Author: Isabel Cañas

Published: 2023

Mood: If you’ve been stuck in a rut and need a fast-paced yet historically detailed read that’s sure to get your heart racing and your imagination running wild.


I have no idea which algorithm recommended Vampires of El Norte before I hunted it down at my local library, but I am SO glad that I did. IT’S VAMPIRES VS. VAQUEROS! This is the perfect mashup. I can’t remember the last time a book felt so perfectly aligned with my tastes.


And there is so much more to love about it:


  • It’s like Mexican Romeo and Juliet, but 1800s horror Western
  • It’s not just one vampire, it’s a LOT of vampires – and they’re not the same ones you’ve already read a hundred times
  • The characters are all authentic and well-developed
  • The quality of the writing and pacing is fantastic

Vampires of El Norte may not be for those who like their horror to be terrifying or their Westerns to be gritty. This story definitely has a feminine touch. But that doesn’t mean that it’s delicate – there’s plenty of blood and gore, a ton of action, and heaps of plot tension as the characters are hunted by not one but two hordes of bloodthirsty enemies.


photo of the book Vampires of El Norte on a grey cushion background


Vampires of El Norte begins in 1837 Mexico. Young Nena sneaks out to search for buried treasure with her best friend, a charming young man named Néstor. Nena is the daughter of the wealthy patrón, Don Feliciano Serrano Narváez. Néstor is a poor son of a vaquero, and an orphan. He lives with his abuela, who is the curandera (healer) for the ranch.


Um, hello star-crossed lovers.


They’re all awkward teenager-y about their feelings, hearts racing as they steal glances at each other, struggling to say what they mean. Then BAM! Nena gets viciously attacked by something that bites her neck. Since she’s unconscious and has no pulse, she’s declared dead and Néstor is blamed. He does what any teenage boy would do and hightails it the hell out of there.


Fast forward to 1846. Néstor is a vaquero. Nena is a dutiful daughter and an apprentice curandera. He has no idea she’s alive, and she has no memory of what happened, so she thinks he’s a jerk who abandoned her.


Suddenly the United States invades Mexico. At the same time, locals keep falling ill to a mysterious sickness that drains the blood and steals the soul.


The local rancheros form a squadron, and Néstor’s cousin summons his help. Nena talks her way into joining the mission as a medic, thinking her father will finally see her worth. And if he doesn’t, she’s sworn to marry anyone of their choosing upon her return.


They are all prepared for a battle, but nobody realizes what horror really lies ahead.


illustration of a moustache that is curled at the ends


Holy crap, is Vampires of El Norte a wild ride. SPOILER ALERT.


Author Isabel Cañas blends her PhD in history with a true gift for storytelling. You get a novel that reads like wonderfully rich historical fiction, but also dark fantasy, and also YA romance. The heightened drama and monster element make it just like the campfire stories told by vaqueros – which is where it has its roots.


Cañas read a lot of folklore while writing Vampires of El Norte, and you can feel it in the way she created her vampires. Despite the constant threat and feeling of being followed, they’re actually rarely seen. You spend more time worrying and wondering. This technique plants hints and then lets the reader’s imagination run wild about what the vampires can and will do.


The rest of the book is a whole lot of ‘will they or won’t they’ with Nena and Néstor, as they gallop across the countryside and fight to stay alive with vampires and Texas Rangers in hot pursuit.


You do expect that they’ll get together in the end, given how much time is spent describing their feelings. And you hope that they do, even though there’s a patch where Nena REALLY doesn’t deserve Néstor – she’s constantly manipulating him, and only showing love and affection when it’s convenient. I had to keep reminding myself that I could be an immature brat in my 20s, too. She IS a strong female character, and there’s lots to like about her… when she isn’t baiting her poor paramour.


But those aspects don’t matter too much, because Néstor is such a good guy that you need him to succeed with every fibre of your being. If he’s got his heart set on this girl, he definitely deserves her after all the shit he’s been through.


illustration of a moustache that is curled at the ends


Spanish expressions and phrases flavour Vampires of El Norte, and the descriptions are made vivid by Cañas’s and her family’s lived experiences in Texas – plus her careful research into 1800s Tejano ranch life.


You come away feeling like you’ve been swept up in a grand adventure, but also subtly educated about social politics and classist oppression, and traditional healing practices.


AND THEN to top it all off, the juxtaposition of American colonizers with vampires is a chilling perspective on this period of history. The Anglos drain the locals’ land and lives in the same way that the vampires drain their blood. Both are a plague that threatens to overpower the Mexican people. The difference is that the vampires are primal beasts who kill for food, not for politics or power.


If you love Western adventures and paranormal romance, get your hands on this book right now.