Hellbent (Cheshire Red Reports #2)

HellbentBy Cherie Priest

Publisher: Spectra
Publication Date: September 6, 2011
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Source: Netgalley

Vampire thief Raylene Pendle doesn’t need more complications in her life. Her Seattle home is already overrun by a band of misfits, including Ian Stott, a blind vampire, and Adrian deJesus, an ex-Navy SEAL/drag queen. But Raylene still can’t resist an old pal’s request: seek out and steal a bizarre set of artifacts. Also on the hunt is a brilliant but certifiably crazy sorceress determined to stomp anyone who gets in her way. But Raylene’s biggest problem is that the death of Ian’s vaunted patriarch appears to have made him the next target of some blood-sucking sociopaths. Now Raylene must snatch up the potent relics, solve a murder, and keep Ian safe—all while fending off a psychotic sorceress. But at least she won’t be alone. A girl could do a lot worse for a partner than an ass-kicking drag queen—right?

Goodreads Summary

Jewel thief – ahem, acquisitions expert – Raylene Pendle has been given a very odd job by her boss, antiques dealer Horace Bishop: locate a missing box of paranormal creatures’ penis bones. For Raylene, the jokes, they constantly write themselves. Horace offers her a big cut of the profits if she can chase them down but what he doesn’t tell her is that they can be used to create some big magic. Raylene is almost fried when she finds the guy who has them – dead and minus the box of penis bones – and lightning hits his house not once but twice. Her job isn’t to steal them from just an ordinary guy anymore, but from a psychotic witch named Elizabeth who’s bent on some sort vengeance. Raylene might ordinarily be ready to throw in the towel – really, who wants to be cooked – but she’s been spending a lot of money lately on her new roommates and she could use the big commission. So she’s still in.

After losing the warehouse where she stored most of her loot in an FBI raid following her last case, Raylene moved what she had left to a new location and took with her the two kids who’d been squatting there and her client from the job, blind vampire Ian Stott. Vampires can normally regenerate their eyesight, but Ian was experimented on as part of Project Bloodshot and left permanently disabled, something that made him vulnerable enough that he’s been in hiding from his House, who would have him executed in order to remove him from the line of succession if they knew. He’s in grave danger of exposure now – his father’s died, leaving the position of Judge open, one that will involve a messy power struggle if he doesn’t present himself. Word has already reached Ian and only Raylene convinces him to put aside his notion of honor for now while she tries to investigate his family and see if there’s some other way the situation can be resolved without Ian getting killed permanently.

Grabbing her favorite SEAL – call him Rose when he’s working as a drag queen – Adrian deJesus, Raylene heads out for one last try at the penis bones before she has to meet with Ian’s family. The earth moves – literally – and she and Adrian run for their lives away from an increasingly unstable Elizabeth who seems to be getting more powerful. As much as she would like to keep going after the bones, she still has to help Ian and now Adrian wants in on that too. The wily Raylene finds a way to help both men and Ian’s uncle – in exchange for helping to “find” Ian, she works herself closer to finding one more piece of the Project Bloodshot puzzle – Adrian’s missing sister.

I read Bloodshot earlier this year and despite a few minor issues, it’s been one of my favorite books of the year. Hellbent is just as good, if not better – now that the cast of characters has been set, I love that Priest is getting to flesh them out. In this story, not only does she continue part of the story from the first book in, but she’ll carry that and part of Hellbent into the next. This can still be a standalone (there’s no infodump in any one place, just bits of information from the earlier book sprinkled through), but it’s going to be a great series.

The story is told in Raylene’s first person, present tense and at least in the beginning in a few places, she addresses the reader directly – it takes part of a chapter to get used to, but once you do, the story rolls along beautifully. It all came together for me to really solidify Raylene’s personality, which is definitely heavy on the snark and wicked humor but she’s also smart, insanely OCD and grudgingly admits to feeling some affection once in a while. The chapter in the beginning where Horace hires her to find the penis bones is absolute gold Raylene – she drops groaning joke after joke about the bones.

Raylene’s two cases intersect mostly only because she’s juggling them as she travels back and forth and because she’s fighting with Adrian about whether it’s safe for him to deal with the vampires after she brought him along to help with Elizabeth. While they seem like such an odd combination of stories they…work. When one story is heavy, the other is funny and in Elizabeth’s story there are times when Adrian and Raylene have some moments when she seems to be a little interested in him even if he isn’t dead like Ian (who she’s only shared a kiss or two with).

While there’s not a lot added to Ian’s personality here, Adrian and the two kids that Raylene’s unofficially adopted, Pepper and Domino, are all starting to get their characters filled in. I loved the scenes with Pepper being tortured by Ian making her read and do math and Raylene’s continuing shrugs when Domino brought home junk food for dinner (she’s not their parent, so what?) were funny. Adrian continues to be a lot of fun as Sister Rose, as Raylene marvels at his tuck, flexibility and skill with cosmetics – it’s a running joke that she’s impossibly OCD and has packed things like multiple rolls of duct tape in different colors but it’s the Navy SEAL that packs a fully stocked makeup kit. He’s protective of Raylene and I think he may return some of her interest.

The one area that I think took the story past what felt “right” for Raylene’s character were all the people she kept collecting. In addition to Ian and the kids, by the time the book ends she has an additional three people and a cat living with her in a three story warehouse. Raylene is really, really OCD. I’m moderately OCD and I’d go crazy having new people just wandering around in my house, let alone three of them – and especially one of these people. Having them all there will move the story along really well for the next book, but it felt out of character for Raylene to just invite them all so easily.

My Summary: From the start, this felt so different than any other UF series I’m reading that it captured my interest and now after two books I’ve come to love Priest’s writing and Raylene’s character so much, I’m hooked. I said in my review of Bloodshot that she had some snark and swagger and she does – she’s brash and brilliant too. Her core relationships with Ian and Adrian and the ongoing investigation into Project Bloodshot are going to make this series worth keeping up with, as if I didn’t already need a reason. Hellbent has been added to my favorite books of the year pile.

My Rating: A

Barbara

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