Reviewed: September 14, 2010
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Downside Ghosts, Book 3
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 416 Pages
Formats: Print, eBook
Chess continues to move up in the world...sort of, anyway. She's offered a lucrative opportunity to help the Black Squad investigate a grisly case for the Church of Real Truth and the advance for taking the job is more money than Chess could smoke, snort, or pop in years. Problem is, she has to submit to a binding oath to take it. That means she can't mention anything about the case to anyone not directly connected to the chain of command under penalty of extreme magical pain.
That doesn't please her drug supplier and crime lord Bump at all when he wants answers to why a couple of Churchwitches are stomping around in his territory, and why some of his people have ended up in bloody pieces. He forces Chess to take Terrible with her on investigations without her new Black Squad partner, and after the events between them in Unholy Magic, neither one of them are too comfortable with that.
Chess' investigation points to the return of an insidious threat to the Church and stumbles upon intensely strong and evil-feeling magic the likes of which she's never seen or heard of before. Despite the rift between her and Terrible, and the ache of the loss of his friendship, Chess still has to do her job, and she still has to have help from Lex to do so. When people start dying, when the tenets of her job start being undermined in the worst possible way, Chess has no choice but to use every possible tool at her disposal to stop a power hungry organization from destroying the world as she knows it. No matter how much it costs her in the end.
One of the best things about reaching the end of this book, aside from the total awesomeness of the story itself and the glimmers of true progress in Chess' personal life, is that Kane has an agreement for three more books in the series, and so we'll be seeing more of Chess in 2011. I, for one, am thrilled, as I've mentioned before, both she and this series have grown on me.
Tragically flawed, almost helplessly broken, Chess still takes pride in her job, and that's exactly what comes under threat in this book. Her reaction to that is understandably fierce, and it was perhaps the first time I've seen Chess fight for something beyond her own often selfish needs and desires. She's always done her job, but even when doing it, her vices have often gotten in the way or compromised her duty, and she's always chosen her vices over the job in each case. While it didn't come down to that sort of choice in this book, I saw Chess draw lines in the sand that she refused to cross, and cross lines she needed to cross to both stop a big bad from tearing apart the world and to make some progress in her personal life.
In a lot of ways, those triumphs could be seen as small, but for the normally hopeless and self destructive Chess, any progress is impressive progress. She continues to be a compelling, if unsympathetic character, and the duality and complexity of her nature offers up a lot of potential for meaty, dark storytelling. The world of Downside Ghosts is harsh, gritty, and unforgiving, and Chess thrives there in a way that seems utterly realistic, if a bit heartbreaking. Combine the two and you have a series that is difficult and distasteful at times, but thoroughly entertaining.
I don't know if I'd say that the external conflict in this story was as interesting to me, or as well told, as those in the previous two books. There were several instances where big reveals didn't surprise me at all, and a couple of times that plot twists could be seen coming miles away, but as I've said in my reviews of Unholy Ghosts and Unholy Magic, the draw of this series and my impetus behind continuing it lie in Chess' internal conflicts and the damage from them, not external, so while I don't think the threat in this book was as thrilling as the others, this is still my favorite book of the three for Chess' development.
It's going to be a long wait for more from Downside Ghosts, and I have no doubt I'll return to the first three books in the series before getting a chance at another. Kudos to Kane for penning a stark, bleak, decaying paradise of character and story that does more than entertain - it leaves an impression. Well done.
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