Published 2010 343 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
For Chess Putnam, finding herself near-fatally poisoned by a con psychic and then stopping a murderous ghost is just another day on the job. As an agent of the Church of Real Truth, Chess must expose those looking to profit from the world’s unpleasant little poltergeist problem – humans filing false claims of hauntings – all while staving off any undead who really are looking for a kill. But Chess has been extra busy these days, coping with a new “celebrity” assignment while trying on her own time to help some desperate prostitutes.
Someone’s taking out the hookers of Downside in the most gruesome way, and Chess is sure the rumours that it’s the work of a ghost are way off base. But proving herself right means walking in the path of a maniac, not to mention standing between the two men in her life just as they – along with their ruthless employers – are moving closer to a catastrophic showdown. Someone is dealing in murder, sex, and the supernatural, and once again Chess finds herself right in the crossfire.
Unholy Magic is the second book in Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts urban fantasy series. Events in Unholy Magic kick-off from just a few months after the events of Unholy Ghosts (the first book in the series) finished. There is a continuing development of relationships started in the previous book, so it’s best to read Unholy Ghosts before commencing Unholy Magic.
Unholy Ghosts introduced readers to the dark, and frequently horrific, world of Chess Putnam. In this world the dead have risen as murderous spirits and have killed a large proportion of the world’s population. Religion and state has been replaced by the Church, the only organisation capable of using magic to deal with the ghosts. Chess is a Church witch, her job is to investigate haunted homes and either banish the spirits back to the underworld or, more usually, arrest the homeowners for filing a fraudulent haunting claim. This is all exciting enough urban fantasy fare but when you factor in Chess’s secret drug addiction, her debts to unsavoury criminal gang leaders, the horrific nature of angry spirits and the Church’s essentially fascist nature, it ramps the Downside Ghosts books up to the next level of original dark fantasy writing.
Unholy Magic continues in the same dark vein as Unholy Ghosts. Chess makes a complex heroine. She is emotionally stunted, her drug addiction a way for her to avoid feeling awful about her childhood abuse and her low self-esteem. However, even with all the drugs Chess is still afraid to live and is too terrified of the City (the ghostly underworld which she has seen) to welcome death. Her life is miserable and on occasion makes fairly depressing reading. She is functional though and has something of a talent for her investigative and ghost banishing duties. Unholy Magic sees her relationship with Terrible (the local gang leader’s enforcer and a fellow Downside native) tentatively develop further in ways which are painful, yet compelling, to read.
The mystery plotline of Unholy Magic is a satisfyingly obtuse jumble of red-herrings and clues against a backdrop of gruesome murders, a trail of corpses whose eyes have been stolen, that litters the streets of Downside. Once again Chess is blackmailed into trying to solve the crimes lest her Church bosses find out about her involvement with the less savoury characters of the Downside slums.
The only detraction from the overall reading experience was the prevalence of “slum speak”, the weird patois spoken by Downside residents. In Unholy Magic it is used for extended sections of speech, important conversations vital to the plotline of the story, and unfortunately this speech dialect rendered the narrative incomprehensible in places. After reading Unholy Ghosts I knew to expect some speech to be in this patois but in Unholy Magic it seemed to be more of an impediment to comprehension than before.
All-in-all Unholy Magic is a thrilling tale of sex, magic and murder. It won’t be to everyone’s taste – the tone of the story is very dark – but horror and dark fantasy fans shouldn’t fail to be satisfied.
LoveVampires Review Rating: