Cherie Priest says get ‘Hellbent’

I have to admit the “urban fantasy” genre was new to me. Or maybe it wasn’t, but I just never heard it called that. I gather it’s a genre of fiction that involves vampires and werewolves and things of that nature (emphasis on the “things” part) but instead of hanging out in Transylvania they’re duking it out in the streets of NYC or San Francisco.

I became a Cherie Priest fan through her “Clockwork Century” steampunk books like “Boneshaker,” which is being made into a movie.

But I decided to try Priest’s urban fantasy book “Bloodshot” and was impressed. Priest is a master at finding the right tone for the period of her stories. The steampunk books are set in the late 1800s and “Bloodshot” and its sequel, “Hellbent,” are modern-day urban fantasies (there’s that phrase again) featuring a vampire named Raylene Pendle.

Pendle wears a lot of hats (not literally, although we do find out a lot about her wardrobe) here. She’s a vampire, a master thief, a kick-ass fighter and someone who acknowledges her own “issues,” including a healthy dose of obsessive compulsive disorder.

I don’t mean the “check the stove, check the door, check the stove” type of OCD (all too familiar to me). Raylene is self-proclaimed OCD in her worries over planning her missions. She acknowledges she takes too much stuff when she’s about to knock over a stronghold and steal some artifact (for a price). But Raylene doesn’t get bogged down in details when a case heats up. She’s got the super strength and super speed of a supernatural being and not afraid to take risks.

In “Bloodshot,” Raylene found her solitary existence in a made-over warehouse in Seattle changed by a couple of young humans she protects as well as a blind vampire, Ian, and a Navy Seal/drag queen named Adrian. About Adrian: Strangely enough, the character works and is totally appealing. A lot of pop fiction characters have a sidekick and Adrian is like Spencer’s Hawk — only he knows how to apply makeup.

In “Hellbent,” Raylene takes on one task for pay — the retrieval of several artifacts that are offbeat, to say the least — and one (maybe two) tasks that are personal in nature — working to clear up Ian’s status with his old vampire “house” (read family) and looking for Adrian’s missing sister.

That’s a lot of plot strands already, but Priest introduces another to the mix: Her competitor for the artifacts is the ultimate version of a woman wronged: A middle-aged woman with her own mental illness who uses magic to get vengeance.

The storylines don’t jell as well as they should, but there’s an appealing quality to the unsettled nature of the plot. “Hellbent” feels like a book that’s building to something, but there’s a good resolution to the story at the end so readers won’t feel cheated.

Above all, Priest’s characters are winning. None are more so than Raylene herself, who is as likable as an undead killing machine can possible be. How likable is that? Pretty damn likable, as it turns out.

It’s impressive that Priest has created two book series that feel as different as her steampunk and urban fantasy books. They read as if they’re by different authors, although both have Priest’s knack for appealing characters.

And “Bloodshot” and “Hellbent” have something else: A funny, dangerous heroine who will, hopefully, grace the supernatural world with her presence again soon.

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