Saturday, August 28, 2010

Book Review - Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane



Over the last year I've gotten to know Stacia Kane a bit via the Absolute Write forum, Facebook, Twitter, and her website, all the usual social networking channels. However, I was very skeptical of urban fantasy. All the UF I looked at seemed the same - a stacked goth Mary Sue in black leather kicking ass with knives and magic. Whatever . . .

But, the buzz intrigued me about the three Downside Magic books from Stacia. I liked Stacia's voice and style in my interactions with her, could it be I would like her books as well?

I decided to start at the beginning with "Unholy Ghosts." Folks, this Clancy/King/Michener fan was hooked. She had me from "Had the man in front of her not already been dead, Chess probably would have tried to kill him."

Chess Putnam is a freewheeling witch with a monkey on her back. In a post-apoc world, she is employed by the Church of Real Truth, ostensibly hunting ghosts, but mostly cashing bonus checks for debunking them. Good work when you can get it. A dependable income and probably medical benefits. Her status, identified by her elaborate tattoos, gives her protected status in the rough and tumble world of Downside. She's safe from everything but her own dark side.

A debt to her drug dealer drags her into an off-the-books banishing. Let's just say that mayhem ensues . . .

A recap of the story isn't necessary. It's rollicking good fun. Don't analyze it, just roll with it. It's the character of Chess Putnam and the dystopian world-building that makes this book stand out in a crowded field.

I am a sucker for a well-crafted flawed and reluctant hero. Chess Putnam pops pills like breath mints and chooses men for their looks and utter inability to commit. Yet, on the flip side, her devotion to the church and its perceived safety reveals a softness and vulnerability to Chess. She looks tough, but it's really a brittle shell.

Stacia has evidently taken some heat for the casual drug use in the book. There is nothing casual about it. Chess is as haunted as the Chester Airport. The pills and thrill-seeking help her chase the demons away for a little while. The fact that I was practically screaming for her to put down the pills and get some sleep just shows that I bought into the character one-hundred-percent. Isn't that the point? If anybody is a walking just-say-no poster, it is Chess Putnam.

However, there is a core of steel and heroism to Chess. When the airport job grows well beyond the original deal with Bump, she risks everything to defend the church she believes in and to release a tortured soul.

Then she pops a couple of 'Cepts and runs off to romp with the sexy enigmatic Lex (one of the guys mother definitely warned you about). BLARG!!! I love it! Kudos to Ms. Kane for crafting a character that drove me crazy. I prefer that to her "coming to her senses" and checking into rehab (sorta like a goth Lindsay Lohan). Puh-leeze, if I want redemption, I'll watch the Hallmark Channel.

Next is the beautifully crafted post-apoc world. Stacia weaves in subtle references to contemporary society and pop culture to ground Chess's world to mine. The thought of the dead rising to slaughter the living is more disquieting when I can look around and imagine it happening here. Stacia's world-building rivals Stephen King's in "The Gunslinger."

The Church of Real Truth is a masterpiece. I love all the subtle pilgrim references - the wide hats, the buckled shoes, the caps, and the Goodys. Where pilgrims once staunchly and narrow-mindedly defended one flavor of truth, Stacia's now defend another. Brilliant and well-done.

This book is a winner and I can't wait to read the other two. I rate this one a full five-stars, two snaps up, and a bag of chips. Go get it now at Amazon!

2 comments:

Cindy Bailey said...

OMG! You have discovered what I already knew! I love her characters! Chessiebomb and Terrible! I have re-reead this series several times and fine a new quirk to admire every time! I thought that Chess's addiction would really put me off, but I find that it really adds to the layers of Chess, makes her a more *human* character!

Pennsylvania Book Chick said...

Excellent review. This series is one of the best things I've read in a while. The characters are multi-dimensional, the dialogue is spot on, and the plot lines are fast and furious. I sympathize with Chess, and her addiction doesn't detract from the story. There are reasons fueling her addiction. They seem to be the one constant, other than the church, in her life. Not that it's healthy, because it is so obviously not. I LOVE these books and can't wait until Book 4 is released.