City Of Ghosts
Published 2010 408 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
Chess Putnam has a lot on her plate. Mangled human corpses have started to show up on the streets of Downside, and Chess’s bosses at the Church of Real Truth have ordered her to team up with the ultra-powerful Black Squad agency to crack the grisly case.
Chess is under a binding spell that threatens death if she talks about the investigation, but the city’s most notorious crime boss – and Chess’s drug dealer – gets wind of her new assignment and insists on being kept informed. If that isn’t bad enough, a sinister street vendor appears to have information Chess needs. Only he’s not telling what he knows, or what it all has to do with the vast underground City of Eternity.
Now Chess will have to navigate killer wraiths and a lot of seriously nasty magic – all while coping with some not-so-small issues of her own. And the only man Chess can trust to help her through it all has every reason to want her dead.
City of Ghosts is the third book in Stacia Kane’s gritty Downside Ghosts urban fantasy series. While each Downside Ghosts book features a different mystery for series protagonist Chess Putnam to solve, there is a continuation of plotlines and character relationship development throughout the series, so it’s best to read the books in order.
Series fans should already have a good idea what they are signing up for when they read a Downside Ghosts book. Non-stop action, a less than glamorous drug-addicted heroine, deadly ghosts and death magic – all topped with a small pinch of visceral horror. City of Ghosts is no different to previous series offerings in this respect – its fast-paced supernatural investigation taking Chess down dangerous paths as she hunts the Downside ghetto for clues to the whereabouts of the Lamaru (the Church hating terrorists that she first encountered in book 1, Unholy Ghosts.)
By now one would assume that the readers who don’t “get” Chess and her addiction problems (you know the ones who say they’d like the books more if Chess was in a treatment program or getting some sort of drugs counselling) have given up with the series – certainly they’re destined be disappointed on the drugs rehabilitation front in City of Ghosts. The drugs are an integral part of Chess’s character, they are a symptom and sign of how deeply broken she is, and Chess’s struggles would have less meaning if she wasn’t such an unhealthy, vulnerable person. With urban fantasy heroines there is a fine line between believable, and likable, strong alpha female characters and arrogant twits in leather pants. Chess falls on the right side of believable and likable, her fragile vulnerability and weaknesses going a long way to give her credibility in crazy situations.
City of Ghosts exposes Chess’s emotional vulnerability further than previous novels. During the course of Unholy Magic, Chess’s fledgling romance with Terrible crashed and burned in the face of her lying and screwing-around with a rival gang-leader. Caught in her lie, Chess has no option but to try and make amends with Terrible, who won’t even speak to her. This plotline makes painfully compelling reading and overwhelms the supernatural mystery/investigation part of the story for most of the book. Chess’s longing for Terrible and her desperation to fix what she’s broken lead to some truly touching, and incredibly passionate, scenes.
The development of Terrible and Chess’s relationship pretty much takes precedence over all other aspects of the plot which is a shame because with its shady terrorist types, an even shadier (and remarkably creepy) street potion vendor and a horde of deformed mutant cannibalistic children there is plenty here for horror and dark fantasy readers to enjoy. Still, the focus on the romance helps smooth over a couple of small plot holes in the mystery so it’s all good.
City of Ghosts is another great piece of dark fantasy writing from Stacia Kane and is guaranteed to leave series fans impatiently waiting for the next instalment in the Downside Ghosts series. After all I can’t be the only one left with questions like, “Will Chess ever wise up to the fact that she’s joyfully working for a fascist state? And what will happen if she ever does?” burning in my mind…
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