Why I Read It: Honestly, I wasn’t going to. Despite the slew of good reviews for this series, Unholy Ghosts didn’t click with me in the way I’d hoped. Yet it was utterly unique in its setting and how it treated its characters (especially in comparison to other urban fantasies I read) that when I saw the second book during the Borders close-out sale, I couldn’t resist. Thanks to Mount TBR and the Olympics, I finally got this one read. BTW: this is the last book I read while the Olympics aired, so if you’re tired of hearing me say that, rejoice! This was the last one!
The premise: ganked from BN.com: ENEMIES DON’T NEED TO BE ALIVE TO BE DEADLY.
For Chess Putnam, finding herself near-fatally poisoned by a con psychic and then stopping a murderous ghost is just another day on the job. As an agent of the Church of Real Truth, Chess must expose those looking to profit from the world’s unpleasant little poltergeist problem—humans filing false claims of hauntings—all while staving off any undead who really are looking for a kill. But Chess has been extra busy these days, coping with a new “celebrity” assignment while trying on her own time to help some desperate prostitutes.
Someone’s taking out the hookers of Downside in the most gruesome way, and Chess is sure the rumors that it’s the work of a ghost are way off base. But proving herself right means walking in the path of a maniac, not to mention standing between the two men in her life just as they—along with their ruthless employers—are moving closer to a catastrophic showdown. Someone is dealing in murder, sex, and the supernatural, and once again Chess finds herself right in the crossfire.
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. Well, nothing major. There’s some vague-ish spoilers, so if you want to stay safe, skip to “My Rating” and you’ll be just fine. Everyone else, onward.
Discussion: One of the things I was able to do with this read is simply marvel at the gritty, dirty, and fucked up world that Kane has created for this series. For starters, I like how Hell Week has essentially changed everything about the country as I know it. I keep wondering if Downside is simply a made-up city or one I already know but has been re-named due to the aftermath of Hell Week and the rise of the Church. Whatever the case is, I feel utterly absorbed in the world when I read, because the details are so sharp, and nothing is left to chance when it comes to world-building. Downside feels like a place I could visit, even if I didn’t want to.
Though one of the reasons I thought perhaps Downside might be a real place only renamed was the existence of the Cryin Man, whose murderous activities reminded me very much of Jack the Ripper.
I also marveled at the role of Church in the society. I can’t remember if this was referenced in the first book, but I loved how Hell Week essentially obliterated previous religions and there’s now just a CHURCH, one that pays tribute to those fallen religions of the past, absorbs some of their practices and terminology, and now simply acts like a government body. And of late, I’m finding myself more and more fascinated with the use of religion in fantasies and science fiction. I love it when it’s this fleshed out, when it feels this real. The way it’s a part of something I know but completely different. Something that’s utterly real and tangible to the characters, something they both love and fear, but something that doesn’t necessarily encroach on my view of the world. It might reinforce it, or give me a new way to think about an old concept, but it doesn’t seek to consume or offend the reader.
And now that I’m used to Chess, now that I know what to expect? I’m marveling at her too. She is SUCH a fucked up character, and I’ll be damned if she doesn’t stay true to her own fucked-up-ness while abiding by her own set of principles and while remaining, in her own weird, messed up way, a hero.
I love the confidence she has in her skills to do her job. She might duck and hide her head from the rest of her life and the bad, bad (oh dear god, it’s bad) bitter memories, but when it comes to her job, you see a certain confidence take over. Some of it might be drug-fueled, but she’s good at her job and she knows it, and that, despite the fact she’s a total addict and I wish she’d get clean, makes me admire her.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t even remotely want to be her, not in any sense of the imagination. She’s utterly different from anyone I know, and because of that, she’s fascinating, especially now that I know what to expect.
Needless to say, Unholy Magic was a far better, more cohesive reading experience for me than Unholy Ghosts. Despite reading the latter over a year ago, I retained quite a bit of that book’s events and world-building, and that memory was piqued appropriately with carefully well-placed reminders through-out the book. Kane’s a good writer, and it’s weird that I’ve read two of her books prior to this one but I’m just now realizing it.
Descriptions, for starters, really caught my eye. Page 13 has Chess giving herself an antidote for a poison she’d been given previously:
One quick stab, that was all it would take. She could do that, it would be easy. She’d barely feel it, right?
Not right. The freezing needle buried itself into her vein and when she shoved the plunger down, cold shot up her arm like a crack in ice.
I also loved the sections of Chess’ withdrawal. While on one hand it made me hope, temporarily, that this would be the push she needed to get clean, I was fascinated by the things her crash revealed. For starters, it made her sloppy on the job, made her miss clues. That was cool from the standpoint is that her strength suddenly is turned against her, you know? She’s suddenly no longer good at her job.
But then when it’s revealed why she takes drugs so often, what she’s trying to bury? Holy hell… I’m one of the first to bristle and get frustrated when a character, especially an urban fantasy heroine, has sexual abuse in her past, but the timing of this revelation, the specificity of it, combined with the fact I’ve read one and a half books of Chess being what she is without really having a solid sense of why, and combining THAT with the world she lives in now? It worked, and it worked well. I’m impressed that Kane went down such a dark path for her heroine, but frankly, the history is earned, if that makes sense. Maybe not, but I was horrified for Chess during her crash, by her memories and her sheer panic and physical reactions; so horrified that when Terrible came with drugs to get her back to normal, I was relieved. Which is fucked up, because didn’t I just want her to get off them? Yeah, that’s how effective the scene was.
Ah, Terrible. What fantastic chemistry he and Chess have, no matter what phase their relationship is in. And I still love him as a character, which meant this book really took be for quite the ride. Learning a bit about Terrible’s private life, seeing his discovery at Chess’ current squeeze and knowing what he thinks its meant, and then, of course, that end…. hell. I was sneaking peaks at the book summaries for the future installments just to see what happens next.
Kane knows how to right chemistry. She knows the difference between portraying her character falling in love and simply falling in bed and all the shades in between. And I admire that, a lot.
My Rating: 8 – Excellent
Considering that I was rather ambivalent about Unholy Ghosts, I’m rather floored that this book gripped me so well. I took my time reading it, which used to be the kiss of death when I read an urban fantasy, but Chess Putnam is a dark character living in a dark, dark, frighteningly gritty world. It’s utterly different than anything I’ve ever experienced, so taking the time to really absorb and understand all f the dynamics is really important. Kane knows how to zero in the relationships between people, and in this context, I’m not referring to TRU LUV so much as I’m referring to how Chess interacts with various people in her life and those interactions feel sharp and real and all of them different from each other. And the world-building… sheesh, it’s intense and epic. I’m definitely planning on continuing this series, and can easily recommend this to any reader who wants a dark, gritty urban fantasy with unique world-building, a heroine written from the third person POV, and some truly frakked up relationships and situations. The end of this installment was epic, and emotionally, this was quite the roller-coaster ride. Can’t wait to see what happens next.
Cover Commentary: I love this cover. Of the first three books, this one is by far my favorite. I love the cropping, the way the tattoos are featured, and I really love the choice of model: she’s the one I see in my head when I read the books. Honestly, if this book’s cover hadn’t been so awesome, I probably wouldn’t have continued the series.