Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Reviewish: Certain Dark Things

I am extremely excited to talk about Silvia Moreno-Garcia's second novel, Certain Dark Things, which released today (October 25th). Ultimately, I'm giving this one five stars; I loved it. But, I want to talk about it, so you can decide that you want to take a chance on loving it too.

Let me start with a history lesson; in Moreno-Garcia's collection of short stories, Love & Other Poisons, there is a story called "A Puddle of Blood" - it's available to read online (just click on the title), if you're interested. In fact, it might help convince you that this novel is worth a few hours of your time. Adding a little more prestige to its mantle, this short story is also found in Evolve 2: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead and Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. But I strongly suggest picking up Moreno-Garcia's collection directly - it is a trove of great storytelling. Of course, I have more history - none of it personal - with the author, which I discussed in my reviews of Love & Other Poisons and her debut novel Signal to Noise. The internet has opened crazy new horizons for readers and writers alike, and I'm so glad that this is one I continue to explore. And so, with the stage set, let me tell you a little about Certain Dark Things.

Mexico City. Vampires unlike any you've known. Cops and gangs. And a little bit of utterly realistic - in its unhealthiness, its naivety, and its sincerity -  love.

Certain Dark Things follows the events that unfold when Nick Godoy, a Necros vampire and spoiled heir of his family's dynasty, chases Atl into Mexico City, a vampire-free zone, and she meets Domingo, a street kid who helps her. Other primary players are Ana, a cop who would be a good cop if she weren't enmeshed in a system so corrupt that corruption is the only way anything gets done; Rodrigo, a 'Renfield' to the Godoy family, sent along with Nick to babysit the spoiled brat; and Bernardino, a Revenant vampire.

The story is told from several points of view, though my mind folded the storytelling down into three essential perspectives (if you're much more detail oriented, this might make you crazy): Domingo-Atl, Ana, and Rodrigo-Nick. Each has their own interpersonal stories warping and weaving together, bringing these three forces together and to a head at the story's end, but these are the primary forces driving and moving the plot through its paces.

And its pace is good! The story is built up with purpose, so that as the plot unwinds one thing follows and flows into the next.

The world building is solid, the reinvention of vampires is convincing, and the characters are dirty and flawed. While Moreno-Garcia's strengths unfold beautifully in terms of her world building and vampires, her characters have become a consistent point of interest and engagement for me. Domingo is naive and allows himself to romanticize vampires, even though he's familiar enough with the monstrous parts of them. Atl is stubborn, spoiled by her own admission, and unwilling to be vulnerable--and when she is, she becomes angry and defensive over it. Nick is rash, cocky; though I cannot say I ever felt much sympathy or empathy for Nick, I am very aware of people like him. And Ana - who, for some reason, makes me think of Hannah McCabe (from Frankie Y. Bailey's mysteries) - is someone who might have been a good person, a heroic figure, if she weren't so mired in a world that has no space for that sort of thing. These are flawed people, but they read like real people. Their multi-dimensionality is built in seamlessly. They are flawed in ways that often make them unlikable, but those flaws are utterly believable, and for people who recognize the good and the bad in themselves and others, this author's work is a breath of fresh air. We are given characters more like ourselves, and it makes being human a bit easier to swallow.

All in all, Certain Dark Things earns every star I'm giving it and it is possible it deserves bonus stars; strong characterization, solid world building, a well-paced and engaging plot-line are topped off with the revamping of the vampire (you can't blame me, I can't be the ONLY person to have made that pun) through a lens that isn't all European lore. As if that weren't enough, these vampires remain monsters, despite their unmasking - unlike other takes in urban fantasy that try to integrate monsters into society as members (which I have also enjoyed). In a way, with the tangled legalities, the threats of human and monster violence, and the gang/clan conflicts, Certain Dark Things is exactly the kind of story I wanted out of certain vampire-based table top games, but never quite achieved.

On top of this, Certain Dark Things is another "satisfying ending" notch for Moreno-Garcia's belt. I struggle with endings, as a reader and a writer, and I have seen big names flop so hard at the end of a book that I can't imagine how they bounce back. With both Signal to Noise and Certain Dark Things, Silvia Moreno-Garcia has crafted satisfying conclusions to stories that could have gone badly in so many different ways.

5/5 stars!

Transparency: I received this book through the publisher, Thomas Dunne Books, via NetGalley. I do not receive any affiliate bonuses from links to books (or other products) on this blog.