I'm torn. Torn like an old sweater.
See, there are aspects of this book that I really loved. And yet, it took me forever to read Hellbent, and I skimmed much of the last third. For the dull bits and the parts that flat-out pissed me off, I want to give this two stars. For the good, three.
Obviously, I went with my "It was okay" three star rating, but really, this was a 2.5-er at best.
The story in a nutshell (not that there's really much to tell): Raylene Pendle is a vampire and a thief. Good so far--I'm all about vampires with flexible definitions of property rights. She lives in a big, multistory brick building in rainy Seattle. Although she's normally a loner (what UF protagonist isn't?), she has recently collected several "strays" who have taken up residence with her. Her "adoptees" include a couple of street kids, Pepper and Domino, and Ian, a blind vampire. Thanks to the events in Hellbent, she ends up with a kitten (Pita="Pain in the Ass"), as well.
Plot thread one is woven around Ian, who's a kind of heir to the throne of a vampire House in San Francisco. Blinded by a government experiment, he's been lying low, since vampires aren't known for their progressive and benevolent treatment of the handicapped. When his father, the head of the San Francisco house, is killed while visiting an Atlanta vampire house, Ian finds he can't hide anymore. In line for the position of House "judge," Ian will be sought after, and not in a healthy way, but others vying for the position.
Ian, who is an emote-y, guilt- and honor-driven vampire, wants to go home and face the music. Raylene, who is fond of Ian, wants him to stay home and let her sort out the matter.
Meanwhile, Horace, one of Raylene's clients, wants her to steal some baculas--that's penis bones--from a schizophrenic woman who has a hankering to destroy the world.
All in a day's work...
What I loved about Hellbent: The humor and the author's voice. Snarky and fun, with a tendency to break the fourth wall that totally works. Raylene, though a vampire, ISN'T overly bitter, spoiling for a fight, or prone to describing her wardrobe (and sex appeal) in excruciating detail.
Ian. Yes, I have an absurd fondness for males that seem to need rescuing...and hugs.... I haven't got much of a maternal instinct, but nevertheless, blind and vulnerable Ian makes me all squishy. His interactions with Raylene, what few there were, are sweet.
Also, I liked her crazy little family--Pepper, Domino, and Ian.
What I didn't love: Erm, everything else?
Her buddy, Adrian deJesus, former SEAL and now drag queen. In principle, the character should have been awesome. Instead, his characterization was flat and his incessant bickering with Raylene was as irritating as a pebble in a running shoe. On and on, they went, sniping for no f*cking reason. Dear fellow writer folks: If you must do the "bickering to cover sexual tension" thing, at least make it funny. Otherwise, it's just an endless pissing match.
Raylene's lackadaisical approach to Ian's problem and the general lack of urgency in the plot. Raylene's first priority should have been saving Ian. She should have gotten her ass to San Francisco and then on to Atlanta, faster than a bargain hunter on after-holiday sales. Instead, she takes frequent detours, searching for Horace's pee sticks. (Whaaaat? The novel contains a veritable onslaught of penis jokes.) The bacula plot line is about as interesting as watching paint dry, and yet, nearly all the narrative is expended on Raylene's attempts to steal boner-bones from a crazy person.
Pulling Ian's ass out of the sun, so to speak, doesn't happen until the very last 50-pages or so. The ending is rushed, exposition is pulled out of orifices and splattered on the page in a quick attempt to bring things to a close.
And yet, I'll probably go back and read Hellbent's predecessor, Bloodshot. I hope it has a lot more Ian and a lot less Adrian.