tell she really wants to make a connection with someone. We find out right away that several really bad things have happened to Atl. Her mother and sister were killed by a rival vampire gang, and she retaliated by paying back the vampire responsible—big time. Now he’s out for revenge and he won’t stop until Atl is dead. And it turns out it’s really hard to kill a vampire, so you can imagine the creative ways the author finds to inflict pain and suffering on these characters.
Which brings me to my next point: if you’re the squeamish sort, you may not get along with this book. Certain Dark Things is dark and bloody and painful and sad, but many of the relationships soften those hard edges, which is one of the reason I wanted to keep reading, despite the seemingly non-stop violence. Atl is fiercely devoted to her dog Cualli, and I thought it was refreshing that she actually treated him like a dog, without anthropomorphizing him. Atl is drawn to Domingo, not only because of his blood, but I got the impression that she loved his innocence and sweetness as well. Their relationship wasn’t what you might expect, and I appreciated that the author didn’t take things in the expected direction.
At about 60% in my Kindle ARC, the action really took off and literally didn’t stop until the end. Above all, this is a “chase” story. Atl and Domingo are trying to keep one step ahead of Nick, Rodrigo and Ana, and frankly, they are having a hard time. I love that the author brings in a whole slew of vampires and humans who are trying to help Atl, but at the same time, these gang members and vampires aren’t exactly the reliable sort, so you just never know where things are going. I was so keen on Atl and Domingo making it out of Mexico City that my heart was racing the entire time. It’s not often that I get really worried about characters that I love, and this was one of the most heart-pounding books I’ve read in some time! The ending gave me goosebumps, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.
Certain Dark Things is not to be missed, especially if you love your vampire stories dark and gritty and infused with emotion. Highly recommended.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
About the author:
SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel Signal to Noise and the short story collection This Strange Way of Dying, which was a finalist for the Sunburst Award in Canada. She was a finalist for the Manchester Fiction Prize, and a recipient of the Gloria Vanderbilt/Exile Award for Best Emerging Writer.