Friday, 6 August 2010

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane

Before I start, something I don't have to say very often on the blog - but just to let you know I received this book to review.

Unholy Ghosts is the first in the Downside Ghosts series and introduces us to the world of Chess Putnam a ghost hunter in the employ of The Church of Real Truth. In a world where the dead have risen (as ghosts) and attack the living, it's Chess's job to expose people who fake hauntings for compensation and to banish the real ghosts. Chess has other problems, she's a drug addict and owes her dealer a lot of money. He's willing to forgo the debt if she clears some ghosts from an unused airport, but it's not as simple as it sounds.

Before I started reading this I had some misgivings. Stories about addicts have two possible endings - the addict either kicks the habit or dies. But there has to be some growth, some change, in real life things can go on indefinitely but in fiction readers get bored. To be honest I really don't want to invest the time in a series where the protagonist dies at the end.

But overall I'm glad I put my concerns to one side and read the story. I was interested to see if Stacia Kane could make Chess a sympathetic heroine - I think you need to be able to understand or piece together why characters are the way they are. If you can't have sympathy then there needs to be something - a dark edge of humor for example. Would the reader understand why she is the way she is or would you be left wanting to figuratively slap her and tell her to get herself together.

I did find it to be a story of two parts. For the first 150 pages I found it harder going. Addicts tend to be rather tunnel vision in their thinking - I've had a fix, I'm having a fix, I will be having a fix. She owes money to her dealer, she's having to hide her habit from her employer, we get the feeling that something terrible has happened to her but we don't what it is. There's a reason that she's an addict.

The language and names of some of the characters takes a little getting used to. Church employees talk in complete sentences, characters who live in the Downside have weird names - Terrible, Bump, Brain and don't like to use the words - and, are, have, can etc.

On page 153 for the first time I empathise a little with Chess. We learn very little about her from her own thoughts even though it's written in tight third person. It's Terrible's (her drug dealer's enforcer) observations of her that allow us to see her better than she lets us. It's also through him - I think - that she starts to see herself in a different way, the way that he sees her. Terrible thinks she's brave, Terrible knows she'll solve the problem. She also has incredible chemistry with him. When he says (paraphrasing) that he lets some women do whatever they want to him. You can almost feel the heat coming off the book. He was my favourite character. It was from this point that I really got into the book.

It's also from this point that there's an increasing sense of paranoia and claustrophobia that was incredibly well written. There's a scene where she's running away from the bad guys but you're not 100% certain whether they're there or not. Is it in her head? Is it a result of the drugs? And Chess doesn't seem completely sure either. The sense that she's losing it is palpable. At certain points it felt like we were brushing closer to the horror genre than urban fantasy.

One of the characters says - It's like a little hell, this world - and that really encapsulates it for me. There's a beautiful quote by Christopher Marlowe that could have been written for Chess, to describe this world.
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, but where we are is Hell,
And where hell is there must we ever be.
One thing I must mention before I end the review which I didn't really appreciate until the end of the book is that I didn't have a perfectly clear picture of how the world worked. The city where Chess lives seems very isolated, like a little world of its own. When the people of this place die their ghosts get sent to the City of Dead which is underneath the church. But is there a City of the Dead for EACH city, or is this the only City of the Dead. What about if you're born in this city but move somewhere else, which City of the Dead do you end up in. Or after the apocalypse (when the ghosts roamed free on Earth for a week) is this all that remains of humanity?

I think if you like films like Dark City, Perfect Creature, Gabriel ((which I do :), also very insular, claustrophobic tales ), you know the ones - it's always night, it's always raining - then you will enjoy this book. If you like a darker, different tale this is one I'd recommend, just bear with the first 150 pages.

1 comment:

Sullivan McPig said...

I've been thinking about trying this series and you just brought me over. I'll put it on my wish list.