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Book Review: Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane

Book Review: Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane (Downside Ghosts #1)

Format: paperback

First Published: May 25, 2010

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal,

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.


In 1997 the world changed. Earth was overrun with ghosts and it very nearly didn’t survive the attack. The Church of Truth stepped in. The Church is not one of God but rather rejects faith altogether and embraces Fact. Fact is Truth. In return for saving the world the Church requests “free domination over [the people’s] bodies, [their] property, and their soul[s] (The Book of Truth, Origins, Article 230).

Enter Chess, a Church Witch – a Debunker trained in the art of banishing ghosts. Armed with asafetida, a ectoplasmarker and the skull of a psychopomp she works for the Church to rid the world of ghosts. Chess has complete faith in the Church. They saved her when she needed it. She has complete faith in the Church… and in the pills she’s addicted to.

I’ve never read a novel where the main character is so completely dependant on their addiction before. Drugs are the source of most of Chess’ problems – if she’d not been indebt to Bump then she never would have been at the airport, never would have gotten involved with Lex who supplied her with more pills, and never needed to so desperately to take on more debunking cases just so she would be able to fund a long weekend in the pipe room and have the chance to Dream. Her addiction is substantial and ever present – both in the circumstances Chess finds herself in and also in her state of mind. She’s incredibly paranoid, insecure and easily terrified. I found her a very hard character to like. She frustrated me. I didn’t like her motivation behind her actions and at times I couldn’t follow her train of thought at all – and whilst this made me dislike her character it did add to the realism that she was a confused drug addict and made the world Kane created all the more real.

Whilst I didn’t warm to Chess in the slightest, I did find myself drawn to Terrible – Bump’s chief enforcer. At first glance he was just a scary hit man but the more I got to read about him the more complex I found him. He was a scarred and tattooed bad boy who was more than just a gangster – he’s self educated and somewhat chivalrous (opening doors car doors for ladies and what not). I liked his own personal code of honour and found him to be a protector who seems to be unshakable but is also somewhat insecure with regard to his intelligence and his appearance. I loved that he became Chess’ trusted friend and protector and potentially something more romantic.

The speech of the street people (Bump in particular) is something that took a little getting used to. For the first half of the book it was irritating and annoying. But as I got more involved with the book and the story I started to notice it less and less. The descriptions in this book were beautifully written. I could almost believe I was there in parts, smelling the rotten stench of the tunnels. It was incredibly vivid.

I’m glad I persevered with this novel. For the first half I was just trying to get into it but couldn’t. I nearly put it down a dozen times but stopped myself only because so many of my friends had recommended it so highly to me. I couldn’t stand Chess’ constant need for drugs or the street people’s speech. And I felt like although things were happening, it felt like nothing was really happening. But then, around chapter 21, I was interested. Interested in what would happen to Chess, what was happening with the Church, what was happening with Terrible. The novel really picks up in speed and the things that were bothering me for the first 50% stopped being so noticeable. I still didn’t care too much for Chess but I did want to know what happened next.

The first half of the novel was necessary to set the scene or the ending wouldn’t have been nearly so powerful to read but it just took too long to hook me. If you can manage to get half way into this book, I’d recommend reading to the end. I will definitely consider reading the next book in the series – I just hope the lead up isn’t so painful to endure.


3 out of 5

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Book Depository / Amazon / FishPond