Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane


The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen and constantly attack the living. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Consequently, there are many false claims of hauntings from those hoping to profit. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully-tattooed witch and freewheeling Debunker and ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for nailing the human liars or banishing the wicked dead. But she’s keeping a dark secret from the Church: a little drug problem that’s landed her in hot and dangerous water.

Chess owes a murderous drug lord named Bump a lot of money. And Bump wants immediate payback. All Chess has to do is dispatch a very nasty species of undead from an old airport. But the job involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and crossing swords with enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust with 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.

It took me a while to get started on this particular book. Generally I'm not in the mood for post-apocalyptic settings in my reading even though I dig the hell out of them in movies. So, in the immortal words of Arlo Guthrie, I waited for it to come around again on the guitar. Once I did get started though it was a cover to cover session.

In a genre that's strayed amazingly far from its gritty, urban roots that attracted so many of us to it in the first place, this book is a dirty, greasy shadow of hope. There are no uber-sexy vampires, it's not a love story, and the main character is neither average Jane normal nor any sort of heroin. Life for Chess is ugly, painful, not guaranteed to work out well, and gives us a story that is everything an Urban Fantasy story should be. Almost. But let's give the rating before we get into that.

Rating: Awesome

By almost, I mostly mean there are two key things that I would have liked to have seen done differently or in more depth. If they had been, this book would have gotten a Fucking Awesome rating instead of just Awesome.

First up is the environment of Triumph-City. In Urban Fantasy the city is as important as the main character because it sets the background for nearly every scene in the story. One of the perils of making up your own city to base your stories in is you don't have the casual familiarity your readers have with say Chicago or New York. This means if you want your reader to be able see the used needles in the gutter and smell the bum in the doorway, you have a lot of extra work drawing them a mental picture. Unholy Ghosts didn't quite manage it for me but it is the first book in a series, so hopefully it will get fleshed out eventually.

Then we have the main character, Chess. I absolutely love that the author had enough guts to write an MC with a flaw as deep as drug addiction. Unfortunately, I didn't get the depth of despair or desperate urgency for escape that I'd hoped to see in such a wonderfully flawed character. I've got plenty of personal experience with this and I just didn't feel it quite ring true with Chess. Again though, not a flaw that can't be remedied in the coming books.

In closing, I guess what I'm trying to say is if shiny, happy vampires holding hands isn't what you read Urban Fantasy for, you will fucking love this book. Yeah, there's room for improvement but it's easily the second best book in the genre released this year. Changes by Jim Butcher of course being the best because Jim did the whole crossroads, sell your soul thing to write as well as he does.

~The Mighty Buzzard


Rebecca @ DSB said...

Greetings Mighty Buzzard,
I don't quite recall how I found my way to your blog today - it's like I had a few too many, blacked out, and woke up here - but I'm glad I did. You made laugh out loud several times, and I'll be back.

I've got this one in my pile, and you've given me hope that it's as good as everyone says. I've read too many blando books lately. I need a home run.

The Mighty Buzzard said...

No worries, that pretty much describes how I got here too. That and the bad influences of a pixie and a couple of vixens.

Worth noting that this is a semi-stealth book. You may start out with a meh and realize halfway through that you're really digging on it.

Rebecca @ DSB said...

Thanks for the heads up. I love the idea that this heroine has a deep, intrinsic flaw, like a drug addiction. Why don't more authors give their UF heroes something to battle inside as well as outside? Those are the kinds of stories that really suck me in.

Tiffany @ KindleVixen said...

Good review Buzz... I shall bump up my list. I am going to have to give up sleep or twitter soon.

ha. my word verification is "munch" - im totally like 12 and giggled.