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  • kjoannerixon

Vampires of El Norte

All the adjectives I have for this book have to do with flavor, texture, opulence and overflowing: this book is lush, velvet and rosemary, vivid and emotional. Cañas' prose is just wonderful, unrepentantly gothic and romantic. I love a book that is a joy to read on the sentence and paragraph and page level.

I needed this book to be that for me, which makes me appreciate it that much more. I ended up reading almost all of it while sitting in a very uncomfortable armchair in the pediatric ICU while nurses woke my kid up every couple of hours to check his heart function. We were there for two days. It was A Lot--and yet I was able to read, which I'm grateful for.

I picked up this book after seeing promo on social media. I don't always love vampire books, but as far as horror goes, I find vampires less scary than most types of horror, and that means I can bear to pick them up and read them. So, I had middle-to-high hopes for Vampires of El Norte based on the people I saw posting about it.

The cover is fun, and honestly I'm intrigued by the setting. I've been learning Spanish for years now--decades actually, since I took Spanish in college back in the early 2000s, and have been picking at it ever since. I practice on Duolingo and I watch Spanish television. I wouldn't say I'm fluent or anything, but I have enjoyed the slow process of turning my brain into a bilingual brain.

This book rewards me for all my efforts. There isn't a ton of Spanish in it, not really, not more than a word or two at a time here and there; I'm confident that your average English reader will be just fine. But there's more to language than just the words, and now my brain is on fire thinking about bilingual writing. The way sentences are structured, the way the characters speak and relate to each other--I could feel Mexico here under the surface, and I loved it.

I think VAMPIRES OF EL NORTE is billed as horror, but it's actually structured like a romance, which is another extremely mexicano thing about it! The relationship between Nina and Nestor is sexy, hot (although not explicit) and very human and convincing.

Also the monsters are very cool and fun, and the humans are, of course, worse than the monsters, and scarier. I think a lot of vampire stories hint at questions like, "What does it mean to be a monster, really?" and this is not a story that flirts with those themes. I think instead it is a story about what it means to be a coward. I think for a lot of people that's a more important question to confront. See the previously mentioned pediatric ICU situation, in which I was not at much risk of becoming a monster but certainly at non-zero risk of becoming a coward.

n.b. I have actually met Isabel Cañas once or twice, during her stint at Clarion West, but she certainly would never remember me. I don't know if I think that influences the way I view her book. It might--I think favorably of her, certainly, and am aware that she may know people I know, that she might be in my literary neighborhood in the future. Still. This is a gorgeous book.


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