Bloodshot (The Cheshire Red Reports 1) by Cherie Priest
Well, dear friends, Bloodshot (The Cheshire Red Reports 1) by Cherie Priest is a “once more into the breach” moment as I pick up yet another of these pesky urban fantasies. So far, I’ve subjected myself to an unrelenting mess of second-rate fantasy with romantic overtones. It’s been all too painfully obvious the publishers have decided young women readers, inexperienced in the real world of fantasy and horror, will buy dumbed down fiction so long as it has a strong heroine looking for, and finding, love. Even Nancy A Collins whom I would normally rate as a reliable genre writer sold out. How will Cherie Priest fare?
Well, the cover tells the right story. It’s a hardboiled picture of a noirish girl sporting a smoking gun against an inner city, brick landscape of tenement or factory walls. So someone has ticked the right boxes in the jacket design department. This is urban fantasy 101. And the heroine du jour is a vampire. Well, there’s a novelty. That means she’ll be able to kick ass and suck her male opponents dry. Not so much picking out a hunk as a love interest, more finding someone meaty, with good circulation, as food. Ah, yes, those were the days on the mean streets of Minneapolis. . .
So welcome to the first person narrative of Raylene Pendle who, by virtue of her slightly androgynous appearance is sought by Interpol as the male thief nicknamed Cheshire Red — security companies should instal cameras capturing more pixels to the square inch to distinguish gender. She was turned into a vampire in the 1920s and therefore has been slowly maturing psychologically from a flapper into a thoroughly modern girl. Except on the way, she’s picked up quite a lot of baggage. Since vampires are merely quick healing rather than invulnerable, she’s necessarily cautious most of the time. Yet there’s an instinctive recklessness about her as well. This means she gets caught up in the moment, can pitch herself into difficult situations, and has to fight (or eat) her way out again. Obviously, snacking is encouraged as you go to keep up the energy levels.
Her relatively calm, “I’m in control of my life existence” is rudely shattered when a fellow vampire, Ian Stott, contacts her. She prefers the life of a loner, avoiding contact with fellow vampires and refusing to make pets of any humans. Yet her curiosity is piqued by Ian’s story of capture and experimentation by the US military. She had not realised governments were not only aware of vampires and other supernatural beings, but also proactively investigating their powers. So she accepts when asked to steal the records of the experiments performed on Ian. Although it exposes her to danger in going up against the military industrial complex, she needs to know whether all vampires are going to be targeted.
Thematically, we’re already slightly off the usual urban fantasy reservation. Instead of some mildly dangerous supernatural threat to contend with, our heroine is going head-to-head with small battalions of FBI/CIA operatives, all backed-up by the latest in spy satellites and weaponry. The underlying conspiracy-theory idea of the government running secret bases where they experiment on supernatural beings, recording them as lab animals in official records, is also pleasing darker than usual for this subgenre. Although it’s been done before (as in the X-Men universe), this has an altogether more edgy feel to it as our heroine inadvertently trips an internet trap for certain key words. This pitches her out of one of her safe houses as black limos invade her space. Now she’s forced on to the road to track down the missing records. Except, guess what, someone’s been there before her and stolen most of the key documents. Now she’s playing catch-up, trying to work out who might have wanted to steal these documents, and where he or she might be. It all turns out to be a pleasingly macabre double game as motives are slowly brought into focus and faces put to names. By the time we get to the end, we know the name of the person who’s currently running the experiments and, more importantly, we know why.
As to the other primary characters, we have an interesting pair of children who’ve volunteered to act as caretakers in one of Raylene’s storage buildings — as a very successful thief, she needs somewhere safe to keep her ill-gotten gains. Then there’s a drag queen with a military background who turns out to be good in a fight, and a Seeing Eye ghoul who looks after Ian and would really prefer not to be involved in anything that would expose them to risk.
I confess to being hooked. Although vampires are everywhere these days, this has a well-rounded female of the species, helped out in a tricky situation by Ian who’s been developing a more unusual power. On the human side, the kids are nonstandard and, once the high heels are set aside, our cross-dresser is as formidable as most men get. There’s one kiss but, I’m pleased to say, no obvious romance in the offing as the three-goes-into-two candidates have real trust issues to work through. So Bloodshot is a clever idea for a mystery plot wrapped up in a urban fantasy that’s altogether darker and more adult than any I’ve read in the current batch the publishers have blitzed into the romance marketplace. Kudos goes equally to Cherie Priest for writing a good book and to her agent for convincing a publisher to accept it as urban fantasy with all the consequent hype. It deserves to sell well. The sequel is called Hellbent and I’ve already ordered my copy.
For reviews of other books by Cherie Priest, see:
Bloodshot (The Cheshire Red Reports 1)
Hellbent (The Cheshire Red Reports 2)
Those Who Went Remain There Still