Unholy Ghosts (Chess Putnam #1) by Stacia Kane

Released: May 25, 2010
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Pages: 346
Publisher: Del Ray
ISBN-13: 978-0-345-51557-5

Unholy Ghosts is Stacia Kane‘s second series but my first time reading her work. Reviews online have generally been positive and the book has been blurbed by authors I enjoy, like Charlaine Harris and Ann Aguirre, plus I was intrigued by the basic premise.

Chess Putnam lives in a dystopic world where ghosts are very real and very dangerous. The world is run by the Church of Real Truth, an organization that came to power after the government fell and the Church squashed the ghost problem. Since the Church offers compensation to people being harassed by the dead, many people put in claims saying their homes are haunted and it’s Chess’ job as a Debunker to figure out if they’re scamming or telling the truth. (It’s usually lies, which is good for Chess’ pockebook since she gets a bonus for finding scams. Which is good since she’s a drug addict in addition to being a Church witch.) This drug addition — which the Church knows nothing about — has put her in debt with a dude named Bump, and Bump wants Chess to clear some ghosts off an abandoned airfield so he calls in her marker knowing she can’t pay it off. Unfortunately, other folks have been using the airport for the blackest of magic and Chess gets pulled into the middle of a situation involving betrayal, human sacrifice, secret meetings, and attractions to both Bump’s enforcer, Terrible, and Bump’s rival, Lex.

It’s a dilly of a pickle.

There are so many reasons why I couldn’t put this book down, even when it was 2:30 in the morning and I had to be up fiendishly early the next day for work. I just could not stop reading Unholy Ghosts. Right from the first page, the reader’s thrown into this dark new world and there’s so much to absorb — the world is different and tangibly dark, there are so many layers in society, and Chess is such an interesting protagonist. I think it’s a really brave choice on Stacia Kane’s part to make Chess a drug addict. Most of the books you read have a flawed protagonist but drug addiction takes it one step further. Chess is stubborn, tough, and feisty, like most urban fantasy heroines, but she’s also got a major problem that gets her into trouble. However, the author doesn’t make a big deal out of it, which is what I found so surprising. Chess has this addiction but it’s just another facet of her character, as well as the impetus that gets the story rolling. There’s no judgment about her drug use (from those who know about it), there’s no self-judgment from Chess. Having a heroine on drugs (haha) and making no bones about it is a bold choice and one I wasn’t sure I was going to like when I started reading. In the end, I loved Chess because she’s so real but her casual drug use really struck me, probably because we don’t see a lot of that in the genre.

Another thing that I really liked was the dialogue in the story. Lots of “ayes” and a different speech rhythm helped establish that we are definitely not in our world anymore. In some ways it was a little jarring since it was so different from the narrative voice but I enjoyed it once I got used to it.

Other great aspects of this novel…there were interesting characters and a really unique mythology that I’m eager to explore in the next novel, Unholy Magic. The main storyline just pulls you along and you need to know what’s going to happen next, which is, to my mind, a hallmark of a wonderful book. Stacia Kane leaves off in a way that made me want to read the next book so badly but I’m not starting it unless I’m sure I have a big chunk of time since it will probably just as addictive as Unholy Ghosts.

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