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Friday, April 1, 2011

Review: Unholy Ghosts

Unholy GhostsTitle: Unholy Ghosts
Author: Stacia Kane
Page Count: 352 pages
Publisher: Del Ray
Genre: urban fantasy
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Chess Putnam spends her time doing one of two things: Debunking false ghosts for the Church of Real Truth, and managing/hiding/dealing/not dealing with her other life as a user of a variety of street drugs.  When these two things collide, multitasking doesn't look so bad by comparison.

I freely admit that I am probably the last person on earth to read the Downside series, and now that I've started I'm definitely sorry that I didn't get to these books sooner.  While there are certainly elements of the story that mean that this book won't have universal appeal (we'll get to those in a second) I found that there was a lot to enjoy about this book and I'm definitely planning on reading the other installments in the series.

First up, the Issue that greets you right in the beginning of the book: Chess's drug habit.  I've read a lot of reviews from folks that were repulsed, offended, or turned off by Chess and her drug use, which is present throughout the story.  And while it's true that this book does not take the Just Say No approach to drug use, in my opinion, the drugs and drug use served to illustrate clearly and vividly just how lonely Chess is all the time.  After a horrible childhood in foster care and the knowledge that only her usefulness as a Debunker kept her away from a life as a throwaway person in the Downside, a hodgepodge of street drugs are her only consistent companions; unsurprisingly, Chess doesn't really have a lot of social skills, a very good understanding of healthy relationships, or any real reason to think that tomorrow will be any better than today.  I feel like we as the audience can see the negative effects that the drugs have on her life because we are outside of her situation- Chess lives in a world of misery and pain, coupled with the twin anxieties of needing drugs because she's an addict without seeing a way that her life could be different and the knowledge that her proverbial ass is grass if her coworkers or superiors ever, ever find out she uses drugs.  I feel like I can safely say that that's not an existence many people would aspire to.  The point of this discussion is, if drug use by a character in a novel is something you truly as a reader cannot get past, then this series will not work for you.  If you're willing to consider that one story element in the context of all the other elements that make up a novel then read on, dear readers, read on.

Unholy Ghosts is set in the not-too-distant future where the existence of ghosts has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, as all of these spirits, who are homicidal to the extreme, invaded the world at once, killing everyone in their path, until the Church was able to finally banish them back to the domain where they were living.  Being the undisputed heavyweight champion of the worldsaving business means that the Church is the ultimate authority on all things spiritual- good, bad, or indifferent.  Consequently, the Church has offered a bounty to anyone who is legitimately being haunted by a ghost.  Bounties mean that crackpots come out of the woodwork, though, so it's the job of the Debunkers to determine who is legitimately being haunted and who is just out for money.  Victims of hauntings get the money; frauds get swift and severe punishment.

Being a representative of the ultimate spiritual authority on truth is an interesting job for a closet drug addict, but Chess is definitely gifted at what she does.  Her skill in this area comes in handy when her drug dealer of choice, Bump, decides to call in Chess's drug debt, with interest; her only way of ever hoping to pay back what she owes is to take on a side job for Bump, ridding a condemned airfield of ghosts so that Bump can have an easier time getting supplies of merchandise into the Downside.  Chess is working closely with Terrible, Bump's enforcer, and he's there ostensibly to make sure the job gets done.  It becomes clear pretty early on, though, that he's taking a very personal interest in Chess too.

Oh, Terrible.  I think Terrible is the best answer I can come up with for folks who can't seem to wrap their minds around Chess as the protagonist of this story- I've read lots of comments that Terrible gives people the warm fuzzies, to which I say- if an enforcer for a drug dealer, whose job it is to beat people up when they don't line up with the dealer's objectives, can have a silver lining, why can't Chess?  Hmm?  I'm not saying I don't like him or don't approve of him or anything like that; all I'm saying is that what's good for the gander should be good for the goose, ya know?

The level of detail in this book is intense- the drugs all have different names and effects, the Downsiders have their own slang that admittedly does take some time to get used to, and the history of the Church and how it came into its power and authority is woven through the story at the same time that the plot and conflict are moving forward.  You definitely have to pay attention while you're reading, but then, in my world a book that sucks you in and keeps you there is no hardship.

As tomorrow is latte and library day, I'm definitely looking forward to seeing if the second book in this series is available- I'll definitely be getting it if it is!

Overall Grade: A-
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