Ted Nolan <tednolan>
2020-03-21 20:01:58 UTC
022 Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts) by Stacia Kane
Wow, this was a great book! And unexpectedly so..
Suppose that sometime in the 1990s, the dead came back and the
ghosts killed three-fourths of the worlds population. The government
could do nothing, the military could do nothing, and the ghosts had
no respect for the holy places or rites of any religion. *Almost*
any religion. A small, fringe cult called "The Church of the Truth"
had been predicting such a thing for years, and had worked at
codifying the rules of magic. When the time came, the Church was
ready, and after a hellish week ("Haunted Week") they were able to
banish the ghosts to the "City of Eternity".
Flash forward 20 years, and the Church of the Truth has replaced
the discredited governments and religions, serving as both. They
stay in power through their demonstrated ability to control the
ghosts, and the threat that anyone trying to overthrow the Church
risks releasing the ghosts again.
Chess Putnam is a Church witch and "debunker". Since the Church
accepts responsibility for controlling ghosts, it pays a penalty
for any which escape (or were never caught in the first wave) and
which take to haunting. Since the penalty is fairly substantial,
many people try to fake hauntings to collect from the Church.
Chess's job is to "debunk" such fake hauntings, or, for the few
that prove real, to banish the ghost involved.
Chess, an orphan like very many after Haunted Week, is the product
of a hellish upbringing in a series of foster homes where the best
she suffered was neglect and the worst was sexual abuse from multiple
foster parents of both genders. Passing the tests for Church
training could have been her ticket out, but she has many issues,
self-esteem and other that have led her to the life of a functioning
The plot is kicked into motion, when the drug lord, Bump, to whom
Chess owes a good bit of money, plans to add to his supply sources
by landing planes at an old disused municipal airport. Unfortunately,
it seems to be haunted, and he will clear Chess's debt if she either
debunks the haunting or banishes the ghosts.
This book was a total surprise to me. My previous experience with
Stacia Kane was with her _Personal Demons_ series of books. I
considered the first lackluster and romance-y and the second I could
not recall a day after finishing it. In point of fact, I was not
planning to read a Kane book again, and it was pretty much chance
that I read this one. I was in a book-buying mood and already had
half a dozen in my arms. The endorsements looked promising, and I
read the back cover before really noticing who it was by. Even
after buying it, it was not near the top of my stack, but I needed
a pocket sized book to carry with me, and it was sitting on top of
several trade-paperback sized ones.
This book is so much better than _Personal Demons_ and follow-up
that it's hard to believe the same author wrote it. It has the
same third person point of view, unusual in Urban Fantasy as those
do, but the similarities end there. While I never warmed to the
Megan Chase character in the PD books, and never really bought that
she (or Kane) knew anything about therapy, Chess is an absolutely
fantastic character. Drug-addled but determined, she runs the race
through her unbelievably screwed-up personal life and to the end-goal
of banishing a very dangerous ghost and maybe stopping a revolution
fueled only by sheer force of will (and plenty of "speed").
In a book of this sort you expect that at some point, the heroine
will shake herself up, get clean, and *then* solve her larger
problems, but Chess *enjoys* her addictions so much that that never
even occurs to her. (She even stops in terrifying escape through
underground tunnels to pick up a bag of drugs from an old corpse,
enthused when she finds drugs now banned even from medical use).
In fact, it seems that everybody she deals with outside the Church
is an addict of one sort or another, including an old WWII vet who
apparently stayed so high all the time that he forgot to die. During
her episodes of paranoia or babbling, you want to grab her and shake
some sense into her, but somehow she stays endearing all the same.
The main secondary character, "Terrible", the drug lord's enforcer
is a real find too, a man who is more than what he seems, and perhaps
sees more in Chess than she thinks is there.
I was left wanting much more when I finished this book, as Kane has
left a lot of the world to be explored, as well as any resolution
to the tangled web of Chess's life.
For one thing, since Chess lives outside the Church housing by
choice, what we see of the world is skewed by her lowlife environment,
so it's hard to say exactly what the world situation is. We know
that there are still optometrists and they still go to conventions,
but it would seem that a large part of society lives outside the
norms of 21st century civilization. How large a part remains to
For another, there is the Church. As portrayed in this first book,
it's an ambiguous institution. We know its members and hierarchy
are human with various petty weaknesses as well as strengths, but
as a whole it's enigmatic. Generally in a story like this, (and
especially since it does seem to be trying to control access to
history to some extent) you would expect it to be corrupt to the
core, but if there is any indication of this we have yet to see it.
For a third, there is the Ghosts and the City of Eternity. Why did
ghosts suddenly turn lethal after millenia? What do they want?
What do they tell to Church liasers?
All reviews are subjective, and to me a Five-Star rating is how
much I *enjoyed* the book -- It doesn't imply perfection (or there
could only be one Five Star book ever in that case..). There are
a few minor flaws in _Unholy Ghosts_ that I'll just note in passing.
It's a little unconvincing that people would abandon their old
religions just because they couldn't protect them from the ghosts.
In particular, it's hard to imagine Jews giving up Judaism just
because it didn't stop Bad Things from happening to them. It may
be that some of what we are told is "Church of the Truth" spin, but
otherwise it doesn't totally convince.
While the street patois used by Chess's demi-monde friends and
enemies is well done, and interesting, it's hard to explain where
it came from given the relatively short period of time from our
society to theirs.
Finally, it's hard to believe how many drugs Chess does without
wrecking her body in fundamental ways. I don't know any drug
addicts, but I have a hard time believing *anyone* could keep it
together as well as she does (which, granted, is not always *that*
well), and still have all her teeth, work a sometimes demanding job
and still be considered attractive. It's just something you have
to buy into to make the book work, and for me it was well worth it.