Certainly dark, also a thing: a review of CERTAIN DARK THINGS

Cer­tain Dark Things

  • by Sil­via Moreno-Gar­cia
  • Thomas Dunne Books, 2016
The Plot

Wel­come to Mex­i­co City, a func­tion­ing “vam­pire free” city-state. Atl, a Tlāhuih­pochli on the run from a destruc­tive fam­i­ly of Necros, is forced to take refuge with­in the city’s walls. Out of neces­si­ty, she takes up with Domin­go, a street kid who becomes her famil­iar (or “Ren­field,” one of many nods to vam­pire mythol­o­gy). Domin­go serves as Atl’s adjunct as she seeks a way to escape to South Amer­i­ca, but also func­tions as the reader’s avatar, allow­ing us glimpses into the hier­ar­chy as he strug­gles to grasp how vam­pire real­i­ty departs from pop cul­ture mythol­o­gy.

Into this mix are also thrown: Nick Godoy, a Necro with a vendet­ta against Atl; Rodri­go, Nick’s Ren­field, a jad­ed but loy­al ser­vant to the Godoy fam­i­ly; and Ana Aguirre, a for­mer vam­pire killer now work­ing as a police offi­cer. As the mul­ti­ple plots weave them­selves togeth­er, we learn of the mul­ti­ple vam­pire clans that exist beyond Mexico’s walls, and the many human gangs with­in that func­tion as self-appoint­ed vig­i­lantes against any vam­pire intru­sion.

The Gist

Is there a more put-upon, down­trod­den mon­ster of late than the vam­pire? Once a fear­some preda­tor that haunt­ed our dreams, das vampyre has now been sad­ly rel­e­gat­ed, pop cul­tur­al­ly, to the ter­ri­fy­ing rank of “sparkling emo.” Thank­ful­ly, ris­ing Cana­di­an star Sil­via Moreno-Gar­cia has seen fit to give the fall­en back some of their bite. Pun!

As may be not­ed from the above plot, the vam­pire world of CDT is not ful­ly hor­ror-ori­en­tat­ed (although the gore, when it comes, is pleas­ing­ly juicy). Moreno-Gar­cia is far more inter­est­ed in build­ing her char­ac­ters, pre­sent­ing Atl’s plight as anal­o­gous to that of a dis­placed refugee or immi­grant. Much of this world sees vam­pires as a threat, and while some do offer that poten­tial, most wish to live their fair­ly long lives in peace. Moreno-Garcia’s char­ac­ters are deeply mem­o­rable, with Atl a con­flict­ed ass-kick­er extra­or­di­naire who would eat Drac­u­la for break­fast, Lestat for lunch, and the whole Twi­light clan for a mid­night snack. Her weird rela­tion­ship with Domin­go gives the nar­ra­tive its soul, while the machi­na­tions of Nick — an appro­pri­ate­ly sleazy vil­lain, along the lines of a heedleely vio­lent Trump bro (or, to put it anoth­er way, a Trump bro) — dri­ve the action. Over­lay­ing this are hints of noir cyn­i­cism, punk sen­si­bil­i­ties, and a depth of emo­tion that ele­vates CDT from the b-movie world of Under­world action­eers to some­thing far more spe­cial.

In terms of its world­build­ing, CDT eas­i­ly earns com­pli­men­ta­ry com­par­isons to Justin Cronin’s Pas­sage tril­o­gy and Anne Rice’s Vam­pire Chron­i­cles (before the series devolved into goth­ic self-par­o­dy [Atlantis? Real­ly?]). This is a Mex­i­co City that lives and breathes, and a vam­pire mythol­o­gy that demands fur­ther inspec­tion. In one of the novel’s many smart moves, Moreno-Gar­cia grafts Aztec mythol­o­gy onto  her mon­sters, giv­ing each sub­species their own spe­cif­ic traits and flaws, allow­ing the sto­ry to organ­i­cal­ly expand its world. Aside from the Tlāhuih­pochli and Necros, we also learn of Revenants, Nachzehrers, and oth­ers, all dis­tinct sub­species with­in the genus. (As a side­note: in CDT’s glos­sary is the sug­ges­tion that the mytho­log­i­cal Wendi­go is a sub­species native to Cana­da. More, please!) Moreno-Gar­cia lays her world out with sub­tle grace, leav­ing crumbs of infor­ma­tion around, trust­ing the read­er to intu­it how this world func­tions.

Moreno-Gar­cia has been on some­thing of a roll of late. Her debut nov­el Sig­nal to Noise won rave reviews and awards; dit­to her col­lec­tion A Strange Way of Dying. On the edit­ing front she’s equal­ly accom­plished, hav­ing late­ly pro­duced Dead North, Frac­tured, and She Walks in Shad­ows (also known as Cthulhu’s Daugh­ters), three tremen­dous­ly strong antholo­gies. All of these are must-reads for any lover of the fan­tas­tic (or just great writ­ing for that mat­ter). Cer­tain Dark Things has cer­tain­ly been rolling in acco­lades of its own, and damned if it doesn’t deserve it. Moreno-Gar­cia is a true artist, and Cer­tain Dark Things is a blood-soaked treat.

Now, about that Wendi­go vam­pire, I have some thoughts on a sequel…