My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Cozily domestic” is not usually a phrase I would think to associate with the living situation of a vampire. It is a measure of Cherie Priest’s ability as an author to engage me so strongly that I not only was intrigued by her take on a vampire heroine, but was actively charmed by seeing the growing household that Raylene Pendle has pulled around herself as of the beginning of Book 2 of The Chesire Red Reports, Hellbent.
This installment of the series continues one of the big things I liked a lot about Book 1, Bloodshot: i.e., taking a bunch of urban fantasy tropes and… well, it’s cliched of me to say “subverting them”, but really, it’s true. You don’t find too many vampires–in urban fantasy proper, at least; if you venture over into paranormal romance, it’s a different story–that are neurotic, or needy, or who do in fact gather a whole household of dependents around them without really actively meaning to. Raylene’s a refreshing contrast to the vampires I’m so used to seeing, the ones who are all-powerful heads of Clans or Houses or whatever, especially the males who are the all-too-frequent, oh-so-sexy-and-mysterious love interests for associated heroines. Raylene’s not remote or mysterious, and this makes her far sexier a character to me than any one of dozens of alpha male vampire heroes.
And oh. My. God. Mad, mad love is ongoing for Adrian, the most badass drag queen who ever dragged. That he exists in the pages of an urban fantasy at all just makes me happy. Gender fluidity for the major, major win.
Now, that said, let’s talk plot. I wasn’t quite as taken with the plot of this one as I was the previous, just because the A and B plots didn’t mesh quite as well as I would have hoped. But that said, there’s intriguing followup on the status of Adrian’s lost vampire sister. And there’s an intriguing and somewhat scary character who shows up, the disturbed mage Elizabeth, who seems to be a way for Priest to explore dealing with a character who has both a) significant magical power and b) significant mental illness. Elizabeth is a bit of a cipher, but the scenes where Raylene reaches out to her in unwilling sympathy are among my favorite in the book. Elizabeth’s mental illness is not downplayed, or magically cured, and I have to give high marks for both of those.
Overall, there were also a bit more moments where Raylene went past ‘cozily domestic’ and a bit too far into ‘twee’–adopting a kitten? Not really necessary, we get that Raylene’s a lot more of a softy than she lets on! (And I say this as someone in general favor of kittens.) I’m also not really sure I buy Elizabeth’s status at the end.
But on the other hand, I did overall quite like this book anyway. And I’m hoping that Priest will get a shot at more of them, given that as per her blog, she was only originally contracted to do two of them. For this one, I’ll give four stars!