Bloodshot by Cherie Priest marks what I would consider a significant departure from her earlier work particularly in terms on setting. While some of her work in the past has touched upon urban fantasy tropes, in so much that Boneshaker, despite its nineteenth century setting takes place in an urban environment and the fact that Priest tends to write strong female leads (Belle Boyd, Mercy Lynch, and Briar Wilkes in the Clockwork Century alone), Bloodshot represents Priest’s first full-on urban fantasy outing. Yes, Raylene Pendle AKA Cheshire Red, is a vampire and thief extraordinaire but Priest’s deft handling of character especially Cheshire’s distinct voice save this from the heap of other urban fantasies out there.
Sporting a cover featuring a women looking like a female James Bond crossed with Carmen Sandiego and a description which mentions that “the infuriatingly charming Ian Stott asks for help, Raylene finds him impossible to resist—even though Ian doesn’t want precious artifacts” Bloodshot certainly engendered some eye rolls from curious coworkers who spotted it on my desk. While there are definitely hints of romance in the novel Cheshire herself is quick to point out that she has a thing for mysteries. I sort-of wish the back of the novel mentioned the cross-dressing ex-Navy SEAL since he was an entirely more interesting addition than the somewhat stereotypical sexy/mysterious vampire trope that is Ian. Thankfully the novel definitely focuses more strongly on the thriller, mystery and action portions of the Cheshire’s job to retrieve government documents about the research regarding experiments done on Ian. Priest relegates the romantic elements to the background designed more to enhance Cheshire’s motivation towards completing the job rather than serving as a distraction from the intricate conspiracy of the titular Project Bloodshot.
Priest has proven her ability to create strong, distinct female characters of Raylene Pendle/Cheshire Red is no exception. Unlike previous Priest novels (of those that I’ve read anyway) Bloodshot is relayed via first-person offering readers often unfiltered access to the thoughts and emotions of Cheshire Red. Humorous and often self-effacing Cheshire voice comes across loud and clear lending a certain panache to even mundane seen. Cheshire’s vibrant voice and the fact that we never waver from her perspective often means that other characters feel less well-drawn. As I mentioned Ian Stott felt to me like a sort of cookie-cutter mysterious handsome vampire trope. However, when we are later introduced to the aforementioned competent ass-kicking former Navy SEAL and drag queen, Adrian de Jesus, there is finally a character that comes forward. In fact I sort of wish that Adrian and Cheshire worked together for ALL of this novel and all future novels because they make a fairly entertaining team. Other side characters, particularly the two homeless children that live at one of Cheshire’s storage locations, also come across as distinct characters in their own right, but I admit that I was definitely disappointed in how bland Ian seemed.
Bloodshot isn’t a novel that tackles big ideas. It isn’t about pondering weighty moral quandaries. It’s about dodging Men in Black, it’s about solving a conspiracy laden mystery, and it’s about revenge delivered at fangpoint. Priest offers hints of a deeper world beyond our initial introduction confirming the existence of other supernatural creatures. She does offer one hint that magic is real but in truth it serves as a light joke more than anything else. It’s a joke that doesn’t discount that magic exists but rather that its existence, or not, has no bearing on Cheshire’s existence. Bloodshot with a strong, distinct character at its heart is a welcome addition to the urban fantasy genre; it is a taught thrill a minute ride that offers a number of outright laughs and not a few small chuckles. Embarrassing cover aside I’m looking forward to Cheshire Red’s next adventure.