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Bloodshot – Cherie Priest

Review by David Stonehouse
Titan Books £7.99 available now

Bloodshot is the debut adventure for Cherie Priest’s vampire thief heroine Raylene Pendle. The basic premise is a great idea; Raylene is a century old vampire complete with the full range of undead abilities; heightened senses, super strength and speed, psychic powers and enormous physical resilience. She makes her home in Seattle and keeps herself independent of the vampire nests or ‘Houses’ that exist in all the major cities. She’s a secretive thing who tries to fly under the radar and avoid unwanted attention, and well she might because she makes her living as a cat burglar. Raylene specialises in finding rare and unusual items for clients who pay a lot of money and want to leave no traces. As a result her thefts have become notorious and earned her the nickname ‘Cheshire Red’. The authorities have no idea who they’re really looking for and she’s keen to keep it that way.
It comes as a shock, therefore, when a message arrives from someone who seems to know far too much about her. This turns out to be another vampire, Ian Stott, who wants to hire the sort of specialist expertise that only Raylene can provide. He was once the head of a powerful vampire House but now he is on the run and very vulnerable. A top secret military agency kidnapped him and a bunch of other supernaturals to conduct medical experiments on them in their ‘eyes only’ facility. Ian had been left blind and, although he had escaped from the facility he remains an easy target for any ambitious vampire who wanted to take control of his house. Ian asks Raylene to get hold of the secret documents that can shed light on what happened to him and might also provide the key to restoring his sight.

From this point the rollercoaster really gets moving. What looks like a straightforward enough contract quickly spirals out of control. The instant she starts following leads her activities draw the attention of some hypersensitive government agencies who have absolutely no sense of humour or patience for anyone getting nosy. Within minutes faceless suits in long black cars are closing in and Raylene is forced to go on the run. There is a constant feeling of threat throughout the novel. The suits are never far behind and there are some brilliant high-adrenaline moments as she frantically tries to piece together the puzzle before the net closes in.
Managing the many action sequences is one of Cherie Priest’s greatest strengths. As Raylene crashes from one set piece to another Priest never lets the pace and tension drop. She balances the quiet character moments perfectly with the narrow escapes, chases and fights and the result is a brand of storytelling which is addictive and breathless entertainment, right from the outset.

There are plenty of quirky characters thrown in to the fun too. There are a couple of homeless kids called Domino and Pepper who watch one of Raylene’s lock-ups and are central to one of the novel’s tensest moments. There’s the blind vampire Ian with his helpful human servant or ‘ghoul’ Cal in tow holding up the supernatural end and, best of all, is Adrian deJesus, an ex Navy SEAL drag queen (yep, you did read that right) who is also mixed up in the mystery looking for a missing sister who may well have been a victim of the same medical experimenting military villains who took Ian’s sight.

It is all good heady fun, held together by the excellent characterisation of Raylene Pendle. She narrates the story in old-fashioned noir style, full of wisecracks and quirky dark humour. She’s vulnerable and paranoid with a healthy selection of OCD behaviours. She’s brave and heroic, taking seemingly impossible situations in her stride. At times she seems very human, full of quirks and doubts and her interactions with the other characters often show a very warm and human, sensitive side. In fact it is often easy to forget what she really is and it always comes as a shock when a sudden flash of shocking violence or a tomb-black observation reminds us that vampires are really, really hard, that they kill people and drink their blood and they worry about dead humans as much as normal people worry about the bugs squashed on their windscreen.

Priest also does a good job of creating depth and history for Raylene. Anyone who has existed as a vampire for a century is going to have a rich and colourful past and this is always present in Raylene’s narrative. The conversational first person storytelling is perfect for this as it allows little nuggets of information and snippets of other stories to sneak in making her character all the more rounded and three dimensional. The seeds of the sequel are also sown unobtrusively into the background of this adventure with an irritating wheeler-dealer called Horace mithering Raylene about some valuable mystical objects he wants Raylene to acquire for him.

Bloodshot is addictive, exciting and breathtaking fun from the first page. You won’t be able to finish this book without wanting another dose of Raylene Pendle adventuring, which is handy because the sequel Hellbent is also available now and every bit as brilliant as its predecessor. Take my advice and snap them both up – you certainly won’t regret it.

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