Genre: urban fantasy
Target audience: adults
“And the living prayed to their gods and begged for rescue from the armies of the dead, and there was no answer. For there are no gods.”
—The Book of Truth, Origins, Article 12
Welcome to a kind of dystopic America with no God or gods but one Church of Real Truth – the only organization that can protect you against ghosts of the deceased which can appear out of nowhere and kill you. Cesaria Putnam also known as Chess is one of the Churchwitches who specializes in debunking – sending unruly ghosts to where they belong, using psychopomps. It is a dangerous job which doesn’t pay well but when you are an orphan coming from a seedy part of Triumph City such a position might be your only hope to survive and to forget; that and drugs of course.
Chess is into drugs big time – she keeps swallowing or sniffing all those Cepts, Nips and Pandas which help her to cope with the ugliness of her everyday life. Small wonder soon enough she becomes dependent on the local drug lord, Bump. Like any thug, Bump has his own plans concerning Chess - he wants to use her supernatural talents in order to open his own private airport which has been supposedly haunted. If Chess manages to tether the unruly ghosts, allegedly appearing at that place, and send them where they belong her debt will be paid in full and she will have a free access to Bump’s drugs. It seems to be a proposition you cannot refuse if you want to do business with Bump any longer.
Chess accompanied by Bump’s scary chief enforcer, Terrible, goes meekly to the said deserted airport only to discover that something more sinister than a ghost might be lurking there – she senses the traces of forbidden, black magic. Will she be strong enough to face it? Will it interfere with her day job? What about her forced deal with another drug lord, a dangerously handsome man called Alex, who doesn’t want Bump to have a private airport? Who can she trust and why Terrible, known for his ruthlessness, is being so kind all of a sudden?
What I liked:
I liked Chess – mainly because she thought and acted like a real, three-dimensional person not like a Disney princess. Yes, she made mistakes, yes, she was addicted to those wretched pills, yes, she lied and cheated and committed so many crimes, mainly against herself but you could understand her and see her problems. Of course you might argue that it was done so many times - a girl with difficult past trying to forget - but I still felt Chess was different, more insecure and edgy. What’s more, despite her blues she was sarcastic most of the time, never whining about her rather grim childhood and her demanding job (unless suffering from withdrawal of course ;p).. For example while dealing with a rich snob in a suburban neighbourhood she thinks to herself:
“If Mrs. Morton would stop verbally jacking off her husband and son, this would all be done so much more quickly but then Chess figured it was just about the only sex the woman got. ”
I really liked Terrible for roughly the same reasons plus a less than pretty face and his vile reputation. Surprisingly his actions and personality, which is being revealed so very slowly and with utmost care by the author, make him a very hot male specimen. That’s rare and it was beautifully done, I only hope it will continue. Of course he and Chess are at the beginning of a very bumpy road to true love, trust, commitment and comprehension but I hope they will reach their destination more or less unscathed.
Now the world building – it was original and clever. One and the only Church which exists and supplants others just because it can deal with the ghost problem is something that makes you think ‘danger’ even if you didn’t know anything else. The quotes from official ‘holly texts’, some funny, some slightly paranoiac, added to the feeling of one big dystopian accident waiting to happen. For example this:
“There is much humanity cannot comprehend. The Church comprehends for you.”
Creepy thought control? Welcome to the brave new world…What’s more the Church is one of the main employers as it hires people to fill a variety of positions. There are Elders, what we nowadays would call spiritual leaders, there are Goodys, some kind of helpers for more menial tasks like secretarial or librarian work, and there are Debunkers who need to be gifted with magical skills. Will anybody dare to fight such an organization? I truly hope so.
What I didn’t like:
The baddies could have been a little bit more complex, not just so relentlessly evil.I do hope the Church will be forced to face a bit of fair competition.
The street slang used by Bump and other Downsiders sometimes grated on my nerves. After a while all those ‘yay’, ‘aye’ ‘dig’ ‘wanna’, ‘watcha’ used indiscriminately in any sentence slowed down my reading and I didn’t want to slow down. Of course you might argue that it was a great language for the world of crime and vice and I agree – it was as dark and nasty as everything in the Downside. Still there were moments when I felt there was too much of it.
If you are into Urban Fantasy with truly original world building and a dynamic plot it is one of those books you should read. Add to that gritty, real-life, flawed characters and you get a series which might be addictive.I was very pleasantly surprised how much I liked it and now I want more.