Review of Earth Thirst by Mark Teppo

Earth Thirst by Mark TeppoTitle: Earth Thirst
Series: The Arcadian Conflict #1
Author: Mark Teppo
8 January 2013
Night Shade Books
science fantasy
eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

The blurb for Earth Thirst, with its emphasis on a dying Earth plagued by an overbreeding, over-consuming human race, and multinational corporations wrecking the environment in their blind pursuit of profit, led me to assume that this would be a dystopian novel set in the future. The scary thing – in reality, as much as in the novel – is that it’s a dystopian novel set in the present day. The things I mentioned from the blurb are true, of course, but when I read the word ‘dying’ I thought of future catastrophes to which we are no doubt headed.

In the novel, Mark Teppo gives the Earth a glimmer of hope by re-imagining vampires as eco-warriors. They’re still undead blood-drinkers, but their characteristics are explained according to their natural connection to the Earth: they sleep underground because the Earth heals and sustains them (they don’t even need to drink blood if they can bury themselves instead) and they dislike crossing the ocean, not only because it takes them far from the nourishing earth, but because salt water is dehydrating. They aren’t averse to sunlight so much as the pollution in the air. Although the term ‘vampire’ is used on a few occasions, they are better known as Arcadians, a reference to the utopian land of unspoiled wilderness where people live in harmony with nature. Their Arcadia is a never-seen homeland where they can return to “Mother’s embrace” by burying themselves in the rich soil at the roots of a great tree (who I think is Mother).

The story is narrated by Silas, a 33-century old Arcadian soldier who fought in the battle of Troy. When the novel opens, he and three other Arcadians are on some random mission aboard the ship of a militant environmental organisation that aims to stop whalers in the South Pacific.  The mission turns out to be a trap; when the Arcadians board a whaling ship, one of their team is seriously injured by a corrosive agent – a new anti-vampire weapon for which Silas and his companions provided unwitting test subjects.

Soon after, the environmentalist’s ship is captured and burned, and Silas is betrayed and left to die in the waters of the South Pacific. But he survives, and makes it to the mainland where he starts to investigate what happened. He tracks down and rescues Mere (Meredith) a journalist who was on the boat and with whom Silas has a vague history. Silas thinks of himself as a hard-headed soldier, and he hopes Mere can help him out with her planning and investigative skills. Together they uncover corporate conspiracies and travel from Australia to Easter Island and mainland Chile in the search for the truth, which undermines everything Silas blindly believes in.

I’m all for the eco-warrior theme behind this plot; some of my favourite stories involve humanity (or at most of it) getting wiped out in retaliation for what we’ve done to the planet. But Earth Thirst left me completely cold. It wasn’t a particularly bad novel, but it’s a novel I never managed to care about.

The vampire as eco-warrior sort of intrigued me for a moment, but I’m sorry to admit that I mostly just found it really lame. I’ve come to know vampires as monsters or monstrous figures of romance (which are lame in a different way) but there is so much vampire fiction on the market right now, I struggle to take any of it seriously unless, ironically, the book is meant to be funny. This new mythos didn’t work for me either. The corrosive agent that has been invented to take down the Arcadians is a weed killer that harms plants and vampires but not humans. When the Arcadians bury themselves, they become one with the Earth. They love organic fruit and vegetables. Silas might be a bad-ass, kick-ass vampire soldier, but he keeps whining about how much he wants to return to Mother and how he always serves her without question, even though she steals his memories to protect him.

Silas is also a dreadfully boring character. He keeps talking about all these things he’s feeling (most of it regarding Mother), but his emotions were no more than words to me. For someone who’s lived for 33 centuries, he really lacks depth. There is a series of flashbacks to his life before he became an Arcadian, when he was a seer (the kind who read the future in steaming animal innards) escaping Troy with Aeneas, but even this did nothing to make Silas’s character more interesting. Is it intentional, because Mother takes his memories (and with them his personality?) whenever he enfolds himself in her warm, nurturing embrace? Is it because he’s a soldier, whose purpose it is to fight and follow orders, not to think for himself? Not that those excuses would make me like the book more.

Mere is similarly dull as the investigator, love interest, or damsel in distress rather than an actual person. She and Silas have some kind of weird history that may or may not have involved romance, but did involve Silas saving her from a criminal who was busy cutting her throat. Now she has a scar and a crush on her rescuer, who decides to remain inexplicably chaste. I didn’t sense the slightest bit of chemistry between them anyway.

For equally inexplicable reasons, Silas sometimes withholds information from Mere, and slows the plot down. One the whole, I found it to be complex in a tedious kind of way, and there were times I lost my grasp of the details in the same way I would if I were reading legal documents. The plot didn’t really focus on the environment as much as I thought it would either – it’s more about corporate schemes and certain aspects of Arcadian society, with a few moments of almost-romance between Silas and Mere. The other ‘eco’ stories I’ve read, from boring to brilliant, generally got me all riled up about protecting the Earth, or deeply saddened at what we’ve done or could do to it, but this time the eco agenda seemed negligible. One of the few things I did enjoy were the plentiful action scenes (where Silas becomes mildly alluring), but as I read them I kept thinking how good they would look on film, rather than just appreciating what they offered on the page.

The best thing I can say is that Earth Thirst isn’t an especially bad book. I didn’t laugh at it, even when the vampires were eating organic melons or being defeated by weed killer and salt water. I didn’t yell at it for being ridiculous or badly written, because it’s not. But the fact that it barely evoked any reaction in me at all is bad enough; I will barely remember this novel by the time its sequel comes out.