Book Review : Certain Dark Things

Book Review : Certain Dark ThingsCertain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Published by Jo Fletcher Books on September 7th 2021
Pages: 273
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a pulse-pounding neo-noir that reimagines vampire lore. Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized.
Atl needs to quickly escape the city, far from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in.
Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive? Or will the city devour them all?

If you told me I would willingly read a book about vampires in 2021, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I couldn’t help being intrigued by the premise of Certain Dark Things, which was written by the author of Mexican Gothic, which seemed to completely revolutionize the popular collective of how we look at vampires. It didn’t hurt that the main vampire was a female named Atl, descendant of Aztecs, last survivor of her clan, and owner of a bio modified and tattooed Doberman.


“‘We are not very nice creatures. You are foolish to seek the company of vampires. Have you any idea what I am talking about?’

‘Humans are not very nice either,’ Domingo said.”


Though I initially thought I would love Atl, I was disappointed to find that I didn’t care for her much. Perhaps she was just too realistic of a vampire, colder and less feeling than humans. Or maybe it was her past as a frivolous princess of a powerful vampire clan, who did whatever she wanted without a care in the world. I liked her Renfield, Domingo, even less. I found him to be clingy and naïve for a boy who grew up on the streets. I really didn’t see what Atl saw in him. But surely I cared for the other narrators of Certain Dark Things, if not the main two? Wrong. The alternative narrators are a long-suffering Renfield to an enemy vampire clan, who seeks to hunt Atl down and kill her (or worse), and a corrupt cop named Ana. I couldn’t even fully get attached to the dog, which honestly is a first for me, a crazy dog lady.


I think perhaps Certain Dark Things was just a little too dark for me. Human and vampire characters alike were flawed and monstrous. Trusting Domingo, in contrast, seemed far too innocent and pure to the point of being suicidally stupid. Perhaps that is why Atl engages in a romantic love affair with her “food,” because I just could never feel any chemistry between the two. The divide is not so large because of the vampire versus human thing, but almost like an adult dating someone fresh out of high school. It felt awkward and uncomfortable to me. 


“’You can’t tell anyone. You understand?’

‘I wouldn’t,’ he said.

‘Because I’d hurt you if you did,’ she said. Her voice held no obvious threat, but he knew she meant it. It was in her face, which had no blunt edges. A smart man might have been intimidated. He was curious.”


Their relationship, though it felt like watching a deathly accident waiting to happen, was at least more interesting than the world-building to me. I was initially interested in the idea of city-states, and vampire territories, but as time went on, I didn’t really feel that there was a whole lot of new ground treaded there. The world put me to mind a lot of the Anita Blake series or other urban paranormal series, but of course, in Mexico City. It didn’t help matters much that Certain Dark Things constantly dumped information about this world on me in long paragraphs. I felt overwhelmed by these long-winded diatribes of past vampire cleanses, laws regarding vampires in other countries, and the histories of how certain subspecies of vampires came to be, etc.. I wished I could have discovered this information more organically, rather than a narrator simply force-feeding it to me in these overwhelming passages. 


“Do you know, boy, what Atl would do, if faced with a choice between saving her life or preserving yours? She’d kill you. Love is a strange thing to us. We do not revel in it. We only know hunger.”


Where Certain Dark Things really shines is how it completely turns the classic Dracula vampire trope on its head. There are many different subspecies of vampires in this novel, with varying degrees of strength and abilities. There are vampires with stingers that feed like mosquitos, vampires that can enslave with a single sharing of their blood, vampires that feed off of not blood, but life energy itself, and many other types. This is the reworking of the classic vampire that the trope deserves after the arguably great disservice of the Twilight series. Certain Dark Things does not shy away from the creatures’ propensity for violence either, with multiple battle scenes, and descriptions of gore. Despite the fact these are not your teenage daughter’s vampires, I still didn’t think they reached peak horror levels of vampire, like in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. I was never really creeped out or afraid of these depictions, I just found them to be appropriately blood-thirsty, pun-intended.


Unfortunately, Certain Dark Things really didn’t work for me. I just couldn’t connect with the characters, and largely lost interest as the story progressed. However, I could definitely see fans of grimdark fantasy and urban/paranormal fantasy really enjoying this novel. 


Book Review : Certain Dark Things - Blogging with Dragons

Posted October 19, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy


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