In Stacia Kane’s second Downside Ghosts novel, Chess Putnam is pulled between two cases: the official Church investigation of the possible haunting of a celebrity, and the serial murders of prostitutes in Downside. She soon discovers that there is a dangerous sort of magic at work, and is forced to walk a fine line trying to balance all the elements of her life and work.
“Self-destruction was one thing, but she was turning into a one-woman wrecking ball.” In this book Chess is falling into an appalling addiction, but tries to convince herself that she is still merely a user. Her drug use compels her to keep visiting Lex, even though she knows she has to finish things with him to become a true part of Terrible’s life.
I found Unholy Magic desperately hard to read — at the same time as I wanted to shake Chess and try to force her to find help, I also wanted to sob with her as her life came crashing down around her. There was one particular graveyard scene between Chess, Lex and Terrible that I almost had to skip past, it was so powerfully written and haunting.
Kane succeeds admirably in writing a completely believable relationship between Chess and Terrible. It whispers into life as they begin trusting each other against all the odds, and grows as Chess realises that Terrible is much, much more than just the enforcer of drug lord Bump. This is not a relationship based on looks or immediate attraction; it grows and develops in an entirely realistic manner. Everything else in this novel takes second place to what is occurring between Chess and Terrible.
Which is a shame, because the plot is unpredictable and gripping, pitting Chess against an extremely chilling magic user. After reading certain scenes in Unholy Magic, I almost wanted to leave the light on at night!
I did have a slight problem with the middle part of Unholy Magic, where the storyline seems to skip along a little in places and doesn’t flow. This does coincide with the part of the novel where Chess’ drug addiction grows and threatens to consume her, so I put it down to the increasing disorientation of the main character, rather than a downturn in the quality of Kane’s work. It can, however, be confusing to read and follow.
Stacia Kane is writing a series that transcends the urban fantasy genre and should be read more widely. Her prose is excellent, characterisation and dialogue superb. This novel is bleaker and darker than the first, with a climax that leaves me longing to read City of Ghosts. I can’t recommend the Downside Ghosts highly enough.