Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the most versatile writer out there right now. After giving us horror (Mexican Gothic, see our review here), vampires (Certain Dark Things) and retellings (The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, see our review here), to list just a few, she has turned her talents to the darker side of the human psychology. Untamed Shore is a noir set in Baja California in 1979, in which eighteen-year-old Viridiana gets pulled into a tangled web of lies and constructed identities when she takes a job as an amanuensis for a visiting American family. Drawn in by their glamourous lifestyle, she is prepared to defend her new friends when one of them suddenly dies – but then, Viridiana has to reckon with who she is becoming and her role within this web.
My favourite thing about Moreno-Garcia’s work is that every single one of her books is something completely new. They are all excellent examples of their own genre, and her own style takes a backseat to her versatility. I don’t think I could say that there is a red thread I’ve been able to identify across her work. And Untamed Shore is no different. It is an excellent noir, a psychological novel playing with self-perception and the hopes and dreams of a young girl growing up in a small fishing town in Baja California in the 1970s. It is a dark and twisted book, its horror lying in the reader seeing morality unraveling in front of them. A story in which hope is the catalyst for what may be called a grimdark ethos. And – even if this is a quiet book, one that doesn’t shout its darkness from the rooftops – what could be more grimdark than that? Hope and dreams ultimately being cause for moral downfall.
Moreno-Garcia has a talent for drawing complex characters, ones that surprise you at every turn. Untamed Shore is Viridiana’s story, yes, but Daisy, Ambrose and Gregory, her Americans, are no less vividly written and come to life in bursts and sparks, at once exciting and mysterious, and perhaps a bit dangerous from the start. Because what could be more enticing to a young girl trying to escape her small (shark) fishing town than a bit of danger…
I truly enjoyed reading Untamed Shore. While it is a slower paced novel, the focus on atmosphere and character development make it a compelling one. Moreno-Garcia once more draws the reader into her Mexico and presents a rich and vivid world. Untamed Shore may not be an obvious choice for a grimdark reader, but with its psychological focus and character arcs it is one that has much to appeal to the grimdark audience.