I was pretty excited to read Bloodshot. I first encountered Cherie Priest by way of her Southern Gothic novel Four and Twenty Blackbirds several years ago. Since then, her name keeps popping back up in my consciousness, both as a writer of several acclaimed steampunk novels I haven’t had the chance to read yet, and as a Person Who Says Interesting Things on the Internet. So when I heard she was dipping her authorial toes into one of my favorite subgenres, urban fantasy, I knew this was a book I wanted to read. Bloodshot did not disappoint. In fact, I may gush a bit, because this book is darn near flawless.
Priest introduces an unforgettable heroine in Raylene Pendle, a vampire who originally died in the Roaring Twenties and makes her living as a world-class thief. She’s survived all these years by being paranoid and over-prepared — yet improvises far more than she cares to admit. She scorns her fellow vampires for getting too attached to humans — but secretly loves the urchins who squat in the old warehouse she owns (or at least one of them). And she’s the daughter of a brilliant detective, so she blames her genes for her inability to pass up a good mystery. As she relates all of this, her voice is so sharp and immediate, you’ll think she’s telling you the story personally over a glass of wine. She’s funny and snarky and prone to fourth-wall-breaking, and strikes a great balance between being good at what she does and occasionally being allowed to mess up.
In Bloodshot, the first novel in a new series, Raylene is hired by another vampire, Ian Stott, to steal some government documents. Several years ago, Ian was captured by Uncle Sam and subjected to secret experiments that took his eyesight. The records, he hopes, will reveal what was done so that the damage can be repaired. Raylene takes the job — which, of course, turns out to be far more complicated than she expected. The plot is rife with tension and action. Just when you think Raylene might get a break, she finds out she’s been tailed again and has to escape by her wits one more time. The nail-biting suspense carries over to unconventional scenes, too. Who knew that a scene where the protagonist isn’t even present, but instead trying to talk someone else through a sticky situation over the phone, could be so riveting?
Often, a plot with constant action falls short on characterization, since there isn’t much time to develop character, but Priest avoids that trap. No matter what Raylene is narrating, her personality shines through.
The solution to the mystery is properly difficult and yet makes total sense. It’s the kind of solution that you don’t see coming unless you’re way more on the ball than I was — and yet when it becomes clear, you slap your forehead and say “Of course!” To my mind, that’s the best kind of solution. I don’t like it when I guess the bad guy 5 pages in, but I also don’t like books that never quite make sense even when all is revealed.
The prose is excellent. You’ll find plenty of humor here, along with vivid description. Priest’s descriptive writing never becomes heavy or flowery; instead she employs just the right amount of description to create just the right image for the reader. Here’s a passage that gives good examples of both the humor and the descriptive prose:
I gave three quiet cheers for Minnesota. In Seattle a dusty inch of anything white and chilly means the city lapses into full-on panic mode, as if each falling flake crashes to earth with its own individual baggie of used hypodermic needles. It’s ridiculous.
But the city before me was shiny and dark, hard-frozen around its edges and glinting from the ice that coated the corners of buildings like cake frosting made of crushed glass.
If you like that little sample, don’t hesitate another minute. Bloodshot is an awesome book, and I can think of very few urban fantasies that match it in plot, character, or writing style.