Even if you've been experiencing some vampire fatigue lately, Cherie Priest's smart-mouth, sticky-fingered protagonist is still worth spending 350 pages with. Instead of trying to reinvent the vampire genre, Priest just gives it new life and potency.
Minor spoilers ahead!
Raylene Pendle is secretive, and she's paranoid, and she's got good reason to be both. She is, of course, a vampire. She's got residences, bank accounts, and back-up identities stashed nationwide. And under the alias Chesire Red, she'll steal whatever you need (for a very reasonable sum, naturally).
Bloodshot opens with a letter from a would-be client and fellow vampire requesting an audience. When Raylene meets with Ian Scott, she discovers several things: He's blind (which shouldn't even be possible), he's made some seriously evil enemies in the U.S. government, and he's awfully good-looking. Against her better judgement, she agrees to help him by tracking down classified documents that might help heal his blindness. A couple of days later, she's acquired a sidekick in the form of Adrian, a pissed-off drag queen/former Navy SEAL, and together they're dodging MIBs in downtown Atlanta. Guns blaze. Jugulars are ripped out.
The novel's premise and mythology aren't exactly groundbreaking. Priest hasn't put any special twist on vampire folklore. Raylene can't shoot lasers out of her eyeballs, and Ian Scott doesn't have glittery fangs. And unless you are a die-hard, Edward-Cullen-wall-decal-buying fanatic, you're probably vampired-out at this point. For those keeping score at home, in recent years we've had teen vampires, Southern vampires, shapeshifting vampires, vampires versus aliens, and Abraham Lincoln, vampire hunter. To do something truly original, Priest would probably have to get so far out on a limb that it would break and send her crashing to the ground, legs shattered.
At first glance, Raylene seems pretty familiar as well — armed to the teeth, oozing bad attitude and able to dispatch numerous villains at one go. Her arsenal seems redundant when you consider her supernatural strength and speed. (No word on whether she has the ubiquitous tramp stamp. Consider it another of her many secrets.) Much of the book is spent intimidating and/or snacking on g-men. Paranoid, prickly, and reluctant to keep "pet people" around, she's a bit like Lisbeth Salander's better-adjusted cousin. Naturally, she doth protest her independence too much, as she's already taking care of a couple of lovable, troublesome orphans.
But this book only needs one thing to be fantastic, and that's Raylene's voice. There's an entertainingly aggressive wackiness about her. The thought of government satellites gives her the shivers, so she only drives the blandest government-style cars. She's witty and sharp and excellently lecherous. Here she is, leering at Adrian/Sister Rose in full black-ops ninja gear: "The shirt fit him like a paint job. I approved." She begs the pardon of cemetery corpses, explaining:
Step on a crack and break your mother's back? Step on a grave and horrifying things might befall you, or maybe not, because, like, who's going to do the befalling? I don't know. It doesn't rhyme. But that's what it is, and that's how I roll—awkwardly, and mumbling like a lunatic past the cracked and crooked stones.
One final warning: This isn't an entirely self-contained story like Boneshaker. While Priest's steampunk novels tend to end on a full stop, Bloodshot was clearly written with a sequel already in the works. The big bad remains at large as the novel closes, though we do get a couple of satisfactory eviscerations. It's nothing like the cliffhanger at the end of Connie Willis' Blackout (which might have inspired a mad scramble by this reviewer across Dublin, Ireland, in search of All Clear to read immediately), but don't expect a pretty package wrapped up with a sparkly bow.