I’m not usually one to read novels where the main character is written as unlikeable or an “anti-hero”. When I don’t care what happens to a character, my reading experience is significantly diminished. However, there is one main character who isn’t exactly someone you’d like to sit and have coffee with, and yet I find her fascinating: Chess Putnam, star of the Downside Ghosts series. It has been a while between books, but Sacrificial Magic dives right back into the action with a tale of dark magic and even darker emotions.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“When Chess Putnam is ordered by an infamous crime boss—who also happens to be her drug dealer—to use her powers as a witch to solve a grisly murder involving dark magic, she knows she must rise to the challenge. Adding to the intensity: Chess’s boyfriend, Terrible, doesn’t trust her, and Lex, the son of a rival crime lord, is trying to reignite the sparks between him and Chess.
Plus there’s the little matter of Chess’s real job as a ghost hunter for the Church of Real Truth, investigating reports of a haunting at a school in the heart of Downside. Someone seems to be taking a crash course in summoning the dead—and if Chess doesn’t watch her back, she may soon be joining their ranks.
As Chess is drawn into a shadowy world of twisted secrets and dark violence, it soon becomes clear that she’s not going to emerge from its depths without making the ultimate sacrifice.”
It’s odd, but one of the things that I find most compelling about Chess is the very thing that will probably turn off other readers—namely, her drug addiction and what drives it. Chess has been through experiences (both due to magic and due to plain old real-world issues) that would break other people. She’s got a tremendous amount of strength in her makeup; however, a good chunk of that strength comes from the amount of drugs that she regularly takes. The rest of her strength has been turned inward and manifests as self-hatred and self-condemnation. She spends an incredible amount of mental and emotional energy beating herself up, and yet the reader can clearly see that she can endure a lot. How many of us could put tons of time and energy into convincing ourselves that we’re no good and yet still go about our day? It makes for a great dichotomy in her character.
In the first three books of this series, the situation within the Church was somewhat unstable, but now the author turns to the uneasy balance found within the criminal elements of Downside. Chess is dating Terrible, who works for Bump, Chess’s drug dealer. Chess’s former love interest is Lex, the son of Bump’s greatest rival. As Chess has gotten involved with this cross-section of the local underworld, events have begun to escalate. It’s not really that she caused any of it, but rather that events have now put her in the middle of things that it would be better if she didn’t have to deal with.
I liked that as this story begins a new cycle of narrative (matters with the Church more in the background, matters with the drug lords more prominent), it also starts with a novel that could stand alone if need be. It doesn’t rely heavily on past events, although they are certainly referenced. A new reader could pick up the series at this point and then go back to find the previous books.
Finally, the worldbuilding in this series is second to none. It’s what drew me to the series initially. The city is clearly delineated, as is the layout of the Church grounds. The history of Haunted Week, when the ghosts first rose, has been well established. And each chapter begins with a quote from a “printed source” within the story, such as the holy text or Church recruitment pamphlets. It all gives an immense feeling of depth and breadth to the narrative. Chess’s world has weight to it, laws and culture and customs, and it is one of the series’s strongest points.
I was very excited to see that the Downside Ghosts series is continuing, and I wasn’t disappointed upon reading the most recent offering. Sacrificial Magic is full of dangerous spells, murderous ghosts and dark rooms oozing dread. Featuring one of the most unusual heroines you’ll read about, Stacia Kane’s books are worth going out of your way to pick up.
Also by this author: Chasing Magic, Unholy Ghosts
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on March 12, 2012.
Series: Downside Ghosts
Publisher: Del Rey
Page Count: 416
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
Acquired: Provided by the publisher as an e-ARC through NetGalley
Read an excerpt