Book Review: Certain Dark Things is a Certain Hit

As a fan of all things vampires, it is often too hard to sift through the massive amount of novels out there to find something good, something that hasn’t been done before. Blood-sucking apparitions have been a staple of horror literature since Polidori’s The Vampyre, almost two hundred years ago. But in those two hundred years, it seems like vampires have strayed far from their roots, that the struggle to remain relevant is increasingly taxing. From sexual predator to romantic hero—from monster to sparkly boyfriend—the vampire has been variously promoted to most fearsome creature of the night, or downgraded to a much-maligned teen fad.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia takes a page from Vampire: The Masquerade in that there are many kinds of vampires and they all have their own agenda. There are several subspecies of vampires, from the aristocratic Revenants, the monstrous Necros, and the Aztec Tlahuihpochtli. The dynamics between the different species is exposed throughout the text, but also in a helpful glossary. The world-building is therefore quite direct—with a few info-dumps as characters ruminate over memories or what they know of vampires—but it always remains interesting, and is never done at such a critical point that the reader feels impatient for the character to move on. The different types of vampires are ethnically diverse, something that is often sorely missing from the genre.

The plot centers around Atl, a Tlahuihpochtli on the run from the Necro gang that killed her family. She flees to Mexico City, despite the fact that vampires are banned from city limits. There she meets Domingo, a street kid who collects garbage for a living. Together they avoid the Necros, the street gangs and the cops as they try to find a way for Atl to get out of the country.

The narration jumps around from Atl and Domingo to the Necros hunting them, and from there to the police officer just trying to protect Mexico City from a vampire invasion. No character of importance feels flat or one-note, but I did think that Domingo slips from cute to pathetic and annoying towards the end. Atl too felt dragged down by her deuteragonist near the conclusion, and I started feeling more attached to the creepy Revenant by the end of it all. If you wish to avoid spoilers, I’ll say that I still would recommend the book to fans of the vampire genre; my problem with it is a problem that is found in nearly every vampire book I’ve read in the last few years. Certain Dark Things merely repeats the trope. Despite that, if Silvia Moreno-Garcia writes another book in the universe, I will be more than happy to pick it up; there’s still enough that is intriguing, original and enjoyable to be left wanting more.

[Spoilers follow.]

Towards the end, Atl and Domingo develop a romantic relationship. While Domingo is very open about being attracted to Atl from the start, Atl for her part recognizes that it would be an inherently exploitative relationship. Not only that, but it’s taboo for vampires to copulate with humans (or, to put it less delicately: don’t fuck your dinner). Yet near the end, when there’s very little time left to develop a shift in their dynamic, Atl decides to enter a relationship with Domingo anyway, not long after she contemplates killing him to make her life easier. Atl does leave him at the end, in such a way I think the author would like the reader to feel is emotional—but I only felt relief.

My annoyance comes in part from the gender dynamics at play. Domingo is sweet and subservient to Atl. Atl, for most of the book, is distant. She’s manipulative and using him because her life is in danger and she needs help. For her to suddenly develop feelings just seems like the book is reproducing the “Nice Guy” narrative. If you’re not familiar with the term, it refers to men who believe that by being nice to women, they’ll eventually give them sex as a reward. If they don’t, the man has been cheated. By being loyal and loving, Domingo has been rewarded—but why? Atl never felt any attraction to him before.

Atl seems to realize her foolishness in the end, but the parting feels overwrought and over the top. There just isn’t enough prior emotional investment in the romance to do anything but cheer that it’s finally over. As a criticism of vampire/human romances, it just feels weak and a waste of valuable page space—and a distraction from more interesting plots and characters.

Of course, romance and vampires seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly nowadays, so Silvia Moreno-Garcia isn’t exactly committing any alarming transgressions against the genre here. It’s just that for a book that is otherwise a breath of fresh air, it’s disappointing for to see it go out on a stale note we’ve heard so many times before. I give Certain Dark Things three stakes out of five; it’ll take more than one overused trope to slay this Nosferatu.

Certain Dark Things will be released October 25th, and is available for pre-order from Macmillan.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.