Certain Dark Things, By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Jo Fletcher Books, pb, £7.91
Reviewed by John Dodd
Vampires are real.
They’ve been around since a very long time ago, but the humans of the world only came to realise they were there in the latter half of the twentieth century. Unlike the classic vampires, these get older with time instead of being frozen perfectly in the state they were when they were turned. And depending on the type of vampire they are, they can’t actually turn humans into more vampires themselves.
This was a fascinating read. It starts with Domingo, a young and streetwise kid on the streets of Mexico City, encountering a young woman, Atl, who’s more than she seems. One of the Tlahuihpochtli, a descendant of the Aztec vampires, but not much older than Domingo himself, which was an interesting shift from the oft used tropes of a far older vampire who just happens to look like someone in their early twenties. Atl is on the run from other vampires, descended from the Necros line, whose powers are very different from hers. Her family have been killed, and the reason she’s running is that she took revenge on those who did it. For now, though, she’s alone in a dangerous place and needs a friend.
The characters are well written. Domingo exudes the need of a young man who chose a principled path that wouldn’t be ruled by gang bosses and drug dealers to find someone who understands him, someone who needs him, as he might need them. Atl is more jaded, not by her age, but by the world that she had to grow up in, the way in which she’s had to live. They have a similar outlook, but it’s clear that they came from different worlds, and in their own way, they’re both just trying to live in the other’s world. This isn’t a love story; this isn’t Twilight redux; there are no sparkly vampires looking moody at each other in here, but there is a need for connection, and it’s all the stronger a story for it.
This is where the story excels, the worldbuilding is superb, the different types of vampires, their outlook on both humans and the world they live in. Some have little concern for the nature and existence of humans, seeing them as little more than pets and playthings; others consider them to be lower forms of life and seek little to do with them. In choosing a protagonist who understands the nature of what she is but hasn’t yet lived long enough to lose her hope and become like the older vampires, SMG creates a compelling narrative that weaves together her own experiences in Mexico City and brings it to life in a way that draws the reader in. There’s a bridge between the optimism and hope that Domingo shows and the world that Atl lives in, that she doesn’t really want to live in. The sense of longing, of wanting to belong to a world that you weren’t born into, is present in most of the book, much like those trying to escape their life; in real life, these are real characters with real motivations and needs.
If there was a negative point to be had with the story, it was that it didn’t go deeper into what is a very well researched, very strong background. This is a reprint of the original book that was first published in 2016, and as noted in the foreword, there are additional notes at the back of the book, which include an Encyclopaedia Vampirica, detailing the different types of vampire found in the book and many others not yet encountered.
With the book ending as it does, complete as a story, but without a doubt something that is not yet finished as a saga, the inclusion of these details and an interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia that hints at the possibilities and ideas that she had when writing it gives the reader hope that this will not be the last time that we get to venture into this world.