(Downside Ghosts #4)
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.
"Giving a fuck what other people thought was a road straight to misery and pain; an obsession of the weak. To believe otherwise was to live in a fairy tale."
One thing I love about author Stacia Kane...and there are about 736 things I love about her and her writing...is that she always starts her books with a bang. The reader is immediately thrown into the story and is entertained right away.
The latest book in her dark urban fantasy series, Downside Ghosts, is no different. Sacrificial Magic starts off with the main character, Chess, working her way through a creepy, abandoned building searching for ghosts that need to be banished. Chess is a Church Witch in Kane's dystopian world where the release of murderous ghosts from their 'resting place' caused the government to crumble and the non-religious Church of Real Truth to take charge. The Church seeks out people who possess magical abilities and trains them to be witches who hunt down and banish these ghosts. Chess, who grew up bouncing around foster homes where she was met with neglect and abuse, possesses such abilities and works for the Church. Being a bit of a non-traditional Church employee, Chess lives in the run down area called Downside and lives off of a variety of drugs that help this damaged heroine make it through the day. Enter Terrible, her drug dealer Bump's enforcer and the only man who has ever really seen Chess for who she really is.
In Sacrificial Magic we pick up just a few weeks where the last book left us. Chess and Terrible have finally gotten it together and are a couple. Chess has been given a case by the Church to investigate a haunting in a local school and determine whether the place is really haunted or someone is just trying to cash in. But wait...this school is located in Slobag's territory. Slobag is Bump's rival and his son, Lex, is the last person Chess was with prior to Terrible. Chess loves Terrible completely, but Lex provides some...issues. The location of this case causes all kinds of problems for Chess, especially when it comes to her and Terrible's attempt at a relationship. As always, the ghost-focused mystery plot was entertaining and well-crafted and I really didn't have it all figured out until the very end.
But fans of the Downside series know that the real passion for this series lies with Chess and Terrible. Their completely unusual relationship has issues nonstop and many of us wondered if Kane would ever give our hearts a break and just let them be together and be happy! Chess is an unintentional self-sabotager, believing that she is worthless and constantly waiting for something to go wrong with this relationship. Her inner turmoil throughout the book is so difficult to read because she just has such a low opinion of herself. She has very little trust for other people because she has been through so many horrible situations in her life.
"After all, wasn't everyone a lot like a ghost, under the skin? Angry, vicious, vengeful? Thirsty for the pain and blood of others, for anything they could get, desperate to make themselves fat on their own superiority?"
Terrible should be a villain, being a humungous hulking man who beats people up for a drug dealer for a living. But Terrible's feelings about Chess are so simple and honest that he has become one of the most adored heroes in urban fantasy for lovers of the series. Kane writes Chess and Terrible's tumultuous relationship like none other I have ever read. In this installment they experience so many ups and downs, and one unbelievably painful scene that had me yelling at Chess by way of my book (that works, right?). But when they're good, boy are they good.
"Hey Chess. You right?" See? Just hearing him speak, low and gravelly and so fucking sexy, made her smile, despite that mean little voice in her chest telling her not to get too comfortable. She ignored that voice. But she paid attention to the one telling her not to sound too needy. "Yeah. I just - What are you doing later?" "Taking you to bed." It took her a second to reply; she was too busy reminding herself to breathe. "You think so, huh?" "Aye." She gave a big fake sigh. "I suppose I can make time for that."
I also really enjoyed the fact that Chess has a kinda-sorta-maybe-not really friendship beginning in this book. It would be reeeaaallllllyy difficult for Chess to completely open herself up to trusting another female her age, but a bit of a friendship is budding and I am really excited by that little plot point.
So, let's summarize my feelings for Sacrificial Magic, shall we? ADORATION.
Fans of grittier UF, damaged heroines, adult dystopian, unusual heroes, and the F word will love this book.
(This review is based on an advanced copy of the book.)
Want to read it for yourself?