Raylene Pendle, accomplished thief and vampire, has a pretty complicated life. Her collection of strays has grown to include orphan siblings Domino and Pepper and blind vampire Ian Stott living in her apartment plus drag queen and ex-Navy SEAL Adrian deJesus, even though he lives elsewhere. Supporting so many people plus the huge move when she was forced from her previous building proves to be expensive. When Horace Bishop contacts her with a very lucrative job, she accepts despite the weirdness factor. The items of great value are actually penis bones, or bacula, of fantastical creatures, such as werewolves and unicorns and they are worth millions. She knows the job is more complicated than it seems, but is still surprised when someone steals them first and then destroys the house with lightning. To further complicate matters, the leader of Ian's House is killed, leaving him in charge. He can't risk returning because of his disability, but can't ignore his responsibilities to his family. Raylene resolves to solve his problem by finding out what really happened to his father and takes Adrian with her to pose as her ghoul. Can she wrestle the bacula from a powerful, crazy woman AND save Ian from certain death also known as vampire politics?
Hellbent is the second installment of Cherie Priest's Cheshire Red series and proves to be just as good as the first one. Raylene is a unique protagonist. Her narrative is colored by her humor and her interesting view of the world. Underneath her veneer of being a perfect, hard as nails thief, she's actually quite human. Her collection of strays betrays her loneliness and need for other people. She really cares about her makeshift family and, although they sometimes drive her crazy, she will do anything in her power to keep them safe. One of the cutest scenes in the book was when Raylene found a kitten at a murder scene and couldn't just leave it there where it would probably die. I found the scene endearing and cute. She is painfully OCD at times, obsessively overpreparing for every conceivable situation and loading up on extra equipment just in case. Although she goes overboard, her OCD is one of the reasons why she's still alive. Her vampiric powers aren't unrealistic or godlike. They just make her tougher and faster than a human with weak psychic powers. More of her regenerative powers and psychic connection to those who drink her blood are explored.
The other characters are just as engaging. What's not to like about a drag queen who was also a Navy SEAL? Hellbent gives Raylene and her friends added depth and more background. Raylene's past involvement with a House is discovered as well as Ian's vampire family and more details about Adrian. Their three story lines come together in unexpected ways that kept me guessing. The plot is very twisty and it would go in completely different directions than I predicted, which is refreshing. The story is funny, fast paced, suspenseful, and fun. Romance is only hinted and doesn't overpower or interrupt the action as it does in fantasy so often. I hope Raylene eventually has a relationship with someone, but the issues at hand are a little bit more important.
Hellbent is a really fun paranormal read that combines mystery, humor, action, and fantasy. I can't wait for the next book in the Chesire Red series!
My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins