In the wake of the devastating "Haunted Week," when ghosts ran free and murdered at will, the Church of Real Truth was established as the only entity with enough power to effectively banish the rampaging souls. Now an employee of the Church, Chess Putnam is known as a Debunker. It's her job to track down the lingering ghosts that haunt the city and banish them for good. Basically she's a witch and she's got the tattoos to prove it. But Chess also has a serious drug problem, one that has her popping various pills just to make it through the day. Her addiction has also left her with a tidy little debt to the local supplier and scary Downside king Bump. When Bump offers to wipe her debt clear in exchange for banishing a ghost in an unused section of his territory, Chess has no option but to comply. It's either that or pay up (with money she doesn't have) or face the wrath of Bump's terrifying muscle, Terrible. So Chess agrees, knowing full well that extra-curricular use of her powers is an express no-no by the Church. Aided by the menacing Terrible, Chess begins an investigation that will unearth an evil ghost far more powerful than she ever imagined and a far-reaching conspiracy that could shake the tenuous foundation of a life she's built for herself.
For the first 50 pages or so, I seriously considered tucking Unholy Ghosts right back on the shelf. Despite a promising beginning and glowing reviews, I just couldn't bring myself to connect with a protagonist who was a self-admitted drug-addict. Even if she did have a pretty intriguing job as someone who banishes ghosts under the sanction of the Church of Real Truth (which really is a misnomer since it's actually more like a government than a church). I also wasn't finding the appeal of the whole dark and dirty underworld, Downside, where Chess makes her home. Then suddenly, I don't know what changed, but something sure clicked. Without warning, I found myself 100% behind Chess in the Believable Character Department. Her feelings of confusion and stress were coming across loud and clear and just as quickly, my estimation of her strength of character skyrocketed too. It also didn't hurt that I was utterly intrigued by her work for the Church as a Debunker. In other words: I was hooked. From that point on, the pages flew faster and faster as I was right there with Chess as she stumbled along, trying her best to keep from going under.
I honestly don't know how Stacia Kane managed to create such a flawed yet sympathetic character in Chess. On paper, she's a complete mess - someone you wouldn't want to go within a mile of. But in all honesty, once I was able to piece together her unpleasant history and get a better grip on the woman that is Chess, I was completely sold. I began to understand why she has turned to drugs in order to keep herself sane. I don't necessarily like that aspect of her personality, but I am very much sympathetic as to the why. Chess embodies such a unusual mix of fear and courage, vulnerability and strength, someone with a true strong moral code - but only on certain subjects.
There are so many reasons to explain my complete satisfaction with this novel. First off, the world building is superb. You've got the Church of Truth on one hand (remember - government not religion) keeping a clean face on the surface and then the seedy Downside with all its slums and shady characters on the other. As someone who straddles both these worlds, Chess walks a fine line in her associations. And that includes the mysterious yet terrifying Terrible. Their relationship is already so tangled and complicated that I can only hope that Chess and Terrible are able to establish some sort of trusting relationship in the future, because heaven knows he's an absolute treasure. I'm so happy to have stuck with Unholy Ghosts because it was a winner - and if the glowing reviews for Unholy Magic are anywhere near the truth, I'll be heading out tonight to pick it up for more Chess and Terrible.
series reading order:
~ Unholy Ghosts
~ Unholy Magic
~ City of Ghosts
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book source: my local library