Monday, May 31, 2010

Who Ya Gonna Call?

"What book surprised you recently?"

This is an easy one to answer: UNHOLY GHOSTS by Stacia Kane. Hands down. Before I dive into the "why's," here's the copy from the back cover:


The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah."

One more issue before I start up with my "why's" -- I have not yet finished reading the book. However, I can honestly say, it's one that needs to be read.

When I first read this description a few months ago after hearing about the book from Stacia Kane's Twitter feed, I knew I had to read it. The first reason being it's set in a sort of post-apocalyptic world in which the dead have risen. (Not like Night of the Living Dead risen, but more like Ghostbusters risen...minus the giant marshmallow man.) I've always had a soft spot for post-apoc fiction and this rang a lot of bells for me.

The second reason I wanted to read UNHOLY GHOSTS is that the protagonist, Chess, is a drug addict. While I don't condone the use of illegal substances (and neither does the author, if I understand her Twitter feed comments correctly), I thought the concept of a character with this big of a flaw being the central "good guy" for not only one book but a trilogy was worth a read. And I'm oh so happy I took the chance.

While I've read plenty of books in which the villains were using drugs, I think UNHOLY GHOSTS is the first I've read in which the protagonist is the addict. It's a unique twist that in Kane's world works to severely hamstring Chess and yet offers so much potential for character growth in the next two books. The world Kane has created is gritty, dark, and unvarnished of the normal spit-shine given to many worlds, even including some post-apoc fiction. The characters aren't fully heroes but neither are they villains. They are simply, in my mind, ordinary people trying to survive in extraordinary circumstances and whatever helps them survive the day is fair game. Chess's drug use is no exception.

I had much the same reaction to Chess in the beginning as I did to Jude in Joe Hill's HEART-SHAPED BOX. I liked her on one level -- she is a kick-ass kinda gal, as proven in the first exorcism scene -- but I also didn't want to fully like her because of her biggest flaw, the drugs. But Kane's writing has sucked me into this gritty world and I keep coming back to it. The more I read of Chess, the more I like her. Even though her drug usage is substantial, I must admit it's very realistic. Speaking as someone who has seen addicts both in and outside of treatment, Chess's need to get her next fix is believable, and I applaud Kane for taking on a potentially controversial subject matter and twisting it ever so deftly to create what I believe is a stand-out novel in a market filled with flawed characters.

I came to UNHOLY GHOSTS with a fairly high expectations based on the pre-release hype I'd heard. So far, it hasn't let me down...which is perhaps the biggest surprise of all.

Now go away. I'm want to finish reading. :)

-- Jeannie


Joshua Corin said...

1. Chess Putnam is an awesome name.

2. I felt exactly the same way about Jude in "Heart-Shaped Box." Have you read "Horns" yet?

Jeannie Holmes said...

1. Chess Putnam is a most awesome name, indeed. :-)

2. No, I haven't read HORNS yet, but it's in my TBR pile. I'm itching to get to it. Must finish UNHOLY GHOSTS first.

Gabi said...

I love the picture of the marshmallow man next to your post-apocalyptic reference. It's how I see the world after/if we're dumb enough to kill our own planet.

I'm also fascinated with a protagonist with a drug problem. Plenty of famous fictional dectectives with hard drinking, hard living lifestyles but drugs is an update I haven't seen yet.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Sounds fascinating! That's a tough flaw to make sympathetic too, so the writing must be terrific.

Let us know when you finish if it held up to the very end.

Jeannie Holmes said...

Gabi, I'm living in what can be called a post-apocalyptic area -- the Gulf Coast. I'd much rather deal with a giant marshmallow man. Mmmm...s'mores...

That was one facet that drew me to the book. It seemed like such a unique approach -- and totally believable in the world Kane's created -- that my curiosity wouldn't let me not read it.

Jeannie Holmes said...

Becky - The writing is excellent. Kane's even created her own "language" for many of the characters that I've heard referred to as "Downspeak" because they live in an area of Triumph City known as Downside. The amount of world building she's done is awesome. I'm really loving this book, and I will definitely let you know if it holds up to the end. (I think it will, but we'll see.)

Shane Gericke said...

Cool cover, too. I'm a sucker for catchy covers.

Jeannie, can you smell the oil slick? Erica Spindler lives outside New Orleans, and can smell it on the breeze. And that was right after it started. Probably a bezillion times worse now.

Jeannie Holmes said...

Shane - I love this cover. The other two books, UNHOLY MAGIC and CITY OF GHOSTS, are scheduled for release later this month and in July. How awesome is that?

No, I can't smell the oil here but I'm not close to the water either. Tar balls were washing ashore on Dauphin Island and other beaches a couple of weeks ago. Now they have slimy crude washing up and a huge underwater plume heading toward Mobile Bay, which is going to affect the shimpers, the oyster beds, and essentially kill the fishing industry.

To state it bluntly, the entire Gulf of Mexico and it's coast line from Louisiana to the Big Bend of Florida is utterly and completely FUBARed.