Originally released in 2016, Certain Dark Things sees itself fitted with a new look and an audio edition due to its re-release this month under Tor. Having only recently read another book by the same author, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, I am very appreciative of the spotlight shining onto this supernatural tale that felt equally familiar and intriguing after missing its first run.
Set in a slightly more technologically advanced Mexico City, Certain Dark Things utilizes the ordinary sight of street kids, party culture, and policing to draw the reader into a world where vampires sprout bird wings because they’re from an Aztec clan. Through the point of view of said vampire, Atl, and a motley cast of screw-ups, we learn that in this world vampires have always existed but have remained a secret to the general public until the past few decades. Upon their reveal to the world, many countries restricted vampire habitation, with Mexico limiting vampire movement within its borders and barring them entirely from entering Mexico City. Thus, it is desperation and death that brings Atl to Mexico City at the start of the book. Her long-ruling family has recently become victim to genocide at the hands of a territorial war between vampire empires. Forced to go on the run with her cybernetically enhanced dog, Atl must quickly learn who she can trust and how far. Luckily, she runs into a curious street kid, Domingo, who has led a rough life made a little bit brighter by nerding out on vampire comics and movies. With his help, Atl finds that she may just survive to find a way through a city that holds treachery and danger around every corner while being hunted by the very sadistic vampire force that murdered her family.
I found the integration of certain aspects of indigenous Mexican culture into the different practices upheld by the various vampire clans represented in the story refreshing. While the energy and some beats of the story reminded me of the best parts of the True Blood TV series and the political maneuvering of the vampire clans, human mobs, and police reminded me of Jade City, the commitment to showcasing how the loss of Atl’s family, the only remaining bearers of her culture, provides a unique lens. I also found that the story balanced a fine line between what I’ve seen before and feeling new by keeping the character motivations and crises clear throughout the tale. If you’re missing vampires, have a hankering for seeing them outside of a U.S. or UK-centric space, and are captivated by character work showcasing voices in direct conflict with one another, I think Certain Dark Things may just be the read for you.