Sometimes, you (or, to be more specific, since I can’t really speak about your reading habits, I) need a nice little bite of well-done whimsy in order to keep pushing through all of the unpleasantness that life can dish out. Hellbent by Cherie Priest is that perfect bite. No, this tale of Raylene Pendle, vampire and thief, and her adventures in tracking down a box full of bacula, isn’t deep or profound. What it is is pure, unadulterated fun.
Priest’s voice is lighter here than in Clockwork Century books like Boneshaker and Ganymede. With those books, you can feel her exertion as she erects the infrastructure of that unique steampunk tent. But there’s an effortlessness to Hellbent and its predecessor Bloodshot that makes them easy to engage with and enjoy. Priest isn’t building a world here so much as playing with how much she can get away with in an environment that readers can immediately recognize.
In Hellbent, Raylene, who now has a family of sorts, finds herself on her aforementioned quest, while she is forced to protect those she now cares about, including a blind vampire, a Cuban drag queen/Navy SEAL, two adolescent waifs, and a kitten. Complications ensue.
Frankly, it doesn’t matter what those complications are. The characters are broadly if not deeply drawn and the language is fun. Take Raylene’s description of an Atlanta McMansion: ‘‘It would be probably be uncharitable to call the look ‘neoclassical Georgian plus IBM taupe and gingerbread revival meeting in a dark alley for fisticuffs and insults.’ But there I go anyway.’’
Like Raylene, what you see is more or less what you get in Hellbent. Sometimes, that’s all you want.