Sunday, June 27, 2010

unholy ghosts by stacia kane is fresh urban fantasy with a gritty, sideways feel

I loved, loved, loved this book. Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane is one of the few new urban fantasy novels I've read in a while. There's not a single vampire or werewolf to be seen and the characters are as conflicted, unfulfilled and damaged as any normal person.
Well, perhaps not exactly 'normal', but they're certainly not the 'holier-than-thou', angst-ridden teens or hormonally challenged desperately single women to be found in most of this genre's current crop of new authors.
In Kane's world, ghosts are real; and they're not very friendly. In fact, they're downright nasty. A couple of decades previously the dead had risen and only one organisation – the Church of the Real Truth – had managed to keep society together. Now America is a land where everyone knows what happens after you're dead, you turn into a spirit and go to the underworld, which isn't Hell and Jesus can't save you.
Instead you get people like Chess Putnam; she's a witch and she works for the Church. Yep, a complete reversal.
Since ghosts are real and can cause real damage, the Church will pay you a lot of money if a true haunting can be proven to have happened. It's Chess' job to sort the real from the fake and then banish the real ghost back to where they belong.
So far, so urban fantasy. But what makes Unholy Ghosts more interesting is that Chess isn't some boring, sweet, lovelorn sexy girl; she's a tattooed rocker with a taste for gangsters and a massive debt to her dealer hanging over her head.
Bump, the local gang leader, needs Chess to sort out a haunting of sorts. Work out if it's ghosts or the opposition, and Chess will clear her debt and be kept happy, so to speak.
Unfortunately Chess doesn't have a choice but to help out – she hasn't got the cash and the Church doesn't know about her personal vice. Before she knows it, Chess is caught up in nasty blood rituals, gang rivalries and an dangerous attraction to two, opposing gangsters.
Unholy Ghosts is the first in Kane's The Downside Ghosts series, which is great. I can't wait to read more of this gritty, sideways world that she's created. The character of Chess is reminiscent of Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, in that she's more 'real' than the usual fantasy female.
Chess isn't perfect, she carries her own demons, she's attracted to the wrong men and she's not averse to bending the rules – all things that make her a much more interesting character to read about.
Another of my favourite authors – also a pioneer in this genre like Hamilton – Charlaine Harris, has a quote on Kane's book: 'Gripping... Vivid characters and wonderful sense of pace'. And it's true.
Chess spins from one disaster to another, barely managing to keep it together, but somehow not giving up, nor becoming irritating. She's strong without being unapproachable and yet, still human in her reactions to the people around her.
Kane is a genuine find in the over-populated urban fantasy genre – she can only get better on presumes; thankfully there are more books written and more to come.

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane is published by Harper Voyager and is available from good books stores and online.


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