*Note: My alt key and other shortcuts for the “enye” tilde over the “n” of the author’s name is not functioning but her name is Isabel Canas pronounced “Can-yas”.
This is the first time I’ve been a person to review a book for the first time on Canonball Read break out the champagne. Vampires of El Norte is an upcoming title from Isabel Canas* and it looks like this is her lane. It’s a great lane. Historical fiction with horror elements – if not fully horror – and romance/ romantic subplots concerning young adult main characters. The setting is one familiar to Canas*, a historical Mexico/ border fiction. In Vampires, the setting is the start of the Mexican-American War, or, to be real, the American aggression with Mexico and the encroaching border – a border that didn’t exist. The novel is told is Spanglish which I adore. And the Spanish words are not italicized which is a best practice for language justice and inclusion and it doesn’t surprise me that it takes an hispanohablante author to do that. I hope that practice becomes more widespread.
The story of Vampires follows a pair of starcrossed childhood best friends, now estranged, and eventually will-they-or-won’t-they lovers – Nena being the highborn daughter of a ranchero and Néstor being a lowly vaquero – who were inseparable until Nena was attacked and Néstor believed her dead and, worse, ashamed that he couldn’t have saved her. Years later, the story finds them in the midst of a burgeoning war with the encroaching Yanquís and their Rinches from the still nascent United States. Canas* writes in the postscript Author’s Note that she had been interested in writing a monster story in this period and considered various monsters… and then found a historical letter in archives that likened – no, straight-up named – the Yanquís as vampires. Vampires sucking the lifeblood of the Mexican rancheros when they steal their land, when they leave their families and workers dead. And that, ultimately, is what inspired this novel.
There are lots of strengths here. Lots of wins. The setting is great. World-building-wise I definitely see the rich tapestry of the 1840’s Mexico and lands surrounding Rio Bravo. I love the interweaving of Mexican folklore that isn’t totally common knowledge like the trickster Pedro de Urdemanas* and – the more well-known – El Cuco. I appreciate the design of the monsters.
The overall rating on Storygraph from readers like me (ARC readers, mostly librarians and booksellers, some bookbloggers, some influencers and BookTokers, etc.) is 4.45/5. That’s noteworthy. Mine is a little lower. But that’s likely to do with what others would consider the reasons they really liked it. Some of it – some of the plot or story involving them, particularly the end game – reminded me, however, of other eldritch stories and, sadly, better done. The characters were fine and the love story was fine, but I found myself time and again wishing they were older. There were also times when the love story overwhelmed the plot to – in my mind – the detriment of the plot. It’s like it couldn’t decide if it was horror or romance and it could be both but it has to be both convincingly and… I just felt like it sacrificed the horror for the love story in a book with a title that leads with the word “vampires.” I’m betting that those same reasons are reasons for others’ higher ratings. And that’s perfectly wonderful and totally grand. It’s a good book.
I definitely would recommend this book to fans of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I would recommend it to readers of “Latinx” (I hate that term but it is what it is – which is helpful as an umbrella term created by and primarily used by/ for gringos.) new adult or young adult romances or speculative fiction. It’s not quite “speculative fiction” but it’s also not quite horror and it’s definitely not a straight historical fiction or pure romance. It’s something of a mixed breed in terms of genre and I LOVE THAT. I’m sure lots of CBers will find this one when it’s out and gravitate toward its gorgeous cover and it’s solid story. It won’t be a read looked back on with regret, that’s for sure.