So, this is not my usual kind of book - the whole "tattooed magic chick fighting magic things and having the occasional bit of hot sex with alpha males" genre leaves me cold. Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, whatever — the first and best was Buffy, the Vampire Slayer
and all the rest (the infinite iterations of Anita Blake) just kind of suck.Unholy Ghosts
doesn't suck. In fact, I quite liked it. Okay, there was an awful lot of genre troping. "Urban fantasy" is really a more appropriate label than PNR, since little of the main character's love life is romantic. Chess Putnam is a very tattoed, very magic chick, there is the obligatory sex scene with a bad boy and some making out with other bad boys, and it's all very goth-punk. But the setting is inventive and different, even if it does require a fair amount of suspension of disbelief (of course, so does any world where there are werewolves and vampires running around), and Chess is a pretty interesting character. She's neither a total bad-ass nor a wimp. She's smart and brave and usually gets herself out of trouble (though she does need a little help from her hulking street enforcer buddy Terrible now and then — yes, he's called Terrible), but she's also kind of a screw-up. Her biggest problem is that she's a pill-popping drug addict, but she's also got plenty of other issues: disconnected from people, defiant, a cynical, damaged attitude from growing up as a foster child in a pretty ugly system, and questionable taste in men.
In other words, she's got tons of baggage. The drug addiction was the most interesting aspect. There isn't any particular judgment passed on this flaw; Chess clearly knows that being addicted to pills is not in any way good for her, and it gets her into all kinds of trouble, but not once in the book does she ever think about trying to quit, or feel guilty about popping pills (sorry for herself, yeah, but not guilty), and she manages to be pretty functional despite her addiction. This is evidently a permanent part of her character, and the author is pretty brave to do that, I think, with no hint of "getting clean" being on Chess's agenda in the future.
Chess is a Debunker working for the Church of Truth in a weird post-apocalypic world where the dead rose and killed off much of the living population. The Church (apparently descended from a hermetic/practicing pagan group) used magic to banish them. Now the Church is a quasi-governmental organization responsible for protecting humanity from the murderous ghosts who go on killing sprees now and then. There is real magic, but no more religion (except for the Church); apparently, all over the world, people abandoned all the old religions when it was "proven" that there is no afterlife, that any spirits that live after death are stuck here and will try to kill you unless banished. I didn't really buy the idea of the entire world kicking thousands of years of religious tradition to the curb and cowering behind the skirts of a "Church of Truth" because they happened to have the one world-saving cure for ghosts, but roll with it, I don't buy vampires and werewolves staying secret or superheroes not radically altering history either, but I still read books like that.
Being a Debunker for the Church, Chess is a witch who knows how to summon and banish ghosts. Her dealer comes to her and tells her that he wants to reopen an old, abandoned airport to use for trafficking his drugs, except it seems to be haunted. Since "haunted" in this world has real, tangible, deadly meaning, he wants his pill-popping ghost-busting customer to deal with the problem for him. In getting dragged into this scheme, Chess finds herself being courted/bribed/threatened by a rival dealer who doesn't want the airport reopened, and then she stumbles upon some sort of black magic conspiracy involving human sacrifice and summoning really bad spirits, all connected to the airport.
The descriptions of magic and ghosts were quite effective and interesting. There was a lot of work put into the worldbuilding here, and a high degree of verisimilitude regarding the magic that Chess uses. (That is, it sounds a lot like how real magic would work if all that silly crap that pagans practice were real.) The bad guys were bad, and scary. The dialect used by the Downsiders is kind of annoying at first, but becomes mostly transparent. It's no Nadsat
, but it's consistent and easy to follow. The pacing was very well done. The author follows the basic principle: when in doubt, screw up the main character's life some more, so tension ramps up with every chapter until by the climax, I really was wondering how the hell Chess was going to get out of any of this.
Overall rating: 3.5 stars. A fun read, superior to most in this genre, and while I don't feel compelled to run out and read the rest of the series, I probably will pick up other books in the series for light entertainment when I am in the mood, which is a better reaction than I usually have to UF. Recommended for any UF fans, and worth investigating if you have some interest in urban fantasy but don't usually like the Anita Blake/Kitty Norville/Mercy Thompson-type heroines.