UNHOLY GHOSTS (Downside Ghosts #1)
UNHOLY MAGIC (Downside Ghosts #2)
The ghosts that haunt Triumph City are not your typical spooks. Not friendly spectres unable to cross over due to unfinished business. Not deceased relatives wanting to watch over the loved ones they left behind. No, these spirits are terrifying and vengeful and have a single-minded murderous focus.
The only ones able to banish these ghosts from whence they came are the witches under the employment of the Church, an organization that came into power after hundreds of ghosts reeked havoc on Triumph City, brutally killing all those with whom they came in contact. The Church knew how to harness the magic that would defeat them, and a revolution was born.
Now, the witches who work for the Church investigate cases of reported hauntings, trying to debunk those who seek financial gain by proving to the Church their residence is truly inhabited by a hostile spectre. The Church pays a hefty fee to those whose hauntings are proved legitimate, and extract an equal fee from those proved false.
Chess Putnam is a Debunker, a Churchwitch out to investigate those who could be charged with "conspiracy to commit spectral fraud". Her job is far from simple and certainly more than a little dangerous as she calls upon her magic to drag spirits back to the City, a final resting place for ghosts. Chess is also addicted to a variety of narcotics, a habit that puts her in debt to not one, but two rival drug lords. This debt introduces her to Terrible, an enforcer whose very presence causes sweat to bead on the brow of everyone he passes, and to Lex, an unapologetic flirt and highly ranked opposing dealer.
The books follow Chess as she builds her cases against potentially fraudulent claims, as she is forcibly immersed deeper in the drug trade than she should ever go, and as she hovers on the precipice of two potentially disastrous relationships.
This series is chaos. Beautiful, dark, blissfully addictive chaos that leaves me craving more page time the way Chess craves her next fix. The world Ms. Kane has created is absolutely frenetic, pulsing with energy that electrifies the pages and shocks you to your very core. And I love every second of it.
The Downside ghosts are not the stuff of campfire folklore, but rather of sleep-stealing nightmares. Lock-your-doors, latch-your-windows, sleep-with-the-light-on horrifying. There's no emotion and no reasoning with them. They just appear, and if they take notice of you, they come full force with a soul-sucking efficiency and leave nothing alive in their wake.
Chess makes herself a very difficult character to care about, and she will definitely not appeal to everyone. Like any addict, she lives for her next fix and does what is necessary to get it, pride and self-respect of little consequence. The drugs are her saving grace, her safety blanket of numbness and oblivion that renders her brutal past ineffective in its persistent haunting. She also uses her body as a tool to help her cope, trading the physical for a miniscule moment of blessed mental peace brought on by a few minutes of pleasure. Her history, brought to readers in disjointed fragments and memories, has taught her to believe in her own worthlessness and deluded her into thinking she is undeserving of anything positive or pleasant. And though Chess is a complete and utter disaster, Kane infuses her with enough emotion and enough vulnerability that readers cannot help but see her as worthy of redemption, and will her every step of the way to find an inner fortitude to match her external witchy strength.
Terrible, like Chess, has a past filled with unfathomable difficulties that have left him cold, brittle, and emotionally unyielding. His job is to collect the dues owed to his boss, and he is granted permission to use any methods necessary to do so. His hands are often bloodied, his body is repeatedly scarred, and his sense of self-preservation is lacking. But through his friendship, and potential romance, with Chess, we get to see a glimmer of hope for him. A hand to the back of his neck here, hands stuffed in his pockets there, all nervous gestures that belie his outward visage of impenetrability when it comes to her and show us that his ability to care hasn't been snuffed out by a life on the streets.
This series is positively haunting and it has nothing to do with the ghosts. Chess and Terrible, with their respective struggles to be more than their past would define them as, grip you from their introduction. Every wrong decision they make of their own accord, and sometimes are forced to make by an outside influence, is tormenting. Chess's drug use is continually frustrating, and Terrible's lack of communication creates a cluster of avoidable problems. But through it all, and there is certainly a lot to which Ms. Kane subjects her characters, there is a hope that their end together will be lighter and brighter than their separate beginnings.
I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves getting attached to characters, who likes having to walk away to take a breather when the content gets overwhelming, and who loves to hope that against all odds, and with no guarantee, good things might happen if they keep reading.
Unholy Ghosts: 4/5
Unholy Magic: 4.5/5