Certain Dark Things
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I feel like the biggest praise I can give a book at this point in my reviewing journey is, “I’ve never read anything like this.”
That’s definitely the case with Certain Dark Things. This takes place in a futuristic Mexico City. Vampires thrive in this alternate reality, supplanting our modern-day cartels as the leading crime lords of Mexico. Outside of the walled, ancient city, their species reigns supreme. Inside, vamps are persona non grata, murdered on sight by the human crime syndicates that patrol its streets.
I can’t think of anything to compare it to, and that is so, so refreshing.
This is one of those weird reads for me where I went in expecting one thing (horror) felt like I got another (mystery with a dash of paranormal romance) and still ended up really liking the book, though the romance aspect, not so much (we’ll get to that later).
I’m not going to shelve this as horror on Goodreads because this truly didn’t read like one to me. Sure, some horrible things happen, and there’s a little bit of gore involved, but not enough for me to feel like it falls fully within that category, and I honestly was never scared or even remotely creeped out while reading. This, to me, read much more like a mystery.
The story is very much a character study, told through multiple PoVs, each building upon the next to develop the plot. None of these characters are shallow or one-dimensional. You know their histories, you understand their thought processes, and you get what drives them to do the things they do – even if you don’t agree with them.
It starts with an unexpected meeting of a vampire, Atl, and a young garbage collector named Domingo. Slowly you learn that Atl is on the run from other vampires. You see one of those enemy vamps kill a young girl. You’re with the cop who inspects her body for clues. You meet the enemy vamp’s jaded and apathetic handler.
With each new chapter, another piece of the puzzle falls into place, another layer of the plot is revealed, and all along the lore spreads through the pages, fully fleshed out and wholly enthralling. I LOVED the depiction of vampires. There are multiple species with differing abilities from one to the next. Some could pass as human. Others are no better than revenants. The world-building surrounding their legends was phenomenal. You’re fed bits of pieces in a believable way because Domingo, as a relatively sheltered Mexico City street kid, has never run into a vampire before and knows nothing about them. So you learn as he does.
The mystery aspect is also legit. Why is Atl on the run? What happened to the sister and mother she keeps talking about? Why can’t she go home? Does she even have a home left to go to?
You’re given answers to these questions the further you get into the book, but if anything, those answers will only ratchet your curiosity higher, make you just as desperate and wary as the characters you’re following.
About those characters… most of them are not nice people. Hell, most of them don’t even qualify as “people”. I wanted to mention this for anyone who needs to like their MCs to enjoy a book, and also just to set the right expectations for other readers. This is a great story, and as much as I was deeply invested in these characters, I wanted to slap the shit out of them on more than one occasion (think cringy decision making, TSTL moments, etc).
One aspect that bothered me was the romance. It just didn’t feel authentic to me, and it sure as hell felt one-sided. At times, that relationship was damn near problematic (imagine bonding a human to you in a Renfield-esque style relationship and not even warning that human what they were really getting themselves into). I think without it, I would have enjoyed the book more.
Aside from that, this was a quick, compulsive read that I had trouble putting aside, and I can’t recommend it enough for anyone looking for something unlike anything else they’ve ever read.
Oh, and I should definitely point out that I snagged this one on audible, and Aida Reluzco’s narration was NEXT LEVEL GOOD. Like, one of the best performances I’ve come across in an audiobook. Definitely worth a listen.