Book Review: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia or a Feminist Mexican Vampire Tale

Mexican female vampires are not intrinsically feminist, I would think. Previous to reading Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2016), my only known reference was the horror/action-film El Santo vs las Mujeres Vampiro (or Santo vs Female Vampires – 1962). Female Vampires are called Vampiresas and if you look it up in the dictionary, Vampiresa is a Femme Fatale, a woman who takes advantage of her “ability for amorous seduction” for her own benefit. And Santo’s female vampires were just that, sexy and inviting, but our holier-than-thou hero is not fooled and manages to act like the chivalrous savior you would expect him to be and save a beautiful young girl from the grasp of the sexy, evil female vampires who want to make her Queen V.

But Atl is no vampiresa. She is an indigenous female vampire from the North-West of Mexico (like Silvia Moreno-Garcia and myself, though we are not female vampires nor indigenous) and the sole survivor in her family after a competing narco-vampire family kills them in a war for territory. She’s young and beautiful, but her strength does not come from her seductiveness (though, it is that which first draws her companion, a lonely garbage-collector street kid called Domingo), but from her wits and courage. And literal strength, since she is a powerful vampire after all. In this alternative Mexico, the whole country is infected with warmongering vampires of different kinds and Mexico City is the sole enclave for the human race. Atl, who is followed into Mexico City by her family’s killers needs to get out, and fast. Accompanied by Domingo, she will seek out help and come into some very scary close encounters. Will she make it out alive? Will Domingo follow her? Will she put her guard down and let herself fall in love with a human?

You would not expect a story about vampires and drug-dealers to make a larger point about feminism and identity. But it sort of does. I loved that Atl was an indigenous vampire, in contrast to her persecutors, a Necro or European vampire who would control his victim with a single bite. Necros have taken over the territory and are driving indigenous vampires like Atl out. And of course, Necros are like the vampires of all other stories you have read before. They dominate the vampire narrative, obscuring other vampires like Atl and many of the other subspecies who have migrated to Mexico from all over the world for its conducive environment for vampire activities. Not native to the land, yet, placing themselves at the center like there was no other way of being a vampire. You see where I am going with this?

Like you would expect from Silvia Moreno-Garcia, an entertaining story with a strong and smart female lead who will find her way. Simple language and subtler social analysis for those who want to dig deep enough. And for all of us, just lots of fun.

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