Sunday, June 5, 2011

Book review: Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, Book One) by Stacia Kane

Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Del Rey; Original edition (May 25, 2010)

Summary: The departed have arrived.

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

My review: I always welcome any type of new paranormal story and Stacia Kane's Unholy Ghosts offers a unique heroine and otherworld. There is no god in this world, only the Church of Real Truth, an organization which has raised and educated Chess Putnam since she was a teen and now employs her as a Debunker. Chess, a witch, is assigned cases of ghost sightings but this job is nothing like the movie goofy Ghost Busters or any ghost hunting 
reality show. And Chess is unlike any other heroine I've read before. She lives alone in the seedy Downside, a dark and dreary futuristic world. A victim of childhood abuse in foster homes, Chess attempts to chase away her personal ghosts with drugs and has developed quite the nasty habit. Her dependency has run up a huge tab with Bump, the local drug lord, who has sent his brutish muscleman, Terrible, to collect. Not able to pay her debt, Bump offers her a job to find and remove any ghosts from a closed  airstrip he wants to reopen and use for his trafficking business.

Since she has no choice, Chess agrees, only to discover the airstrip has something truly frightening hidden there--a dark magic ritual was recently performed there and she unearths an talisman. Dealing with an evil entity should be enough to contend with, but a rival drug lord, Lex, wants her to keep the airstrip closed. With Lex supplying her with drugs and Bump promising to cover her tab, Chess has to devise a plan to make both parties happy and stay alive. The roguish and charming Lex brought in a necessary love interest, but the best part of Unholy Ghosts was watching the relationship between Chess and Terrible grow and change from one of tolerance to one of mutual respect, admiration and....attraction. To see such a lumbering and imposing figure genuinely care for the seemingly unappealing Chess gave Unholy Ghosts an unexpected charm. The bar scene where a doped up Chess and Terrible come close to truly connecting was emotionally moving.

It was refreshing to see a heroine not be a sexy, kickass know-it-all for a change. Chess is exactly the opposite of many leading ladies in contemporary urban fantasy. With her jaded, distrusting ways, cold, gruff demeanor--not to mention her constant pill popping--Chess is far from perfect. Smart and powerful, the gritty Chess is realistic in this dank, oppressive society, run by the non religious Church where they work to keep the spirits of the deceased locked away in the city under their world. 

I did find it difficult to get into the story and found Chess unlikable, at first. After getting a handle on the slang many of the Downsiders spoke and understanding Chess, I soon realized I was hooked. There were many times I wanted to smack those pills out of her hand. Watching her work her magic on the job, summoning the power of her tattoos, fighting off enemies, and grasping with her feelings for two guys was what truly captured this character and made her endearing. Chess isn't perfect, how can she be living in a dark, imperfect world where humans merely survive the best they can? Her ability to spellcast, think quick, defend herself, and debunk spiritual mysteries keeps her alive in a skin she hasn't grown comfortable with. The story's pacing was leisurely so I could soak up so many of Stacia Kane's vivid imagery and descriptions. The interesting storyline was layered and kept my interest. Since this is a series, I look forward to reading more about Chess, Terrible and Lex.

Rating: I liked it.

Favorite excerpt: "He was made of darkness, it seemed, the complete absence of light behind him making the outlines of his robe--or whatever it was--squirm and ripple. Her gaze couldn't seem to catch on anything, to find the definition of his form outside that narrow, pale face and the terrible black depths of his eyes.

He smiled, revealing sharp, dingy teeth, too many teeth. His nose hooked down, thin and crooked like a stalactite in the center of his face.

He should have been another flat image, a film projected from a hole somewhere in the wall, as she'd thought the first time she saw him. But he wasn't, and she knew it. She felt him, felt the absence of humanity and conscience crawl over her skin and try to invade her body.

His hand materialized in front of him, stretching toward her. Not a gesture of supplication, but of threat. He was coming for her, and she could not escape."

Cover comment: Appropriately dark and futuristic. I like the colors, the partial model shot, and the scenery.

Book source: Owned.

1 comment:

  1. With an unlikable heroine (in the beginning at least) and a leisurely pace I'm not sure about this one. But since you'd read the next one it passes the test for me. I'll be checking it out!