Certain Dark Things
reviewed by Lou Jacobs
They walk among us. In 1967, a joint task force organized by the governments of the USA and Great Britain—using the latest scientific methods—revealed to the world the existence of five subspecies of vampire, lifting them from the shadow of folklore and superstition. Since that year, a total of ten subspecies have been uncovered.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia crafts a riveting crime noir alternate reality in which “real” vampires are intertwined with the human population, stalking the dark and ruthless streets of Mexico City. Atl, a femme fatale, is a twenty-three-year-old in a family that has spanned centuries—the baby of the clan. Her name is derived from the Nahuati, the language spoken by the Aztecs, and means both “water” and “war.” Her clan was the oldest in Mexico, which moved around Mexico for centuries before coming into contact with the Aztec civilization. She was a Tiahuihpochtl vampire fleeing for her life.
A drug war between her clan and the Necros, led by their leader Godoy, resulted in chaos and death. Her mother’s head was delivered to her abode in a box. She retaliated several days later by killing two of Godoy’s favorite nephews. And soon after the Necros massacred her sister. She escaped the pursuit of Godoy’s thugs, outsmarting and outmaneuvering them, and took refuge in the walled city-state of Mexico City—supposedly a vampire free-zone for the last thirty years.
By chance, her path crosses that of Domingo Molina on the subway. A seemingly carefree seventeen-year-old garbage collector living on his own. He is almost invisible to the locals, although routinely he wears a long yellow plastic jacket as he pushes a shopping cart, filled with found treasures. It starts to rain, and he seeks shelter in the subway, where he encounters the intoxicating beauty of Atl, walking by in a black vinyl jacket and holding the leash of a genetically modified Doberman. He clumsily tries to strike up a conversation. Although initially aloof, but with his naive persistence, she relents and asks him if he’d like to be her friend… for money.
He misunderstands yet follows her back to her sparsely outfitted apartment. Soon he readily accepts her offer and becomes “her snack.” She proclaims to Domingo: “I need young blood, and you’ll do.” She assured him that it was nonsense that he would turn into a vampire. This is met with great degree of consternation as Domingo is quite versed in vampire lore, supplied by his beloved comic books and graphic novels. In fact, much of his assumed knowledge is proven wrong during his association with Atl. He is later mesmerized when he sees her transform into another form. He stares while her hair turns into feathers, and her fingers grow more talon-like, as she grasps his shoulders, as her lips brush his neck, as her “stinger” pierces him, resulting in a burning sensation that spreads down his body. Their relationship markedly changes as Atl comes to depend on Domingo more and more.
Her goal, with his help, is to locate Veronica Montealban in this vast city. Veronica would hopefully provide the false documents, passports, and ID papers that would allow Atl escape to Guatemala. Godoy’s agents are hot on her trail. Capture means certain death. She has no choice but to deal first with the dangerous Revenant. His kind are dangerous to both human and vampire, and could suck out the life force of both.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia beautifully crafts a complex and dark tale with escalating tension, dread, and unexpected reveals as a dangerous cat and mouse game unfolds between warring factions of vampires, local cops, and crime lords. Told in multiple points of view from a multilayered complex cache of colorful characters that ultimately converges into a scintillating denouement with the ultimate vengeance exacted. Explored are unusual friendships and unexpected bonds, while featuring class differences and economic inequalities. Disruption in the vampire world leads to chaos. The unique, lush, and sensual prose and dialogue of Moreno-Garcia lifts horror from a marginal genre. Rejoice fans, as this story is actually a resurrection of a previously dead novel. Issued initially in 2016 to high acclaim and awards only to never be reprinted or reach paperback status as the publisher unexpectedly downsized. It thankfully has risen from the ashes and is reissued with additional material. Provided as an appendix is a detailed explanation of the various species of vampires. Their actual characteristics, their strengths and weaknesses, and, how to kill them.
Thanks to NetGalley and Tor Nightfire Books for supplying an Uncorrected Proof in exchange for an honest review.