It’s winter in the northern hemisphere, dark within four hours after noon, and all the news is bad. It’s a surprise that a novel called Certain Dark Things could cheer me up—but that’s exactly what it did.
I didn’t love Signal to Noise, but Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s first book received no small amount of praise for a debut novel. Her second novel, Certain Dark Things, is a hell of a lot more to my tastes. So much more to my tastes, in fact, that I’m not sure I’m accurate in calling it a “more accomplished” work, or if it just accomplishes more for me.
Certain Dark Things is set in Mexico City, in a world a little bit different from our own. Mexico City is a vampire-free zone: outside the city, competing vampire families may run the drug business and carry out their feuds the length and breadth of the country, but the human gangs of Mexico City keep the vampires out.
Domingo is a street kid, a teenager eking out a living collecting rubbish and trading it in. His hobby is people-watching. He’s seen a girl on the subway a couple of times, with her giant dog, and he finds her interesting. He doesn’t know she’s about to change his life.
There are many different kinds of vampires. Atl is the descendant of Aztec ones: to survive, she needs to drink the blood of the young. Domingo’s blood will do: he’s young enough and clean enough, and she’s on the run from the rival family of drug-trading vampires who killed her family, so she doesn’t really have a lot of choices. She never intended more than a single encounter with him, but he’s helpful and eager, a little bit like a puppy—a puppy who’s fallen in love with her, even though she’s a predator and he’s, well, food.
She certainly doesn’t expect to form an emotional attachment to him. But he rapidly becomes more important to her than she thinks she ought to afford. She needs him, because her enemies are catching up with her. She doesn’t only need to worry about her family’s vampire rivals, but the human gangs of Mexico City, who’ve recruited a cop—single parent Ana, who moved to the city to get away from vampires and raise her daughter in peace—to help hunt down and kill all the vampires who’ve intruded on their territory.
Certain Dark Things is a gorgeously (dark) emotionally gripping thriller. Moreno-Garcia’s characters are vivid and compelling, as is her prose. As a novel, it’s fantastic: honest, wrenching, compassionate, and brutal.
I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I’m not sure I recommend Gaie Sebold’s Sparrow Falling, sequel to Shanghai Sparrow, with quite the same degree of enthusiasm. (I remain deeply sad that Sebold hasn’t returned to her Babylon Steel books.) Eveline Sparrow, streetwise protagonist of Shanghai Sparrow, has decided to go respectable—or almost. But running a school for girls, few of whom are paying fees, is a chancy proposition, so Evie decides to take to her old ways for just a little bit of an edge up. Just until she can convince someone to hire her for her burglar-proofing skills on the up-and-up. But in this world of steampunk and subtle magic, nothing’s exactly what it seems, and Evie gets pulled into more dangerous conspiracies involving politics and the Fae.
Sparrow Falling is a fast, fun novel, on the fluffy end of the spectrum. It’s pulpy and entertaining, and its sense of humour is resolutely tongue-in-cheek. It’s pretty shallow, but sometimes that’s just the kind of fun you need.
Books are a joy and a comfort. My bookshelves are full of them, and the to-be-read pile includes a bunch that I wish I had read fast enough to be able to talk about here, now: Laura Lam’s False Hearts, Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost, Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night, Isabel Yap’s collection Hurricane Heels, A.C. Wise’s The Kissing Booth Girl, Hillary Monaghan’s Snake Eyes.
At the time of writing, I have read none of these, and want to. If you’ve read any of them, which should I read first?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog. Or her Twitter.