BOOK REVIEW: Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane

At this year’s SFX Weekender I attended the Ready, Steady, Flash panel where leading authors, including Stacia Kane, had five minutes to create fully formed stories based on a theme given by the host. Loving Stacia’s use of language throughout and hearing the now infamous Unicorn Sandwich flash piece, I decided to purchase her novel Unholy Ghosts and take my first foray into Urban Fantasy.

In Unholy Ghosts the dead have risen as ghosts and, with no Government in place, the Church of Real Truth is there to keep

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them in check. The Church is all-powerful and citizens are compensated if they are attacked by ghosts whilst any unscrupulous, fraudsters faking spectral visitations are debunked and imprisoned.

Our magic wielding heroine Chess Putnam, a Debunker for the Church, has a real talent for dealing with ghosts and a no-nonsense attitude to go with it. Stepping away from the norm, Chess is seriously flawed with a penchant for narcotics which sees her heavily indebted to local drug lord Bump who needs her to do a little job for him to pay off her obligation to him; a debt he has artificially inflated to keep her in hock to him. Ghosts are haunting an abandoned downtown airport he needs for his operations and Chess is going to solve this problem for him.

And that’s the set up, quite a nice one too, which sees Chess dragged into a dark world which she has no problem inhabiting. Accompanied by Terrible, Bump’s goon, she investigates the airport’s spooky goings on whilst trying to manage the demand of her Debunking work. Things slowly start to spiral out of her control with rival gangs getting

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involved and the unexpected appearance of the deadly Dreamthief spirit Ereshdiran. A mysterious sect is added to spice up the story and provide a villain to be unmasked.

Unholy Ghosts is good, it takes risks, it breaks from the safe ground without trying to be übercool. Chess is unapologetically addicted to drugs, popping pills with the least provocation and this is something I can live with; although I know this has put other readers off. Kane builds tension in the story with the threat of the sect and the more dangerous emotions running through her. At one point at least three suitors vie for her affections yet the story becomes more about the carnal than the romantic.

Saying that, though, Unholy Ghosts is not without its faults. There are a couple of issues with the book which I just cannot get past. Firstly, the story delivers a twist which, without providing any real spoilers, is signposted quite heavily to the point that when the reveal came it just confirmed what I already knew. This is something which I could have forgiven had it not been for my second problem.

One of Unholy Ghosts’ strengths is also its main weakness. Whilst the story is well written, with some superb world building, the character of Chess just doesn’t allow you to engage with her. Her personality flaws make her a hard character to love, or even care for; coming across as extremely self-interested. Whilst she needs to have a dark side, and I really like that in a character, I did want some spark of humanity to make me root for her. It is a shame as her unintentional sidekick Terrible is excellently written. Even though he is a vicious thug, he has some of the redeeming qualities which I wanted to see within our lead.

Overall some strong writing, a great concept and lots to draw you in but I just wanted to connect with Chess in a way which never presented itself leaving me feeling blasé come the finale.

Rating 3.5 out of 5
GS Reporter: Phil Ambler

Phil is a co-host on Scrolls, the podcast

for literary geekdom. Listen to it here on the Geek Syndicate Network.

You can also follow Phil on Twitter @phlambler for general book and writing banter.

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