Audiobook Review: Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Horror
Series: Downside Ghosts #1
Publisher: Del Ray (March 25, 2010)
Tiara’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Narrator: Bahni Turpin | Length: 11 hrs and 10 mins | Audiobook Publisher: Blackstone Audio (May 25, 2010) | Whispersync Ready: Yes
23 years before the start of this book, in the year 1997, ghosts massacred millions of people worldwide in an event that would become known as Haunted Week. The ghosts were eventually controlled and caged in a city for the dead by a group that would become known as the Church. While the Church shares many similarities with more radical religious beliefs, there is one notable exception. They teach that God/the gods do not exist, and they have outlawed all religion. They teach that only energy exists. They still follow a strict moral code, but the moral depravities of humankind are blamed on their own shortcomings and cannot be attributed to gods that do not exist. The tenants of the “faith” head each chapter with such gems as:
|“There is no sin, as the misguided and incorrect old religions would have people believe. There is crime, and there is punishment. There is right and wrong. But these are based on fact, and not belief.” —The Book of Truth, Veraxis, Article 56“|
Cesaria “Chess” Putman was a baby when Haunted Week occurred, and 23 years later, she’s employed by the Church as a debunker–known colloquially as a Churchwitch. Covered in tattoos of holy symbols, her job is to investigate hauntings. The Church pays people who have genuine hauntings money and rid their homes of ghosts. They feel it is the Church’s obligation. However, people who fake hauntings are punished. They send in people like Chess to find out whether a home is truly haunted or not and perform the necessary rituals if they are. Chess is good at her job, but Chess is also a drug addict with a pretty severe habit. She manages to function, but just barely. Desperation for money to pay the large sum she owes her drug dealer causes her to take on another case instead of waiting her turn for another to be assigned. She also accepts a side job from her dealer that he says will help her clear her debts, as well. It seems like Chess will be able to get things in order, but what is that saying about the best laid plans?
There were two things that factored in to my listening to this book. First, I wanted to listen to something by Bahni Turpin. She was highlighted in an audiobook newsletter I received and has a huge catalog of books she’s narrated. She did do an amazing job with this book. Granted, I did think her reading was a little “lighter” than I’d expect for such a dark book, but wow, her range. She owned every voice male and female. I was particularly impressed with the voice she did for a young boy in the book. It was absolutely phenomenal. Also, her command of the patois in this story was remarkable. Second, I chose this particular book, as narrated by Turpin, because of the unconventional heroine. I can’t say that I’ve ever read an Urban Fantasy or a speculative book period that featured a protagonist with a near-debilitating drug addiction. Chess is a likable character despite her addiction, but that made me want her to clean herself up even more, even though that isn’t something that she even considers during the course of this novel. Chess’ world is certainly intriguing. It’s a not-quite dystopian universe that is dark, grim, and morally reprehensible. Instead of living on Church grounds, mainly due to the habit she’s trying to hide, Chess resides among people who fear and despise debunkers. She’s a necessary evil. Everything about the world she lives in is ugly. Scores of homeless children, prostitutes, addicts, and thugs are part of Chess’ every day life. Brutality is ignored. “That’s not my business…” is mantra used often by characters. Every part of the city isn’t as grimy’s as Chess’ neighborhood, but we don’t spend much time in the “good” areas. Instead readers are treated to a patois, a mashup of Southern/Caribbean style parlance and people who encompass all shades of black, white, and gray.
This wouldn’t be an Urban Fantasy without some type of romance, and it comes in the form of two men–Terrible, an enforcer for Chess’ dealer, and Lex, a thug for the other big drug dealer in town. Her relationship with both men is complicated, and there isn’t much sweet about either. They move beyond the typical bad boy love interests into the realm of downright dangerous. You might even think they’re pretty irredeemable at first glance, but Kane manages to give them some humanity throughout the story. Terrible is explored far more than Lex and will likely be the love choice that sticks in the end. However, the lack of Lex’s exploration may be just because Chess isn’t around Lex nearly as much as Terrible. There’s a great deal of lust in these two relationships, and it was hard for me to really see them as romantic. Her relationship with Lex I still don’t see as being terribly romantic, even as I conceded that her relationship with Terrible was showing more signs of romance.
This novel did start a little slow for me. There were so many things going on, but there was something that just didn’t click for me until I neared the end of this book and really starting getting into the mystery. The lore is interesting with the Church, the heroine is unconventional, and there are lots of interesting pieces. This book is definitely one that will not be for every UF lover. The heroine’s addiction, the talks/scenes of abuse, and the violence can be triggering and upsetting. Still, I applaud Kane for writing something that really thumbs its nose at the trends.