Author: Stacia Kane
Publication Date: 3/27/12
Publisher: Del Rey
Blurb(GR): 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.
While I may have a few intelligent things to say about this book later (such a dirty word), I have to admit right now that there's one thing about the series that keeps me coming back: who else do you know in Urban Fantasy who has the moxie to introduce the main love interest like this?
'Not real verbal, are you, Terrible?’
This time he glared at her, the greenish lights from the dash highlighting the astonishing ugliness of his profile. His crooked nose – it must have been broken several times – the way his brows jutted out like a cliff over the ocean, the set of his jaw. She held her hands up, palms out. ‘Okay. Just making conversation.’
‘Dames always wanna talk.’
‘Not like there’s anything else they’d want to do with you.’”
What’s this? He doesn’t make the heroine swoon in two seconds flat? He speaks in gutter slang? And he’s not even hot for god’s sake? What is this world coming to? And that’s not even the half of it: he’s not rich, he’s not powerful (except maybe in physical brutality), and he doesn’t have women crawling all over him (much).
I’m always a little surprised by my complete fascination with Terrible. He’s nothing like what I would ever want in real life: a huge, ugly, brute of a man with Elvis hair who dresses in bowling shirts, drives a 69’ Chevelle, barely speaks, and is very good at hurting people? Swoon...? I mean, let me just tell you a few things about the real-life person I've chosen to spend my life with: he wears nerd t-shirts, he drives a Prius, the closest his hair has ever been to a styling product is the conditioner I forced him to start using, and he spent all of this afternoon playing with a gyroscope.
But that’s the gift of Stacia Kane. She describes everything with such dimension that it’s impossible not to get immersed, not to get attached. A dirty, noisy, violent ghetto becomes a home. A rigidly puritanical ruling body fond of executing people and ignoring the poor becomes a place of safety. An ugly thug becomes a sexy, smart, sensitive person. A drug addict becomes a hero. A relationship between these two, something that I’d normally dismiss as doomed to failure, is suddenly something that I am very invested in.
I’ll admit that I was nervous to start this series, because addiction is something that I have a lot of experience with and I can’t tolerate when it’s treated lightly or used as a gimmick. But Kane never glorifies or trades on Chess’ addiction. It’s a constant presence in the novel; it colors everything that she does, but it’s not exciting. It’s a chore. Reading about Chess’ endless search for her next high, her next emotional insulation, is exhausting and it feels very realistic.
It’s been over a year since the release of City of Ghosts, but it was very easy to fall back into this world and these characters. I was initially quite surprised when I read the first few pages and saw that they were in third person. I could have sworn that these books were in first person! The memories I have of Chess’ insecurities, doubts, and self-hatred are so vivid. This is an extremely intimate third person narration, and now I realize that it’s the perfect choice for Chess. Chess, who would do just about anything to drown out her memories and feelings, who would never acknowledge them openly. It’s as if the third person here were actually one of her personal demons, sitting on her shoulder or living inside her head, whispering things like Everyone leaves you eventually. Might as well just assume it’s going to happen. That would be the smart thing. Might as well just push them away first.
I spent the first three quarters of the book feeling almost traumatized by how closely some of those passages resembled my own inner monologues. But then, (and I promise promise not to give anything away) there’s a part at the end that made me soar. It made me remember that even as trauma and damage are hollowing you out, they’re making you deeper. They’re making you capable of feeling more. They’re turning you into yourself.
The main reason that I am not giving this five stars is that I feel ready for more. As a reader, I am ready to know more about this world. I think that it’s completely believable (and interesting as hell) that Chess would work for The Church without really questioning the facts of their history or their underlying motivations. And I think it's believable that she’d work for Bump under duress and not demand better for herself. But, I am ready to know more about the Church and its motivations. I am ready to see the bigger picture here and focus less on the smaller hauntings/summonings/mysteries. And although I don't think it would be realistic for her to become fully healed, I am ready for her to start at least wanting more for herself.
If you are a fan of this series, this one is not to be missed. It’s the best yet, in my opinion. If you haven’t read these and you love urban fantasy, I suggest that you get the first one right away. And if you haven’t gotten into urban fantasy, but love complex, interesting characters and gritty stories, then I’d definitely give these a try.
Perfect Musical Pairings
That’s right, I said Pairings. I inhaled the first three in this series back in 2010 and I never reviewed them. Now’s my chance to make up for that! (SOME MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!)
Modest Mouse – Spitting Venom
And now, for your amusement, I will describe my feelings about this song using quotes about Terrible. Press play and come along with me.
00:00 – “You look like Elvis vomited you up.”
00:55 – She hadn’t known he had feelings.
1:27 – “I don’t think you could be invisible anywhere.”
3:27 – Still the same features, the lumpy nose and the jutting brow and the hard, dark eyes, but not ugly anymore. Full of character.
4:15– I sink you, that I will not be sunk by you. *sob*
5:22– "I knew you'd find me."
8:29– “Yeah. Yeah, I do, shit Terrible I really love you-“
*hits replay for the twelfth time*
Modest Mouse – Little Motel