Bloodshot by Cherie Priest
Book One of the Cheshire Red series
Published by Titan Books
Cherie Priest is a writer who is clearly making waves in the genre. Her Eden Moore series (Four and Twenty Blackbirds (2003), Wings to the Kingdom (2006), and Not Flesh Nor Feathers (2007)) were pleasantly eerie Southern Gothic horror tales, whilst her Clockwork Century books (Boneshaker (2009), Clementine (2010), Dreadnought (2010) and the upcoming Ganymede (2011)) gave a vivid series of entries to the steampunk genre. Boneshaker was nominated for both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award; it was a PNBA Award winner, and winner of the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
This is Cherie’s tenth novel, but, as far as I know, first foray into the urban fantasy culture. The plot, at least in brief outline here, sounds like pretty standard fare. Vampire-thief Raylene Pendle (AKA Cheshire Red) is quite happy making a living stealing valuable art and jewellery in Minneapolis. When she is asked by blind, debonair vampire Ian Stott to steal government secrets instead, she finds she has opened a major security breach involving something called Project Bloodshot in a secret government laboratory and stirred up a real hornet’s nest with documents that have an automatic trace on them that raises the interest of the military, the CIA and the Men in Black.
When she finds that she is also being investigated, Raylene/Cheshire has little choice but to go to ground, try and work out ‘the Big Secret’ but also avoid being caught herself. Add to this the complications of a madman who wishes to exact revenge by restarting the programme, Cheshire and her unusual side-kick, the ex-SEAL drag-queen Adrian, travel from Minneapolis to Atlanta as well as Washington DC in order to uncover who, what, and why.
Though initially the premise may sound familiar, this has some nice strengths. There’s actually a lot to like here. It’s got a cracking pace and snappy dialogue from the off. We quickly get to know Raylene/Cheshire, as this is a first-person narrative, and she’s clearly an intelligent, feisty and nicely ambiguously-moralled character, if a little neurotic. She’s also snarky and seriously nasty at times, as you might expect from a vampire more than a century old, but has another side to her character that also looks after two homeless kids in one of her abandoned warehouse gaffs.
All of this makes an entertaining read. But what works most here is that there’s a nice intelligence behind the tale that can be lacking in some similar tales. Cherie has thought out Cheshire’s world very clearly. Her years of constant paranoia have led to Raylene/Cheshire being a vampire with OCD tendencies: an interesting twist that Cherie uses with panache. There’s enough riffing on the vampire concept here to show that there’s – dare I say it – new blood in what could have been a tired old retread, which this is clearly not.
The book ends with enough verve and a couple of interesting developments to make the reader want to read the next one immediately. (But not until later in the year: Hellbent is due in September 2011.)
Here Cherie’s tackled the urban fantasy novel with great vigour and this is a most likeable addition to the genre. Think perhaps ‘To Catch a Thief’ and ‘Tomb Raider’ with a supernatural twist, this is a great read. Aided by a great cover that attracts attention (though not exactly the description as given in the book!), fans of the genre will not be disappointed by this one.
Mark Yon, July 2011