Sunday, August 8, 2010

the world of the downside ghosts returns in stacia kane's unholy magic & city of ghosts

American author Stacia Kane continues her Downside Ghosts series with the second and third in the series, Unholy Magic and City of Ghosts. 
Readers are returned to the post-apocalyptic world of Chess Putnum, a church 'witch', able to see the ghosts that returned to plague the world and bring about the end of life as we know it. 
In Unholy Ghosts, the first book, readers were introduced to a new fantasy world where ghosts and magic are real; the Church of Real Truth runs the country and people try to get by as well as they can.

Read my review of Unholy Ghosts: Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane is fresh urban fantasy with a gritty, sideways feel

As always, however, there's an underside, a “downside” to society, and it's in this fringe world that Chess exists. Oh, and while Chess is nominally the heroine of these tales, she's no squeaky clean princess with powers – Chess is from the wrong side of the tracks, she's a Downsider, and she's a junkie. 
Her drug habit has gotten Chess into trouble before, walking the knife's edge of respectability to keep her Church job, while dealing with her local drug lord on the one hand and sleeping with the opposition, on the other. 
And in the middle is a great, big, ugly enforcer who is smarter than he looks and cares more for Chess than she'd like to admit. 
In Unholy Magic, Chess finds herself working with a VIP who may, or may not, be faking a haunting – a criminal offence with the Church; at the same time someone – or something – is killing prostitutes in Downside and Bump, Chess' dealer, wants her to make sure it's not magically linked. 
On top of this, Chess' feelings for Terrible – Bump's enforcer – are all confused, while her “just having sex, we're not in a relationship” with Lex – Bump's opposition – seems to be getting a little too heavy. 
Then there's the false medium that Chess helped put away – but some thing's not quite right there either – and the City of Ghosts is even more unsettled than it should be, despite the fact that it's almost the anniversary of the Rising – the time when the ghosts returned to the world to wreak their vengeance. 
Kane's world is thoroughly detailed and comprehensive – there are enough resonances with our current world to ensure the readers have something to hold on to; a sign of a quality piece of urban fantasy writing. 
As City of Ghosts opens, Chess is attending the execution of an unlicensed medium involved in the illegal use of magic; she's still recovering from her run in with the ghost whorehouse and bringing Terrible back to life with an ill-considered and possibly illegal rune – and he still won't talk to her. 
Before she's completely recovered from her last nasty experience, another one opens up inside the Church, and once again Chess is thrown into the thick of things. 
Her previous “successes” have made the Church think she's great at her job, so great that they second her to the Black Squad – the Church's secret service – and force her to not only be bound by an unbreakable and painful spell, but even worse, stick her with a partner – the head of the damned Church's daughter no less. 
On top of all this, to add insult to injury, Terrible finally found out about Lex and now he hates Chess, but he's the only person who's going to be able to help her out of the mess she's now involved in. Oh, and the Lamaru – the original anti-Church baddies from the first book – are back. Only this time they've got something even bigger in mind; they want to release the ghost from the Eternal City. 
Kane manages to keep the action pounding along in both Unholy Magic and City of Ghosts, not losing anything to developing the characters. Readers discover more about Terrible, he's not quite as bad as he wants people to think, and Lex turns out to be someone much more important than Chess thought he was. 
Chess' problems with men pale almost into insignificance when held up against her drug addictions; readers also discover just how badly hooked she really is, but are given some more insight into way Chess needs to self-medicate so badly. 
In some ways Chess' addictions balance out her skills in magic, and control them at the same time. And the addictions also help her hold it together, oddly enough. Like many children of foster homes and broken families, at the centre of Chess is a great, gaping hole of loneliness and self-loathing just waiting to implode and drag her down. The drugs allow Chess to ignore that danger, walling it up behind chemically created emotions that are much easier for her to deal with. 
The insight into Chess, her inability to enjoy intimacy, her need to replace caring with sex, also explains her mixed up feelings for Terrible. Kane's skill in blending these sharp observations about drug abuse and emotional trauma with an action-packed thriller and supernatural trappings is what makes these books so readable. 
Chess is the perfect anti-heroine; the antidote to the soppy, love obsessed teens dominating the urban fantasy genre at the moment. There's not a vampire or werewolf in sight – thank god – and the gritty truth of Chess' life adds depth to what could be dismissed as “just another fantasy novel”. 
There are more books in the Downside Ghosts series to come; I can't wait.

Unholy Magic and City of Ghosts by Stacia Kane are published by Harper Voyager and are available from good book stores and online.


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