First in the urban fantasy series, Downside, Chess’ neighborhood which is set in an alternate Earth in which current religions of all sorts have been set aside, belief systems destroyed with the exposure of what truly happens in the afterlife. Truths revealed in Haunted Week back in 1997 when ghosts rose up from their graves and mowed down two-thirds of the world’s living population, stealing their lives. Stopped by one group, the Church of Real Truth wielding magic.
The Downside’s Church now promises to shield humanity from the ghosts’ malevolence in return for their complete devotion…and their money. If anyone doesn’t like how the Church spends that money, well, there are plenty of ghosts out there the Church could let out… “Facts are Truth.”
Some thirty years later, people request the Church to come to their home and get rid of ghosts who are haunting them. For their “inconvenience”, the homeowners receive a $50,000 bonus from the Church. If there really is a ghost. If a Debunker can prove the homeowners are faking it, they receive a debunking bonus.
Bummed over the loss of her bonus, Chess is not happy about not being able to pay Bump, her dealer, the $3 or $4,000 she owes him but isn’t too worried as she’s owed that much before so we can imagine her shock when Bump claims she actually owes him $15 grand…what with interest and sh*t. Turns out Bump has a ghostly exorcism he needs done to expand his drug dealing operations…and his enforcer, Terrible, is gonna “help” Chess out.
But, when they do explore the old airfield, Chess uncovers a lot more than just a bunch of ghosts that need bustin’. Someone, or someones, have stolen Slipknot’s life, using it to power an evil entity which Chess must uncover and release his spirit. Just as soon as she finds out what the symbols on the copper amulet she recovered mean.
In the meantime, Chess receives another ghost assignment and all the signs point to it being false just not the right kind of false. There are indications throughout the Morton home that this family somehow is connected to Slipknot’s soul’s enslavement. Additional clues connect it to the nightmares and sleeplessness plaguing other Debunkers.
Just to complicate life, it seems a rival of Bump’s isn’t too keen on Chess completing this exorcism when Lex and his boys kidnap Chess. So now Chess walks a very thin line balancing her obligations to Terrible, Lex, and the Church. Using Terrible to uncover the amulet’s secrets. Discovering the connections between the attacks on her, the soul enslavement of Slipknot, and why people are plagued with sleeplessness and nightmares.
Orphaned at a young age, Cesaria has mostly experienced the worst of the foster care system so she when the Church discovers her talent and takes over her care, Chess is grateful and loyal when she becomes a Debunker within the Church performing magic rituals to exorcise ghosts and save mankind. Unfortunately, the drugs habit she picked up as a child to help her ignore the abuse she suffered is still with her.
Terrible is an enforcer for Bump, a pimp and drug dealer from whom Chess gets most of her drugs. Terrible has a nasty rep in Downside; no one will cross him, no one refuses him. Lex is part of a Cantonese gang led by Slobag who controls another section of the city, who first kidnaps then comes to Chess’ rescue.
Agnew Doyle is a mouthy Debunker with whom Chess previously had a relationship while Randy Duncan is an inept Debunker whom everyone tolerates.
The Grand Elder and various levels of Elders are the priests with the Goodys handling the secretarial details. The Debunkers either send the ghost on or prove a lie while the Liaisers served as messengers between the City of Eternity and the living world. The Enforcers (I think they are also referred to as the Black Squad) act as the policing division investigating those who fall afoul of Church rules and finding those who rebel.
The Lamaru are a group in opposition to the Church of Real Truth, their aim is simply power. Power for them. Control. Adulation.
A very interesting take on religion. I wonder if today’s religions would take a hit if ever someone proved the truth of life after death. I must confess I don’t like Chess’ world. Part of it is due to Chess’ heavy reliance on drugs and her choice of neighborhood—one of the more insalubrious ones. We spend more time in dives, drug dens, and terrifying neighborhoods than we do in more peaceful, clean ones.
The dialog is fascinating setting the scene for us, building a truly changed world. I don’t know how Kane manages so many different styles of conversation—Bump’s dialog is especially intriguing! I found myself reading it over and over for the feel, the flavor…and attempting to understand it! Terrible and Lex have a similar although still individual dialect that will slow you down. Between Kane’s settings and the dialog, she sets a most disconcerting atmosphere for Unholy Ghosts.
I can’t wait to read Unholy Magic next.
Interesting title, Unholy Ghosts. There are several possibilities for the “unholy” aspect including the view that those ghosts aren’t that holy with their bloodlust for taking human lives. Or that the Church no longer accepts the old belief of holiness but one of truth instead for Facts are Truth.