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Cherie Priest
Spectra, 352 pages

Cherie Priest
Cherie Priest was born in Tampa, Florida in 1975 (the same year that gave us Saturday Night Live and the The Rocky Horror Picture Show). In 2001, she graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with an M.A. in Rhetoric/Professional writing, and she also has a B.A. in English from Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, TN.

Cherie Priest Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Bloodshot
SF Site Review: Clementine
SF Site Review: Boneshaker
SF Site Review: Those Who Went Remain There Still

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

Hellbent is the second volume of the Cheshire Red Reports series, "Cheshire Red" being the aka for protagonist Raylene Pendle, vampire thief-for-hire. In the previous Bloodshot, we're introduced to Raylene as a sardonic but basically good-hearted female criminal, even if undead and the blood-pumping organ presumably is out of warranty, who uncovers a government conspiracy that illegally detained vampires for "lab rat" use in covert scientific experimentation. (By the way, black convicts were injected with syphilis without their knowledge and consent for experimental purposes, and American soldiers were exposed to atomic bomb blast tests just to see how combat operations could be conducted under a mushroom cloud dusting, so the only part here that might be unbelievable has to do with the existence of vampires.) Fellow vampire Ian Stott, a victim blinded by the experiment, hired Raylene to obtain his secret records in the vain hope they might contain information that could restore his vision.

Now, you might ask, how can an undead individual lose his sight, given that, presumably, normal biological activity has ceased? Don't know, don't care, doesn't matter. I imagine everyone these days on the vampire fiction bandwagon adjusts the mythos to suit a particular fictional purpose, so Cherie Priest can make them deaf, dumb or blind if she feels like it (and she does). Actually, the bandwagon here isn't so much vampires as it is "kick-ass" female with insecurities like the rest of us who just happens also to be a vampire. Think Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum with more bite (sorry, couldn't resist) and competence. And, some hints notwithstanding, a less complicated love life.

Unless you're some kind of super-geek with considerable time on your hands, it's probably not worth trying to sort out the logic of what differentiates vampires from the rest of us and why it should matter. Even Priest/Raylene seems to have trouble sorting it out, as she reminds the reader with lines such as this:
  ...I reached back behind my shoulder for the seat belt. I don't always worry about buckling up, but if there was one thing I didn't need tonight, it was another set of life-threatening injuries. Or injuries that would have been life-threatening if I'd been alive in any proper sense.
p. 161

What I actually found more perplexing than distinguishing ways vampires are any different from humans is when Raylene leaves a note for Ian explaining her wherabouts; um, how does a blind person -- undead or otherwise -- read a note? Did she write it in Braille?

So it's best that you think of vampires here as just regular folk with a few different quirks, like ageless immortality, though getting caught in sunlight turns you into ash tray residue, and superhuman strength and speed. But, otherwise, they're just another segregated minority group forced to rely on its own cultural structures for self-protection against mainstream society.

Those structures somewhat resemble crime families, called "houses" that rule a geographic jurisdiction and which are, as you might expect, somewhat in competition with one another for influence and expansion of controlling interests. Raylene is freelance, a lone wolf of a vampire, so to speak, unaligned with any particular house. The premise for this particular edition of Raylene's no doubt continuing adventures is that's about to change.

Companion/housemate/potential boyfriend Ian is next in line for head of the San Francisco house thanks to the apparent "suicide" of his "father" in a visit to the Georgia house. It's an honor Ian would prefer to decline and one his "brother" and acting heir to the throne (in vampire land, family relationships are defined not by happenstances of birth but by the vampire that bit you and turned you into a vampire) would like to ensure becomes an irrevocable choice. Raylene sets out to investigate, subsequently making a deal with Ian's brother that takes her and her sidekick/also potential boyfriend, a non-vampire ex-Navy SEAL drag queen who also has a separate agenda looking for information on his missing vampire sister, on double duty as envoy/spies to the dysfunctional Atlanta house. Meanwhile, in a subplot, Raylene is hired to recover a set of magical werewolf penis bones (yeah, you read that right) that a schizophrenic witch intends to use to conjure forces of nature in an act of vengeance against her former NASA employer.

Sound like fun? Well, it is. Nothing heavy here, but something you could really sink your teeth into.

Copyright © 2011 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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