Unholy Ghosts, by Stacia Kane

As I start thinking more about my next series, I find myself paying attention to what makes books stand out. Why does one fantasy hit big while another goes out of print and disappears?

This was in the back of my mind as I read Unholy Ghosts [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], by Stacia Kane (stacia_kane on LJ). From a distance, this looks like another urban fantasy, albeit with a cooler cover than most, but two things stood out as I started reading:

1. The setting. Urban fantasy, yes … but we’re talking about postapocalyptic urban fantasy.

2. The protagonist, Chess Putnam, is an unapologetic drug addict.

When the world changed and the dead rose, only the Church of Real Truth was able to control them.  Chess works as a debunker for the church, prosecuting those who falsely claim to be haunted, and dealing with the occasional real ghost. Her latest job puts her squarely in the sights of two rival drug dealers, a powerful ghost, and a conspiracy to destroy the church itself…

I admit, I struggled some with Chess’ character.  I grew up in the Nancy Reagan “Just say No!” years, so reading about a protagonist constantly scarfing pills and anything else she can find to give her that high … it’s distasteful.  Glancing through some reader reviews, I see I’m not alone in my discomfort.

But it also felt appropriate for the character, and for the world.  This is a dark, broken world.  The old religions have been destroyed, and the Church of Real Truth rules.  We’re shown some of the ruins of the old world, and what emerged feels rather dysfunctional … though Chess is our lens to this world, and she doesn’t strike me as the most reliable narrator, so I could be wrong.   (I’m hoping to see more of the world in future books, so that I can do a better job explaining why and what all feels dysfunctional to me.)

I do wish we’d learned a bit more about the Church and its employees.  We see much more of the drug dealers and enforcers than we do the Church folk, and partly as a result, the latter can come off as a little flat on occasion.  (Hopefully this is another area which will be explored more in the next books.)

It was a good book, from the very first (and awesome) opening line.  It definitely kept me turning the pages.  Kane takes risks with her writing, and even though I suspect those risks might turn some readers off, I think they resulted in a stronger, more interesting book.

So the lessons I’m taking from this one?  Take risks.  Be different.  Don’t be afraid to go there.

You can read an excerpt on Kane’s web site.  And for those of you who’ve read it, what did you think?