cover image Vampires of El Norte

Vampires of El Norte

Isabel Cañas. Berkley, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-43672-1

Cañas (The Hacienda) hits a bit of a sophomore slump in this uneven gothic fantasy, set in an alternate 1840s South Texas as plagued by giant vampire bats as it is by invading Yankees. After 13-year-old best friends Magdalena “Nena” Serrano, a ranchero’s daughter, and Néstor Duarte, the son of a vaquero, are attacked by a many-fanged monster, Néstor flees the Serrano estate, believing Nena to be dead. He returns nine years later to join a militia created to fight off the Americans and the vampires they employ. He’s tasked with guarding the militia’s healer—who turns out to be none other than Nena, alive and furious with Néstor for abandoning her. When this feuding duo is separated from the rest of the militia, they must work together to survive. Cañas toggles between her protagonists’ perspectives, often retreading the same plot points from a new point of view. Meanwhile, her metaphor-heavy prose occasionally obscures meaning, as when a scar is described as “erupting with the crawling legs of a thousand insects.” Is this a moment of supernatural body horror or does the character simply have an itch? These repetitions and vagueries turn a desperate flight from the colonizers into a clunky slog. All but Cañas’s most devoted fans can skip this one. Agent: Kari Sutherland, KT Literary. (Aug.)