Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot is fun. It’s not a long read, under 100,000 words. It is not Priest’s best book, (I still think that’s Boneshaker) but with summer coming, this witty urban fantasy would be a good choice for an upcoming vacation.
Raylene Pender, the first-person narrator, is a vampire and a master thief who is hired by another vampire, Ian, to steal some mysterious papers from a government facility. The papers contain information on the mysterious subject of a secret government experiment: Ian himself. The caper turns out to be more complicated, and more personal, than Raylene expects.
Priest seems to be still working out both the biological and political systems that support her vampires. Her vampires are only “mostly dead.” Raylene talks about the fact that her metabolism still works, just very slowly. This is an interesting if risky choice. Priest goes on to tell us about the almost-obligatory vampire “Houses,” which function like mob families. Not all vampires belong to a House, though. Raylene doesn’t, and Ian doesn’t. They function mostly as backstory.
Raylene narrates with a breezy, blog-like style that works most of the time. She is supposed to be a flapper, turned into a vampire in 1929, but there is no 1920s sensibility here. She is a Millennial from her stylish ankle-boots to her “wee laptop.” That isn’t really a problem, although I have a hard time believing someone who came of age in the 1920s wouldn’t retain some of those memories and those ways of speaking. Raylene does have a memory of meeting Dashiell Hammett when she was young that’s a very nice touch. Priest could do with a bit more of that in the sequels.
Raylene paints herself as a loner, and won’t admit protective feelings for the two street kids she has basically adopted, rationalizing that they are the early warning system on one of her secret warehouses, but her need for human connection is clear throughout the book. The scenes with the children are suspenseful because Raylene cares about what happens to them, and we do, too.
Priest takes us from Seattle to Atlanta and then to Washington DC. She introduces us to parkour, an extreme sport that mixes urban exploring with base jumping. There is enough action and mystery to carry the book, and I liked the parkour sections, especially the cat-and-mouse scene in Raylene’s dark warehouse.
The reader will have to consciously suspend disbelief at times; less about Raylene’s vampirism than about the prodigious amount of swag she has kept over the decades; less about the secret “government project” than about the sketchily defined vampire hierarchy. At several points, Priest chose physical descriptions, like the cold air scorching Raylene’s lungs, that made me forget Raylene was a vampire.
Bloodshot is set squarely in familiar territory with a few refreshing twists, like another vampire’s ability to control the weather, and Adrian/Sister Rose. Adrian/Sister Rose is the most intriguing character in the book. Generally, the principle characters — Ian, the client vampire, the two kids, Adrian and Raylene herself — are well-drawn characters. Since this is the first book of a series, I assume they we will see more depth as the books continue.
Priest isn’t interested in re-inventing the vampire mythos here. She just wants her readers to have a good time. Put on your climbing gear, bring your night-vision goggles, and enjoy the trip.