Certain Dark Things is Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s second novel. Like her first novel, Signal to Noise, it is set in Mexico City. However, this is a very different Mexico City. In the book’s universe, vampires were found to exist in the 1960s – and most countries banned them. While vampires aren’t banned in Mexico, they are banned from Mexico City.
The city is surrounded by a wall and comes with ‘sanitation’ sweeps – looking for things that don’t belong or need to be quarantined, like vampires.
However, outside of Mexico City, vampires operate the drug cartels and engage in periodic warfare against each other. And that’s how we meet Atl, one of the two main protagonists in the novel. Atl is a Mexican vampire, a different subspecies than the ‘necros’ who are European. However, she’s being hunted by a necros clan and finds herself in Mexico city looking for the people that can help her escape Mexico altogether.
We meet Domingo, naive and sweet, who collects trash and loves vampire stories. Atl and Domingo meet on the subway and the story goes from there. They manage to help and irritate each other in a variety of ways – but both change as a result of their experience together.
What I very much enjoyed about this novel was the idea of vampires as a species (with their own sub-species). Especially with Atl and her sub-species being around during the Aztecs, you get a flavour of an entire different mythology of vampires than what you’re used to from the European context. It made such a vibrant and interesting universe and I enjoyed the alternative history of Mexico City as a result.
As well, the characters were all delightful. Well, except for Nick (the necros vampire) who was violent and awful – but he was the baddy. But Atl is interesting and flawed. She’s strong and powerful but has made terrible mistakes and almost continued to make them. Domingo is just adorable, always asking questions, but becoming braver as the book progresses. As well, the supporting character of Bernardino was fabulous (another vampire subspecies called a revenant). The detective Ana Aguirre was also feisty and pragmatic, calling out all the bullshit around her.
There’s a lot of moral ambiguity in the novel – which is interesting. I mean, Atl is a vampire and has killed people but you want to root for her over Nick. But also the decisions Ana has to make, you realise that no one can be purely good (even Domingo). So it felt like a realistic universe, even though there were vampires.
Anyway, it was great. It’s an interesting take on vampires that reverses some roles and also upends expectations. Give it a spin!