Unholy Ghosts Publisher’s Summary
“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.”
The first steady Chess Putnam-shaped blip on my radar appeared while reading Michelle’s review of Unholy Ghosts. Prior to that, I vaguely recall considering this series, but it stalled at the maybe, perhaps later stage. Michelle’s reaction – to the three books that comprise the series to date actually, and I’m very thankful for having read what she had to say about all of the books, spoilers be damned, before taking the plunge – moved me to action. With the three books at hand, I settled in, ready and eager for something dark and decidedly different.
Chess is a drug addict. Her need for drugs – uppers, downers; smoked or swallowed – colors her decisions, walks her down a deceitful path, and determines who her “friends” are. The mistakes she makes, now, those can be laid at addiction’s door too, but it’s her past, traumatic and dogging each step she takes, that really corners the market on her innumerable – and occasionally downright cringe-worthy – aberrations. But there is a balance, and it comes in the form of a deep, true loyalty and love for her job as a Church sanctioned witch, responsible for debunking or exorcising ghosts from houses, businesses, and people’s lives. Whether or not Chess is sympathetic, or even likable, is up to the individual reader, and I’ve seen it go both ways, but I found her uniquely complicated, and her self-doubting struggle to survive was hook enough to keep me reading.
But the sun? It rose and set on Terrible. Thug. Enforcer. Brute squad. Terrible earned his name – and his place in drug pusher and lousy interior decorator Bump’s gang – with big, hard fists, methodical violence, and anything but idle threats. His scars, his rough-hewn, Neanderthal-reminiscent face, shut him out of the urban fantasy pretty boy pack. But one thing is certain: Terrible is all kinds of awesome. And that is key knowledge to have because as the summary suggests, Terrible is one of Chess’s love interests. I quite literally yearned for his appearance, devoured any scene that nudged them together in any fashion. Why? Because his reaction to Chess was anomalous. But on that point my lips are sealed, I won’t give up any details or instances, because Terrible is something of an experience. And, for me, he was one of the sweetest, most unexpected elements of the entire series.
At this point I could nod sagely and assure you that when it comes to character, that’s all you need to know. From my perspective, that’s true. I could have read an entire novel consisting solely of Chess and Terrible conversing. And kissing. But for brevity’s sake – which is a laugh because this is turning into quite the epic and I still have a ways to go – I’ll say no more about character except to point out that no one shoots rainbows from their trigger finger, cavorts with cute liddle puppies, or helps grandmother cross the street. These are tough people, pushing their own agendas; cheating, stealing, or clawing to hold their place and scrape by.
When I began reading Unholy Ghosts, the first thing that smacked me in the face wasn’t the magic system, or the pervasively dark atmosphere, but the dialect. It’s like an older, dirtied up Huck Finn taught the inhabitants of Triumph City to speak even more grammatically incorrect than he did on his best day. It’s not that hard to understand; just don’t beat yourself up – or be surprised – if you have to read an incomplete sentence twice to get its meaning. (There are exceptions: those who operate in or around the Church have a solid grasp on “proper” English.) The dialect is gritty, feels true to character, and is just one example of how thoroughly Stacia Kane built this world.
Unholy Ghosts is a strong introduction, which is a good thing because the second book, Unholy Magic, is going to punch you in the face and leave you to bleed in a foul-smelling puddle of mixed origin on the street.
Unholy Magic Publisher’s Summary
“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.”
Each book has its own mystery thread, or threads as the case might be, that Chess must unravel to live – and to get high or zone out – another day. Due to the often dank, decrepit, or questionable setting and the anti-hero, live by your own code character of the people that populate the streets, I found myself applying a noir-ish sensibility to Chess’s sleuthing. The almost indescribable tenor of noir novels has always fit me like a glove, and applying it to this series was a great help because, I won’t lie, there were moments when the mystery-solving dragged on the plot and slowed the pace. Enough to make your eye want to wander to the corner, catching a glimpse of another book sitting there on the coffee table, sofa arm, or book shelf, but not enough to make you – me – actually put it down. When that happened, I visualized everything in black and white, threw a rumpled trench coat that Chess wouldn’t own over her shoulders, and kept on. It worked.
But at this point, what did it matter? I wasn’t reading for the mystery, or the genuinely interesting bits of ghost lore and magic, or to see what garish design choice Bump was going to inflict on the world next. I was living for Chess and Terrible. Having read Michelle’s review, I was prepared to be worked over by what transpires between them in Unholy Ghosts.
And that’s why I needed City of Ghosts in my hands, being pored over by my eyes at an unholy rate of speed, as soon as I put Unholy Ghosts down.
City of Ghosts Publisher’s Summary
“Chess Putnam has a lot on her plate. Mangled human corpses have started to show up on the streets of Downside, and Chess’s bosses at the Church of Real Truth have ordered her to team up with the ultra-powerful Black Squad agency to crack the grisly case.
Chess is under a binding spell that threatens death if she talks about the investigation, but the city’s most notorious crime boss—and Chess’s drug dealer—gets wind of her new assignment and insists on being kept informed. If that isn’t bad enough, a sinister street vendor appears to have information Chess needs. Only he’s not telling what he knows, or what it all has to do with the vast underground City of Eternity.
Now Chess will have to navigate killer wraiths, First Elders, and a lot of seriously nasty magic—all while coping with some not-so-small issues of her own. And the only man Chess can trust to help her through it all has every reason to want her dead.”
Pushing through the backlash that whips through City of Ghosts is hard, this side of painful. But there’s a definite payoff.
First, there is genuine, honest-to-goodness character development going on. Chess is cognizant of a few hefty mistakes she made; instead of ducking her head in the sand, or zoning out the pain until she can’t think, she untangles the motivation behind her decisions, stiffens her spine and opts to do something about it. Parcel out that sentence into individual actions and, forgetting the rest, just one was a momentous step for Chess.
The mystery in this installment was solid, complete with red herrings, and a nice if somewhat predictable twist. Chess’s work for the Church is more defined, her past is laid out like a three quarters complete deck of cards, and the reader finally gets a strong sense of just what Chess is capable of. Her potential.
And then there’s Terrible. To quote Chess, “Words were inadequate.” But I’ve got three anyway: He’s worth it.
This series may not be for everyone. It’s not light or fluffy or even always entertaining. Sometimes it’s hard and sluggish. But I’m glad I read it, and think I may have the tiniest inkling how Chess felt without her pills as I wait on the release of Sacrificial Magic.