Vampires of El Norte

Cover of "Vampires of El Norte" by Isabel Cañas
Isabel Cañas
Dec 18, 2023

Hello and welcome to another edition of No Wait Wednesday, where we take a look at a book on a New Release shelf at one of our branch Libraries that's available right now for lucky patrons to check out. There's nothing quite as disappointing than hearing about a good book from someone and then discovering that you'll have to wait weeks before it is available from the library. It's far better to skip the lines and try something that's available now and ready to go for you to enjoy. Today we'll be looking at Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas, also the author of 2022's word-of-mouth hit, The Hacienda.

The novel begins in the 1830s on a ranch in rural Mexico where tensions are high between the local ranchers and the Anglo settlers who keep crossing the boundary from Texas in the north who are in search for more territory. We're introduced to two young teenagers, who, despite their class differences, are fast friends: Nestor is the son of vaqueros, working as an apprentice of sorts on a local ranch. He is best friends with Nena, the headstrong daughter of the ranch owner, until a innocent nighttime hunt for treasure goes disastrously wrong when they're attacked by a fanged monster. Nestor, thinking Nena is dead and that he and his family will get the blame, flees into the night. Flash forward years later, and Nestor returns to the area as an adult to help defend the locals against the Northerners and he rediscovers Nena, who has not only survived the attack but grown up to adopt the role of healer, trained by her grandmother in the use of herbs to tend to the local militia. However, she blames Nestor - not for the attack, but for leaving her behind and never offering any sort of explanation.

The tension mounts as the two need to overcome their flawed recollection of that terrible night years ago and learn to work together to defend the locals against the American army as well as the mysterious monsters from the north. These vampires, incidentally, are not the ones that most readers will be familiar with from movies and novels, but a strikingly original creation based on the folklore of the region. (And no, they aren't sparkly.) Will Nestor and Nena rekindle their connection from long ago? Will Nena be forced to choose between saving the ranch that her family has held for generations and her new love? If you need an answer to that question, then you don't know what genre that you're reading.

So what genre is this novel, exactly? The 1800s setting with its lush, detailed descriptions of the lives of the ranchers would seem to indicate historical fiction, but the will-they-or-won't-they slow burn attraction between Nora and Nestor is the real star of the novel. Even though vampires are mentioned in the title, it's not technically horror, even though Isabel Cañas includes some of the trappings of the genre. (We'll call those horror trappings "atmospheric" rather than "scary.") The goal of the novel isn't to terrify or shock, it's to follow these star-crossed characters through their emotional journey together, so it's more properly classified as a historical gothic romance, then, more closer to Daphne duMaurier and Victoria Holt than Stephen King. So don't let the vampires in the title scare (ha) you away - this is a rich, detailed, lushly written novel that should belong on many holds lists. Give it a try, and thanks for reading! We'll see you next year.

Reviewed by Gregg W.
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