These aren’t the vampires you know.
When the Nash’terel were hunted nearly to extinction, they fled to a distant world: Earth. Using their powers of shapeshifting, they blended in with the human population, and with their thirst for life essence, the hunted became the hunters. While the older generation remain in the shadows, associating only with other Nash’terel, their Earthborn offspring are more adventurous.
Young Bilyash is tired of hiding and ready to follow his dream into the film industry. He’s abandoned the traditional ways of his people and trained as a makeup artist, but two things stand in his way: assassins from the former home world, and Angie Fiore. Angie is unlike any human Bilyash has met, overflowing with the purest life essence he’s ever encountered. When assassins on the hunt for Nash’terel catch up with him, both their lives are put in danger, and Bilyash and Angie are forced to run.
Bilyash’s uncle and his contacts can help them go underground, but it won’t stop these killers from tracking them. The only chance Bilyash has to keep himself and Angie safe is to turn the tables. Yet what chance does an inexperienced Earthborn have against centuries-old assassins with nothing to lose?
The first line of the publisher’s summary is:
“These aren’t the vampires that you know.”
They’re certainly not Stoker’s kind of vampires. They’re not from Transylvania. They’re not even from Earth. As the prologue explains, they’re a mutated alien race, who fled to Earth from their home planet via an unstable rift in space, to escape genocide launched when everyone else found out that the Nash’terel were shapeshifters who lived by consuming the life essence of the people around them.
So, not vampires. Or not just vampires. Shapeshifting, long-lived, alien vampire refugees with special powers who have been hiding in plain sight amongst us for centuries.
That’s quite a setup but it wasn’t the backstory that pulled me into the story and kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next. It was the perspective that the story is told from that hooked me.
We see the world through the eyes of Bilyash , He’s Nash’terel but he’s never seen the home planet. He’s an Earthborn. Earth is his home planet in a way that it will never be to the ones who fled through the rift. He’s grown up surrounded by humans and to him, they’re more than food. OK, they’re mostly food but they’re food who make the movies he’s in love with and he wants to set all the ‘train with a master to perfect your power‘ stuff to one side and make his career as a special effects make-up artist in zombie movies.
I thought telling the story from the point of view of a second-generation refugee alien who is rebelling against the traditions that his people lived by in a different world was inspired. It makes Bilyash more sympathetic and easier to relate to. He’s still an alien who preys on human life without remorse, can kill with a touch and who lies about who he is and even what he looks like but he’s a movie-lover and he’s trying to make it on his own so, you know, he’s not totally strange.
Because Bilyash is telling the story and he sees himself as normal and not a monster, we skip the whole guilt-ridden vampire thing and we see him as a young refugee doing the best that he can. I warmed to him as he chafed under the expectations of his elders, fell in love with a human woman (OK, she’s an exceptionally tasty human woman) and tried to bring his old world and his new together.
All of that might have made a cute RomCom Alien Vampire Refugee Meets Earth Girl story but Arlene Marks is more ambitious than that. Once she gets you to care about the characters, she launches into a propulsive thriller narrative that has alien assassins coming through the rift to finish off the genocide, starting with the Earthborn.
For most of the book, Bilyash is fighting off assassination attempts on him and his girl. The action is vivid and fast-paced. The body count is high. There are murders and explosions and mini-battles, plus betrayals, intrigue, cults and secret armies.
Bilyash discovers that while he’s been devoting himself to making people look like zombies, the older generation has been preparing for war. And that exceptionally tasty girl he fell in love with? Well, she’s more grown-up than he is and her background makes her much more than a food source.
I had a good time with this book. I found myself returning to it eagerly both because I liked the characters and because I wanted to know what would happen next. It was a fast, fun ride with new possibilities opening up after each violent encounter.
When I was more than 80% through the book, I couldn’t see where it was going or how everything would be resolved and I began to fear that I’d be stuck with a cliffhanger ending. That didn’t happen but the pace of the ending was a little slower than the rest of the book and some of the crucial action happened off-screen. The resolution made sense and it worked well as a way of positioning Bilyash for the next book in the series but it felt a little anticlimactic.
I’ll be back for ‘The Bloodstone’ the next book in the series when it comes out in November. Meanwhile, I’ll be taking a look at Arlene Marks’ Sic Transit Terra universe, starting with the ‘The Genius Asylum’
Arlene F. Marks is a Canadian writer and teacher, based out of Nottawasaga Bay.
She has written multiple writing programs and is the author of the six-book Sic Transit Terra space opera series plus the standalone novels Adventures in Godhood and Weekends Can Be Murder and a short story collection Imaginary Friends.
I was offered an eARC of ‘The Earthborn.’ by the publisher. I accepted it because the premise seemed novel. The content of this review hasn’t been affected by the source of the book.