TWs for Certain Dark Things, and to a lesser degree this review, include violence, cartels/drug wars, and a particular character who threatens a lot of sexual violence but never thankfully gets around to it.
I’ve been falling more and more in love with Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s writing for a few years now, starting with Gods of Jade and Shadow in 2019, Mexican Gothic in 2020, and reading both Signal to Noise and Untamed Shore after that. Her books are consistent in the perfect way; they’re all massively different from each other in terms of setting and aesthetic, but all hold similar cores, similar character and romance elements, things that draw me back to the concept of a ‘Moreno-Garcia book’ over and over again. Certain Dark Things is no exception, with the added draw that it’s been out of print for years! Originally published in 2016, CDT became popular enough as a cult novel of sorts that it’s now been republished by Tor Nightfire – which is how I’ve finally gotten my hands on it.
So, to start; Certain Dark Things, like most of Moreno-Garcia’s books, is a period piece. Unlike the others, however, it doesn’t have a specific time period that it’s set in (MG is the 50s, GoJaS is the 20s, StN is the 80s, US is the 70s). Instead, CDT is a neo-noir/cyberpunk novel that creates a bizarre, alternate-history version of Mexico City that on some points, feels like it’s from the eighties or nineties (there are no computers, and cellphones appear but aren’t overly fancy), but on other points has near-future technology (ex. Cualli the genetically modified Doberman). The main point of divergence for the setting is that vampires aren’t just real – they’re everywhere. There are several subspecies of vampires, with their own politics, families and interspecies conflicts; none of them are allowed within the walls of Mexico City, which is proudly and determinedly vampire-free. Enter Domingo, 17-year-old garbage collector and homeless kid, who stumbles upon the very hungry, very alone, very desperate Atl and her dog Cualli on the subway. Atl is a Tlāhuihpochtli, an Aztec vampire, who can only drink the blood of the young and who is running from the Necros, a clan who have already killed off most of her family.
It’s hard to pin down what exactly makes CDT work for me where so many vampire books don’t. It’s not even that I’m not into vampires – they’re just so samey after a while! But I think that’s part of what makes CDT so gripping. It’s a vampire book, sure; but it’s also a crime novel, a thriller about cartels and narcos and drug kingpins, who just happen to also be vampires; and it’s also a love story with a bittersweet but ultimately happy-enough ending. (Those who have followed my frustration with romance discourse will know exactly why this hits so well for me.) Domingo in particular is a wonderful break from the usual human everyman character, in that he’s even more of the everyman; his naivete and youth is never downplayed or turned into some sort of Special Signifier of Humanity. He’s just genuinely a very sweet, very innocent person; which comes with just as much awkwardness and choking overfamiliarity as it does the feeling of being seen. I found myself identifying a lot with Atl in this book, particularly with her struggle to not get attached to Domingo because she knows that he will get hurt; not because she’s putting herself down, but because he doesn’t have the life experience to know what he’s signing up for.
More than anything, I just wish this book was longer. The narrative pacing is excellent and doesn’t need any padding; but I’m dying to learn about more of the different vampire species, or the politics in other parts of Mexico, or if Atl is in fact the last of the Tlāhuihpochtin. Still, I don’t know if Silvia Moreno-Garcia has any plans to make any sequels, so we’ll see what the future holds. A fantastic read, and I can’t wait to read more from her. (Next is Velvet Was The Night!)