This book benefits from a compelling story, as well as a unique and fascinating mythology...it's just too bad that the Unholy Ghosts that haunt the city of Downside are far more interesting than the people who are trying to stop them!
Chess Putnam is an ordained Debunker for the all-powerful Church of Real Truth. On a good day, she receives a generous bonus for proving someone is faking a haunting in order to extort money from the Church. On a bad day, the haunting turns out to be real, and Chess is charged with exorcising the ghost. Now Chess is facing her worst day ever. Her secret drug habit has gotten so out of control, she now owes $15,000 to a ruthless supplier. The only way out of her debt is to clean up a haunted airport for her dealer...which would land her in trouble with yet another dangerous drug lord. Add to that the supernatural entity that is stalking her at every turn...something more powerful than anything she has ever encountered. If Chess isn't careful, she just may wind up being the next ghost to haunt Downside...
For me, the two most important elements of any book are the story and the characters, and the story within Unholy Ghosts
deserves five stars easily! I absolutely loved the rich history of Downside and the Church of Real Truth. In this alternate history, everyone became disillusioned with all forms of government and religion after they were unable to prevent a ghostly invasion from wiping out one-third of the world's population. Only the Church of Real Truth was able to vanquish the evil ghosts, and as a result, the Church is now firmly in control. This is already an intriguing concept, and Stacia Kane capitalizes on it by throwing in so many extra details. I loved how every chapter started with a quote from the Church of Truth's various propaganda. I was fascinated by some of the more bizarre elements of the Church, like how the elders all dressed like modern-day pilgrims.
In addition to an enthralling backstory, Chess Putnam's quest to learn who has been practicing forbidden black magic rituals is exciting as well. The story moves at a very fast pace, and while the book may be found on the fantasy shelves, Stacia Kane proves she can stand toe to toe with just about any horror writer as well. The supernatural elements in this book are nothing short of thrilling, where every type of ghost has their own nuances, and Kane expertly blends traditional ghost lore with her own unique ideas. I would love to go into more detail about some of the more original ideas that blew me away, but these things are better left to the imagination, and Kane's imagination is much more fun to experience firsthand!
So...does it seem strange that I'm lavishing so much praise on a book when I only gave it three stars? Well, now we come to the other all-important element, and while Kane succeeds brilliantly in giving us a compelling story, she fails miserably in making the characters compelling as well. It's no exaggeration when I say I pretty much hated every single main character in the book! Granted, some characters were supposed to be annoying, like Chess's creepy drug-dealer Bump and her whiny fellow Debunker Doyle. But even the characters we were supposed to be rooting for are unpleasant to read about, especially Chess herself! In truth, I was intrigued when I first heard that the lead character was a drug addict, as it was a rather untraditional approach, but the biggest problem with Chess is that her vices are used as a substitute for any type of depth. She doesn't display much compassion, personality, or wit, just about anything Chess says or does comes back to drugs somehow! It's like the little kid who discovers the F-word for the first time and thinks all he has to do is keep saying it to make people laugh...when the author feels the need to reference Chess's drug habit on just about every page, it loses it's shock value and just becomes dull and repetitive after a while.
There was another reason Chess didn't work for me, and that's because she doesn't really do a whole lot in the book. I like my urban-fantasy heroines to be strong, formidable and charismatic. Unfortunately, Chess often feels like a supporting player in her own book! She very rarely solves anything herself, instead her answer to everything is either to pop a pill or let some man (usually Bump's brutal enforcer Trouble) come to her rescue. Silly me, when I heard the book starred a ghost hunter with magical abilities, I just assumed she would be a force to be reckoned with, but Chess only has two moments in the entire book where she seems capable of handling something herself, and she manages to botch even one of those up! Honestly, Chess is such a cliched damsel-in-distress at times, I half-expected to see Snidely Whiplash tying her to train tracks at some point!
So, Unholy Ghosts
features a story worth reading, but no one worth reading about. Still, Stacia Kane did impress me with her brilliant imagination and her ability to write spine-tingling horror, so I would still be willing to give the Downside Ghosts series another chance.