Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Certain Dark Things (2016/2021)

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Certain Dark Things

Format: E-book

Pages: 272

Series: –

I’m recently jumping through Moreno-Garcia’s books: one new, one old – and let me tell you: there is a difference. Certain Dark Things is Moreno-Garcia’s second book, and it shows. It boasts of lots of great ideas, a skillfully created, moody and thick atmosphere, and an interesting plot. But the prose is clunky at times and nowhere near as polished or subtle in her later novels, and the characters, while engaging, remain early blueprints of protagonists from her other books: a sensitive, naive boy and a headstrong, wilful girl meet again and again in Moreno-Garcia’s stories, and Certain Dark Things is no exception.

Certain Dark Things reads like a love story to the vampire genre. And, like a true fangirl she admits being, Moreno-Garcia delves deep into the lore, expanding it and twisting in delightful ways. Certain Dark Things explores an alternate history, in which in 1967 humanity discovered the existence of vampires as a separate species – and not only one type, your typical Dracula vampire inhabiting so successfully popular imagination, but actually ten subspecies, vastly varying in behavior and phenotypes and place of origin. From Central European Necros to Chinese Jiang-shi to East European Revenants to Mezoamerican Tlāhuihpochtin to North American Wendigos, Moreno-Garcia gleefully goes off the deep end into the myths and legends of blood-sucking and flesh-eating monsters. She reimagines the various subspecies as separate mafia families, hierarchical and violent and bloody, hellbent on defending and expanding their territories and influence, engaged in narco-business, and the ingenuity of this idea can be confirmed by the fact that it seems so natural, so apt. 

As a result, Certain Dark Things version of Mexico City, dark, gritty, run by drug mobs and designated as a vampire-free zone, is a character in its own right. Filled with corrupt or indolent cops, sanitation crews wielding disproportionate power, people sick with various blood diseases, street kids, homeless, dangerous teenagers and mobs vying for power, Mexico City is not a great place to live. And yet, in Moreno-Garcia’s prose, it holds a certain noir charm: no, not for living, but for watching from a safe place ;). It’s not a coincidence, I think, that part of the story takes place on an enormous landfill; nor that the main character Domingo’s occupation is collecting useful trash. Certain Dark Things  explores the notions of refuse and margins, of the things that are relegated to shadows of our everyday life – and those that choose shadows as their own place. Moreno-Garcia calls her book neon-noir; the new cover certainly reflects her choice: something of a glam dystopia, part Blade Runner and part Nosferatu.

There is plenty to love in Certain Dark Things; and yet, of all the Moreno-Garcia’s books I’ve read to date this is the weakest. While the characters were engaging, and their choices ambivalent and presented in many shades of gray, ultimately I felt that Certain Dark Things lacked the subtlety of Mexican Gothic or Velvet Was the Night. Part of the problem lies in the language, which is a bit stiff and clunky, though from time to time the languid melodious rhythm that Moreno-Garcia perfected in her later novels can be enjoyed also here. Part of the problem lies in too many POVs: the two main protagonists, Domingo and Atl, are accompanied by Rodrigo, a Necros human companion (Renfield) tasked with finding and killing Atl, Nick, a young and impetuous Necros and Rodrigo’s problematic charge, and Ana, a seasoned cop and onetime vampire killer, who gets entangled into a vampire-mob conflict. While Domingo and Atl’s POVs were interesting if overly angsty, the same can’t be said for Rodrigo or Nick. And it’s an interesting side note that the only likeable male characters are those completely bereft of macho traits; it’s the women who are strong and capable, who make decisions and knowingly pay for them. Atl and Domingo – and Nick – behaved like typical teenagers: a storm of hormones, constant jumps between extreme emotions, awkwardness and angst dialed up to 11. Middle-aged Ana and Rodrigo had potential to be more interesting, but with limited exposure they only came off as embittered and tired.

To be honest, my favorite character of the novel didn’t even get his POV; and maybe it’s for the better, as he remained suitably mysterious and aloof till the end. It says something about me, but also about the book, that in the end the only person I cared about was Bernardino: an ancient reclusive vampire, strictly adhering to the traditional codes of honor, polite to a fault, and yet far more empathetic and understanding than any of the other characters. His age allows him wisdom that the others, so bound in the now, don’t have. It also gives him a certain tragic air: a vampire who had outlived his age, who remains immersed in the past but is not yet ready to die. I didn’t feel invested in the fates of Domingo and Atl; but I certainly wanted to know if Bernardino was going to be okay ;).

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), F.W. Murnau.

Certain Dark Things can be also read as a reimagining of a colonial conflict: ancient Mexican vampires bound by tradition and ritual are being hunted down by the more ruthless, more creative and more versatile new European breed. The coexistence is possible, but certainly not easy – after all, Bernardino seems to be one of the rare European subspecies, too. It’s the greed, and the violence, that is at the root of the conflict – and ain’t that true. But the colonial lens would be somewhat misleading; at its core, Certain Dark Things is once again a romance story; a doomed, gritty romance, between a sweet-tempered human boy and a vampire girl with bad attitude (sort of Grease à rebours), sure, but romance nonetheless. 

My copy, Tor’s reissue, contains a few bonuses: a Vampiric Encyclopedia, a short interview with Moreno-Garcia, and recipes for two Certain Dark Things-inspired drinks. There are even some questions for a book club discussion (I think? This is something very American to me ;)). 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.

Score: 6/10

20 thoughts on “Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Certain Dark Things (2016/2021)

  1. This was my first book by Moreno-Garcia and it hooked me on her works, even though I have not read enough of them – yet. Still, some of the details have become hazy and I would not mind a re-read, particularly because your mention of Bernardino has sparked my curiosity to no end…
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha, got you! 😀 I think that if this was my first Moreno-Garcia book I’d have liked it more – but now, having read the later works, I can’t help but notice how she grew as an author 😉

      Thanks for reading, Maddalena!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so cool! Even though I’m not a big fan of vampire stories I see the appeal, and as I mentioned to Maddalena, if this was my first Moreno-Garcia book I’m sure I’d have liked it more – but having read the newer works I can’t help but notice how much she evolved and grew as an author 😉
      I’ll be very curious to read what you think of her newest book! There are many similarities between the two! 😀

      Like

  2. It doesn’t sound all bad but it does sound like it was amateurish in execution. I’m glad you still managed to get some enjoyment out of this one though. It seems multilayered but flawed. At least newer stories by her are less likely now to run into the issues you found here. Great thoughts, Ola! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lashaan! 😀
      Yeah, it’s not as good as her other books for me, but still not bad 😉 You can see how her skills grew over time, too, which is pretty interesting in its own right!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting timing for this review. I just recently finished reading George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dreams about vampires on steamboats in the pre-Civil War US, and that reinvigorated my love of vampire stories, which had faded away a bit over the years with all the movies and book series on them. Then, having seen reviews of recent Silvia Moreno-Garcia books, I looked through my “stack” of ebooks and found I’d purchased Certain Dark Things a while back, and that had me wanting to give it a try. And given how much folks love her work I’m thinking I might start here and then move on to later works. Maybe then I’ll enjoy this one more, not having to compare it to later works after she’s better developed her craft.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah, please do give it a try! While not perfect, it’s definitely intriguing and something else within the vampire genre.
      And if you like it, you’ll have the added bonus of knowing Moreno-Garcia’s later books are even better! 😀

      Thanks for a visit, Todd! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Depending on your mood, Chris, I’d suggest Mexican Gothic for an autumn/creepy Halloween read, and Velvet Was the Night if you want a contemporary crime/noir that explores Mexico in the midst of political and cultural turmoil. These two are my favorites. But despite my critique, Certain Dark Things was a decent read, too. Interesting ideas, a bit flawed execution, but it certainly has its charm – especially if you like vampires 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not into vampire stories, especially if they’re just an excuse for kinky shenanigans, and definitely not unless they are well thought through to allow me to suspend disbelief. Having said which, I did enjoy suspending disbelief about the ghouls in The Witness for the Dead, which I’m enjoying a teensy bit more than you did!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, Moreno-Garcia can make you suspend disbelief, all right! 😁 Her vampires (though maybe not all of them) are very realistic and well researched. Immersing in her worlds is quite pleasurable, indeed!

          I’m very glad you are enjoying The Witness for the Dead; I definitely liked it more than its predecessor 😉

          Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a bit YA but not too much. The romance is also a rather background thing; I guess I just wished she had a better story to tell in this one 😉 still, the worldbuilding is superb, and there some pretty cool characters and scenes.

      Liked by 1 person

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