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…