It’s a risky move, I think, to make the main character of your novel a drug addict. A lot of people would go into the novel at least a little biased against the protagonist (depending on your views, of course) and wondering why they should be supporting such a character. This feeling can only get worse then as it’s realised that the supporting cast is much the same – including a drug dealer, his cotillion and a rival gang leader. But in Unholy Ghosts this actually works: it’s a rough and hard world, and this is reflected in its characters. But even with this clinging to the characters, permeating their thoughts and actions, they are still compelling enough to follow and support – and mentally yell at them for not going for the romantic option you see as the right one – even when perhaps they aren’t the most likable of people.
The world Chess and others inhabit is a hard one, dark and gritty, and fantastically put together. The ghosts in it are definitely not the Casper kind, and the mystery at the center of it is not a cozy one. This is a world where ghosts can kill and the Church dominates, and drugs offer a way to get through these difficult days. The rules of the ghosts and the forms of magic is utterly fascinating, and while I think a little more regarding the Church of Real Church within the actual story would have been nice, the epigraphs taken from The Book of Real Truth were a highlight. The little glimpses into The Book of Real Truth were fascinating and really helped give a little more insight into at least the beliefs in the background of Chess’s world.
Between the world-building and the mystery, I have a hard time choosing a favorite. Unholy Ghosts has incredible pacing, and each element of the mystery is unveiled at the perfect time to keep that. It’s dark and twisted, with more than its fair share of nastiness… it’s definitely a mystery that you want to see solved. Or in this case, the problem at the heart of it made right. And perhaps that is why Chess is likable, despite the drugs and the way she seems to be coming to pieces – like us, she is seeing something terribly wrong and wants to make it right.
Overall Unholy Ghosts is a roller-coaster urban fantasy novel, with a rough heroine in an even tougher world, and a fantastic supporting cast of characters. If you’re willing to give a protagonist like Chess a try (as I am aware there are people who will be turned off by the fact she is a drug addict), then I highly recommend it to any adult urban fantasy fans.