A haunted film reel, a dark occultist history, and two friends caught in the crossfire. The latest from Silvia Moreno-Garcia explores the world of filmmakers and blood magic.
Silver Nitrate follows the story of Montserrat, a sharp-edged loner who works as a sound editor for an ailing independent movie editing house in Mexico City. It's the 1990s, women in film are even more rare than they are in the present day, and Montserrat's acerbic personality doesn't win her any favors in the buddy-buddy man's world of the studio.
(All of Silvia Moreno-Garcia's main female characters are prickly in their own kind of way, and I love that as it's still rare in genre fiction today.)
Montserrat does have one person in her relatively lonely life, however: her hot-mess friend, Tristán. Tristán is a self-absorbed former has-been soap opera actor whose good looks and charm are cracking at the edges as he eeks a life out as a voice dubber. His career imploded in a spectacularly tragic way 10 years earlier and he's been doing his best ever since. Tristán and Montserrat make an odd pair, but they are each other's oldest friend and their bond has outlasted individual relationships and family—they're it for each other.
So the last thing these two struggling friends need is a drama. (Naturally, they get a drama.)
Tristán's elderly neighbor in his apartment complex is a retired film director with a backlist of cult-classic horror flicks. And he had one horror movie that was never finished and doesn't exist... except for one single canister of silver nitrate film in his freezer. The silver nitrate itself is dangerous and possibly an explosive in the right conditions—and when the former director explains what is ON the film, the contents themselves prove dangerous too.
Montserrat and Tristán find themselves embroiled in a decades-old blood magic plot involving a dangerous occultist, Nazi histories, and deadly bonds. They'll have to band together in order to make it to the other side...
Silver Nitrate is a film that was both very dear to my heart and also a personal struggle to read. Let me explain.
Moreno-Garcia's unique edge is that she's always trying new genres, new concepts, new ideas. As a reader of multiple genres, I love this about her. For this particular novel, she chose a topic very close to my heart: film.
I went to school for film, both practical production and classical film studies. So I surprisingly found myself an existing expert in the subject matter of this novel. Which was my problem? Silver Nitrate turned out to be a little too big on the info-dump portion of the film industry/film studies elements and lacking in the actual action/interest plot. I already knew a lot of the context they were covering as exposition throughout this entire story... so I found it quite boring to listen to near-endless conversations about it.
That combination of already knowing the film side of the conversation + a lack of engagement in the very "talking first, action not preferred" style to the story made it a more difficult one for me to love.
However, those negative soundbites aside, I did find the creeping horror of racism + the buildup of the occult reveals to be stellar in their payoffs. Which I was expecting, as Moreno-Garcia nails that kind of thing.
Eagerly looking forward to her next novel! And don't sleep on this one if you're new to classic films and cult topics—what was a negative for me is likely a huge positive for new readers.
Thank you to NetGalley and Libro.fm for my copies in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.