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Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Author: Cherie Priest
Plot Type: UF
Ratings: V4; S2; H3
Publisher and Titles:
      Bloodshot (2011)
      Hellbent (2011)

     This blog entry was updated and revised on 10/16 11 to include a review of the second book in the series: Hellbent. That review appears near the end of this blog entry, but first, here is an overview of the series so far:

     Priest is the acclaimed author of the award-winning novel, Boneshaker, and other science fiction novels. She also writes the CLOCKWORK CENTURY steampunk series.This is her first foray into the UF world, and it’s a great first step.

     In this world, vampires are unknown to the general public. They have their own social structure, with most of them living in "Houses," each led by an elder master who serves as the "Judge." Raylene Pendle (aka Emily Benton) is both a veteran vampire (turned during the Roaring Twenties) and a world-renowned thief. Her nickname in the global crime network is Cheshire Red, and she’s on three international most-wanted lists. Luckily for Raylene, police around the world believe that Cheshire Red is a man, due to Raylene’s ingenious disguises, short hair, and slender build. Raylene’s usual targets are expensive jewels or rare artifacts, and her usual clients are human. Preferring to lead an independent life, Raylene stays as far away as possible from other vamps and rejects membership in any of the vampire Houses.

     As Bloodshot opens, a blind vampire (Ian Stott) asks for Raylene's help in recovering some highly classified government files. Raylene (who is currently using the last name Jones) is not sure at first whether she wants a vampire as a client, but when Ian tells her about his terrible experience as the subject of secret biological experiments conducted by a shadowy government agency, she changes her mind and takes his case. In the meantime, a ninja-type trespasser breaks into Raylene’s storage warehouse (which is filled with her stolen treasures), scaring the two homeless kids who live there. Raylene has “adopted” two run-aways—Pepper and her brother, Dominic—and allows them to stay in her warehouse in exchange for sentry duty. As Raylene explains, she’s not doing this out of the kindness of her heart; it’s just a business proposition. Soon after Raylene’s search for Ian’s documents begins, she picks up a human partner in crime: Adrian deJesus, a tall, dark, and handsome Cuban ex-Navy SEAL who now earns his living as an over-the-top drag queen (aka Sister Rose). What a great combination of character traits! Adrian is searching for his vampire sister, Isabelle, who was also a subject of the horrific underground “medical” experiments and is now missing, perhaps dead.

     Pretty soon, Raylene is being hunted down by multiple teams of heavily armed Men in Black. Villains include anonymous CIA operatives, an ex-military paper pusher, a corrupt doctor, and a psychotic billionaire who hates vampires. The story begins in Seattle (Raylene’s current home base) and moves across the country to Minneapolis, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and back to Seattle. The action includes several escapades in which Raylene alone or Raylene and Adrian make daring escapes from seemingly hopeless situations, but Priest makes it all seem possible. As for love interests, there are two possibilities, but nothing concrete so far: Raylene and Ian share a kiss very late in the story, so there’s a chance that their relationship might get more romantic. But don’t count Adrian out, especially after he and Raylene exchange meaningful looks after she “accidentally” gropes him during one of their capers. At this point, we have no clue as to Adrian's sexual preferences.

Regarding the ratings:
  > Violence: The 4 rating is for the high number of slayings of bad guys by Raylene and Adrian in book 1, but there aren't many details
  > Sensuality: None, except for that chaste kiss and quick grope in book 1.
  > Humor: Sarcastic sniping from Raylene, Adrian, and Dominic in both books.

As Hellbent opens, Raylene is presented with two problems, and the plot swings back and forth between them. First, Horace (director of acquisitions for a prominent New York auction house and Raylene's primary client) wants her to steal a box full of supernatural bacula (Just click on the link and you'll find out just what they are!), which are worth millions of dollars. Second, Ian has received a message from his brother, Maximilian, that their father is dead and that Ian must come home to deal with the transfer of power. Dad (aka William Renner), the Head of the San Francisco Vampire House, was visiting the Atlanta House when he died under mysterious circumstances. It seems that Ian is next in line to become Head of the SF House, but Maximilian does not know about Ian's blindness, which makes Ian vulnerable and easy to kill. When Max discovers Ian's secret, he will no doubt murder Ian and take over the SF Judge position himself. Ian doesn't want to be the Judge, but Max will never believe that, so Ian will always be perceived as a threat. To make matters worse, Ian's vampire son (Brendan) is still in San Francisco, and Max will probably try to kill him, too. Back to the bacula: Raylene attempts to steal them, but someone with magical weather-controlling power gets there first and nearly electrocutes her with a bolt of lightning. Eventually, Horace provides more information, and Raylene and Adrian head off to try to wind up the case, but things go wrong once again. Now back to Ian's problem, which takes Raylene and Adrian to San Francisco for a meeting with Max. Raylene strikes a deal with Max to go to Atlanta as a representative of the San Francisco House to investigate William's death. This will give Adrian the chance to try to locate his sister, Isabel (who used to be a member of the Atlanta House) and it will allow Raylene to buy Ian some time so that they can figure out what to do. By the end of the story, both problems are more or less solved, and Raylene has added two (really three) more strays to her menagerie of human, supernatural, and animal housemates. The ending leaves two unresolved plot points to be pursued in the next book.

     Book 2 is just as lively, amusing, and entertaining as book 1. Priest strikes a satisfying balance among all parts of her stories. I love the characters, all of whom have just enough angst to engender compassion, but not so much as to drag down the story line. Raylene's sardonic exchanges with just about everyone add humor, even in tense situations, but they're not the frenetically over-the-top quips that we find in many of the lesser UF series now on the market. One new fact we learn about Raylene in Hellbent is that she has suffered for decades from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which explains why she is always so over-prepared for every situation. In some vampire mythologies, OCD is a common vampire trait. Another series that uses the OCD trait for vamps is the WVMP RADIO series, by Jeri Smith-Ready, which is reviewed in my book: Fang-tastic Fiction (probably available in your local library).

    All in all, this  is a terrific series, full of action, suspense, humor, pathos, and quirky characters. Raylene tells her story in the first person, a point of view that some authors fumble, but that Priest handles brilliantly. Raylene is world-weary and snarky on the outside, but she has a kind and compassionate side that she keeps well hidden, even from herself. We don’t see much of Ian in either book, but he could develop into an interesting character in future books now that he has moved in with Raylene and helps her care for Pepper and Dominic, who are themselves great characters. The colorful Adrian will also be moving in, so the possibilities are really endless.

Here are three quotations to give you a a tiny taste of the series:

Here is Raylene trying to convince herself (and the reader) that she has a hard heart when it comes to her runaways, Dominic and Pepper:
     "If I don't keep an eye on him, he'll deliberately antagonize the cops. One of these days...[he] is going to end up dead or in jail for life. And then who'll look after his sister? Not me. No pet people. Even if they're cute and slightly fey, and smart and somewhat needy. Absolutely not. It's the cute ones you can't get rid of. Just ask anyone who's ever 'kept an eye on' a stray puppy for a couple of days. You know what I'm talking about." (Bloodshot, p. 31)

Here is Raylene’s first look at Sister Rose (aka Adrian): 
     “Inside the room…stood the most insistently innocent drag queen I’d ever set eyes on. She was tall—taller than me by nearly a foot, which would put her around six-four or six-five—and she was wearing a mermaid-inspired blue-sequined dress that left little to the imagination, and much to the imagination’s Department of WTF? I knew she was packing under that bikini bottom with the dangled sparkles, but I’d be damned if I could tell you where she’d put it. On her head sat a black Amy Winehouse wig that was just as tall as the British singer's do, but less cracked-out and more tidy. Around her neck was a flamboyant fake necklace that would've been worth seven figures if it'd been real." (Bloodshot, pp. 157-158)

Here is a conversation between Raylene and Horace as he begins to explain his bacula problem. Horace begins the dialogue:
     "I've got a woman. A crazy woman."
     "Sounds like a the start of a country song to me," I said. "Did she total your truck or shoot your dog?"
     "No, but she stole my box of penis bones."
     "Even worse!" I declared with mock drama. (Hellbent, p. 1320)

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