Velvet Was The Night is the latest novel by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia. We’ve talked about several of her books in the past, including Mexican Gothic and God of Jade and Shadows. She has no trouble genre-hopping, going from horror to fantasy to political noir without missing a beat.
Through each genre hop, some things remain constant. Each book shows Mexico for the beautiful, complex, rich country that it is. And each book includes a love affair that melts my heart.
Velvet Was The Night is that political Noir genre I was talking about. Set in the 1970s, it’s all about political uprisings and protests. And, about a young woman named Maite who accidentally gets caught up in all of this.
I loved every single page of this book. So let’s break it apart to see why it works.
We see the story in this book from two points of view. One is Maite, a secretary who’s bored to death with her life. She has just one pleasure in her life, a series of romance comics.
The second pov character is Elvis. He’s a pseudo-government agent, tasked with shutting down protests in the city.
These two people show us entirely different views of the situation and the city itself. More than that, though, they know things the other doesn’t. They’re able to see the mystery from different angles, revealing secrets to the reader that one or the other character isn’t privy to. This means that this is one of those delightful mystery novels that you can play along with.
I’m not a fan of mysteries you can’t solve. Maybe that’s just a me thing.
So now, let’s talk about Maite. I didn’t like her at first. She seemed dull. Not interested in anything but her comics. She also didn’t like cats, which is a total turn-off.
Maite was also a thief. She stole little things from her neighbor’s apartments. It’s a weird thing to do, not gonna lie. At first, it seems like this is just a weird thing she does. And it makes sense. Maite is bored with her life. Bored people sometimes do dumb things to entertain themselves.
Eventually, though, we find out that this is a crucial plot device. If this petty theft trait of Maite’s hadn’t made sense right from the start, this would have felt cheap. Instead, it made total sense.
Honestly, a lot of the enjoyment of this book came from Maite. She’s miserable, but it makes sense that she’s miserable. Her mother treats her like an afterthought. Her boss barely notices she’s there. She’s broke and has no friends. Everyone would be a little miserable.
As you read the story, you can see exactly why she fell into the scary situations she found herself in.
There are a lot of stories about bored young women ending up in fantastical, scary, dangerous situations. Most of them don’t seem plausible. But this one does.
So, what can you as a writer learn from Velvet was The Night?
Point of view switching is a great way to build suspense.
Flawed characters work best when their flaws make sense.
It doesn’t work to put a random character in a random situation. How or why did they of all people end up there?
Is there a movie, tv-show or book you’d like me to break apart to see why it works? Let me know in the comments.
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