Chasing Magic by Stacia Kane

Chasing Magic (Downside)

One of the most unlikely heroines in fantasy literature is Chess Putnam.  A serious drug addict, she nevertheless manages to be a sympathetic character through most of the Downside Ghosts series.  But how much is too much when it comes to portraying the effects of such a problem?  Chasing Magic may have gone a bit overboard with Chess’s self-loathing, but it’s still an edge-of-your-seat story.

(Description nicked from B&

“Magic-wielding Churchwitch and secret addict Chess Putnam knows better than anyone just how high a price people are willing to pay for a chemical rush. But when someone with money to burn and a penchant for black magic starts tampering with Downside’s drug supply, Chess realizes that the unlucky customers are paying with their souls—and taking the innocent with them, as the magic-infused speed compels them to kill in the most gruesome ways possible.

As if the streets weren’t scary enough, the looming war between the two men in her life explodes, taking even more casualties and putting Chess squarely in the middle. Downside could become a literal ghost town if Chess doesn’t find a way to stop both the war and the dark wave of death-magic, and the only way to do that is to use both her addiction and her power to enter the spell and chase the magic all the way back to its malevolent source. Too bad that doing so will probably kill Chess—if the war doesn’t first destroy the man who’s become her reason for living.”

With the other books in this series, I really didn’t have a problem with the extent of Chess’s bad self-image.  Given how many drugs she uses, and given the kind of life that she leads, such issues are quite understandable.  However, in the previous book, Sacrificial Magic, the character seemed to have come to some kind of peace with her difficulties and realized that people can still care for her regardless.  In this novel, she took a few backward steps and lapsed into a huge amount of self-loathing.  I have to wonder if the events of the last book and this one should have been swapped.  It might have made more sense in terms of her personal journey.

This is really the only quibble I have with the book, because as usual, I loved the plot and action that Kane delivers.  Tensions between the two rival druglords in Downside continue to escalate, and Chess is caught in the middle.  Up until now, she’s been able to dodge the worst of the conflict, but events heat up to the point that she really can’t help but be in the middle of things.  The ante gets upped as far as danger to the main characters as well.

The other set of consequences that shows up involves the personal fallout for Chess from recent events.  The most important is her relationship with her mentor.  I like that the author doesn’t make things too dramatic, or too understated.  She hits the tone of the changing relationship just right, and it resonated as one of the most accurate portrayals of emotion in the novel.  These sections actually made me wince to myself, because I could feel the characters’ discomfort.

I still like that each chapter begins with a quote from a supposed “original source” in-universe, such as bits from the holy book and excerpts from Church training manuals.  Other novels have used this device and had it wear thin, but Kane provides enough diversity that I continue to enjoy the little glimpses into the broader culture of the world.

Chess is not your typical heroine, but she’s definitely one of the most memorable—a drug-addicted, emotionally broken individual who nonetheless struggles mightily to do the right thing.  Chasing Magic is a novel filled with the fallout of major events, and it moves the overarching plot along towards what looks to be an explosive confrontation between Chess and her demons.

Also by this author: Sacrificial Magic, Unholy Ghosts

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on June 20, 2012.

Series: Downside Ghosts
ISBN: 9780345527523
Publisher: Del Rey
Page Count: 384
Publication Date: June 26, 2012
Acquired: Provided by the publisher as an e-ARC on NetGalley
Author Website
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