Unholy Ghosts is far from the ordinary Urban Fantasy fare. It really steps over the line into different territory and as such, was a pleasure to read, despite the fact that it is dark and gritty and had me squirming at times. It was action packed, well paced, funny and oh yeah, had no vampires or weres of any kind. It also had one of the most anti-hero heroes I have come across in a long time.
Chess Putnam is a witch working for the Church of Real Truth as a Debunker. When the Ghosts rose and wiped out a huge portion of the population, it was magic not faith that harnessed them and saved the world. Past religion is in ruins now that the new "Church" is in charge and it has sworn to protect the citizens of the world from the spirits that wish to do them harm. If Chess investigates a ghost report and determines it’s a hoax, she gets a nice hefty bonus. Unfortunately, she spends the majority of her income on her drug habit. That's right, Chess is a major druggie - I did mention that she was a severely flawed hero didn't I? Chess is no stereotypical, cookie-cutter asskicking protagonist. Instead, she is an extremely flawed young woman who makes bad decisions and then has to get herself out of the resulting mess. Chess doesn't consider herself a hero, in fact she's surprised when she realizes that other people think she's brave or powerful.
I have to admit, I had a hard time at first getting behind a drug-addicted hero. I was totally turned off everytime she popped a pill or snorted a line and kept waiting for some miraculous intervention that would allow her to see the error of her ways (Hey, just say No). This does not occur (thankfully) and Kane remains true to her character. Chess is just as addicted at the end of the story as she is in the beginning with even more access to her drug of choice than ever thanks to some wheeling and dealing. Of course, I still hold out hope that over the course of the series we'll see Chess work through her addiction but in such a way that the character loses none of her edge. Only time will tell.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Chess owes a huge debt to her drug dealer Bump. He offers her a way to work off what she owes. He wants to re-open an small abandoned airport for the purpose of flying in drugs but it seems some paranormal activity is causing him some problems. He can’t exactly call in the Church to check it out so he strong arms Chess into solving his ghost problem. Chess soon comes to realize that the ghost problem is worse than she thought when she discovers evidence of black magic on the scene, something that is forbidden by the Church. To make her problems even worse, a rival gang wants stop Bump from using the airport and they are willing to cut Chess a deal she might not be able to refuse to get her to flip sides. Chess is a resourceful girl and has had more than her fair share of hard knocks. She’ll have to figure a way to play both sides and stay alive.
The characters are vivid and even the secondary characters get in-depth treatment. I can’t say enough about the wonderful worldbuilding. Triumph City and The Church of the Real Truth are tangible and downright scary, gritty and dark. I guess that some readers, that are particularly religious, may find the whole premise somewhat offensive. And if you don't like to see the English language butchered you will HATE the way most of Chess' friends and peers talk. They basically all sound like grade three drop-outs. But after I got used to it, I felt it really added to the depth of the characters.
Unholy Ghosts is one of the better first books I have read in a long time. It's rich with detail, dark and gritty, and doesn't toe the line in any way shape or form. There is plenty of suspense, lots of action, some very interesting (and sometimes funny) magical ritual, a bit of romance (or something that vaguely passes as romance) and some real emotional ups and downs. Definitely worth checking out if you like a darker read. If you are looking for fluff, don't look here.