Very rarely do I gobble up a series like I have Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series. Every book built upon the last, creating a more richer and fuller world. Chess Putnam is a debunker for the Church of Real Truth. As a debunker, it is Chess Putnam’s job to uncover whatever concoctions people have created to try and fool The Church into believing that they are haunted by a ghost. While ghosts do exist, most of them have already been banished, so any real haunting means the person haunted will be paid fifty thousand dollars by the Church. But if Chess can figure out how they are faking the haunting and debunk the ghostly intrusion she gets a bonus. Chess lives in Downside, a seedy neighborhood of Triumph City (what seems to have previously been known as New York City). She claims lives there instead of on Church grounds to understand the people, but really she’s keeping a large and dangerous secret from her employers, Chess is a drug addict. Every minute of her day revolves around her next dose, her uppers and her downers, where she can score some more, and whether anyone can ever love her even though she can’t seem to give up popping her pills. As an anti-hero protagonist, Chess Putnam will exasperate you, frustrate you, and in the end you will fall in love with her.
In Unholy Magic, prostitutes are turning up dead, on both sides of the drug war divide. As her dealer’s Churchwitch, Chess is pressed into service and forced to keep the possible ghost hauntings a secret from her bosses. Working with her dealer’s all around right hand man, Terrible, Chess must figure out who is killing the hookers without getting killed herself. Added to the mix of her troubles is that whoever is killing the prostitutes is using sex magic, which begins to affect Chess and the two men in her life, Lex and Terrible. Lex and Terrible are from two different lines in the drug war, and her friendship with one could cost her friendship with the other. Plus Chess has been given a “celebrity” haunting by The Church, which turns out to be just as dangerous a game as hunting down a maniac hooker killer.
I love Chess, I love every single one of her flaws. I love that she doesn’t wear leather, that she is smart and capable, but her addiction lands her in hot water more than a time or two. I was excited from the beginning to see where her friendship with Terrible would go. I am a great predictor of long term relationships (except for my own self) and I just new that this “friendship” was going to become more. But there was no way to foresee how Kane would set that story up, tear it down, and reset it. The build up is gradual and in the way of lasting relationships, I hope, built on something more than mutual attraction. But of course Lex poses a complication, especially as Chess can’t seem to stay away from the things and people that are bad for her. I admit to having all of the books in my possession at one time and flipping to the very end to know how the relationships all turned out, because it was torturous to read all of Chess’ mistakes.
Please don’t do this. Know that the journey Chess takes is one worth savoring and going through with her. While I don’t regret looking ahead, I do wish I had just known to sit back and wait it out. It will be totally be worth it.
The magic in this book is more complicated, and darker, and scarier, and more wonderful. Not only does Kane have a great set of complex characters who earn sympathy as often as disgust, but her world building and magical universe is just as complicated and wonderful. The politics of The Church, its employees, the scammers, and the people trying to survive is a Topsy Turvy yellow brick road, that is as hard for Chess to navigate as Dorothy in Oz or Alice in Wonderland. Chess is not an easy character to like, she doesn’t make the decisions for herself that I wish she would, but because of Kane’s writing, I couldn’t help but fall in love. Very few author’s are able to express the inner most turmoil emotions of their characters without it sounding like exposition. But Kane manages to explain Chess’ feelings, leaving the reader with an understanding of Chess’ motivations for the decisions she makes. And so, while I would not have made those decisions, and I wish she wouldn’t, I understand and empathize with Chess and just wish her the best of luck. Though, I’m afraid, my well wishes will do naught for someone determined to come as close to destroying themselves as they can.