Cherie Priest is back with another installment in the tale of Raylene Pendle, vampire thief extraordinaire. Picking up largely where the previous novel, Bloodshot, left off, we find that Raylene, Ian, Adrian, and the two kids have settled into a comfortable pace of life together. However, largely due to the vampiric nature of two of the occupants of Raylene’s building—Raylene herself included—this status quo does not last. For, even as Raylene takes on a job of hunting down some very specific magical relics, Ian receives word that his former House is trying to kill him. Everything hits the fan, and we once again experience a roller coaster of twists and turns as Raylene and Adrian hit the road to save their own little world from collapsing.
A rip-roaring good time
Like its predecessor, Hellbent is a fun little story which sweeps the readers off of their feet and puts them at the front of a speeding amusement park ride of their choosing. While there isn’t as much physical action in this novel as there was in Bloodshot, Priest makes up for it with character development, especially within the relationship between Raylene and Adrian. These developments make both Raylene and Adrian seem more real and work well to counter the more action-based sequences of the novel. In retrospect, it almost seems like a video game RPG, where you finish a set of quests and have new dialogue options with your companions. This is neither good nor bad; it just is.
In conjunction with the development of the characters, the banter between characters is absolutely stellar. Even characters who read primarily as plot devices get their fair share—just look at the interactions Raylene has with her main client, Horace, and you’ll see what I mean.
What I didn’t like
In my review of Bloodshot, I didn’t have anything very negative to say about the novel, and was thus asked why the book didn’t merit a five-star rating. To put it quite simply, it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever read—but keep in mind that neither was it the worst. In reading Hellbent, I was able to finally put some of my feelings about the series into words.
To me, Hellbent is a well-written and fun tale, but it only goes skin deep in most parts. The stakes aren’t very high in the overall scheme of things; Raylene might—might—lose a housemate. That’s about as far as it goes. Sure, she’s throwing herself into danger, but she’s already dead, just not dead-dead. Throwing Adrian into the mix helps with the stakes, as Raylene is suddenly looking out for more than herself.
The pacing also throws me off in this novel. The first half or so is well paced, but the latter half contributes to the skin-deep feeling I got from the book, as a lot of stuff happens. That’s the best way to describe it: it happens. Sure, I care about the characters, but the way Priest worked the circumstances she threw them into did them little justice. This is especially true with regard to the ending, where everything was wrapped up, nice and neat. Now, I’m not asking for a cliffhanger in every book I read, but there should be some cost to the characters within a novel. Of course, it is entirely possible this novel is a setup for Bad Things to Come in future books, but on its own, things seemed… easy. Too easy.
The one other thing about Hellbent that gives me conflicting emotions about it is Raylene’s narration. With an urban fantasy novel like this, where the author has to introduce new material most every book, the reader can expect digressions now and again to explain things. However, Raylene makes a big deal of it, thus drawing the reader’s attention to it. In my case, it almost casts the information she is imparting in a less important light, which it isn’t. The other part of Raylene’s narration that bugs me is the journal-but-not-a-journal quality of it. Written in the first person, Hellbent reads like many other urban fantasy novels—except in a few scenarios where Raylene will mention something along the lines of “if he was reading this over my shoulder, he would disagree.” If this was a deliberate choice of Priest’s, then that’s that. But such a line as that lessens the emotional impact of a novel for me—it lets me know that the narrator makes it out of the situation well enough to be narrating. Other readers may follow the same line of thought and reach the other conclusions I ultimately drew.
Drag queen drama
My favorite aspect of this novel is easily the drag queen sidekick, Adrian. A former Navy SEAL, Adrian has all of the BAMF skills needed to be a valuable asset to Raylene—a fact he almost ruthlessly shoves in her I-go-it-alone mentality over and over again throughout the novel. Adrian kicks some serious bad guy ass when the situation requires it, but additionally, his sense of fashion as a drag queen is impeccable—which leads to some rather hilarious dialogue between him and Raylene. The relationship between the two is probably the heftiest material in the novel and was the most enjoyable aspect of the novel to me.
Why should you read this book?
As I’ve said, this is a majorly fun book and series. And, despite my qualms with the style of writing, it really is well-written. Priest obviously cares about her characters and, more than that, how her readers feel about her characters. The level of work she puts into her character development is one of the best things about Hellbent. You should also read this for the amount of fun it is. There are few other books which can match this one in terms of sheer enjoyability. Of course, the final reason I think you should read this novel is for the drag queen badassery. I mean, come on. How often does one come across such an entertaining sidekick? Hellbent is one hell of a fun read, and I recommend it to any urban fantasy enthusiast.