Book Review: Sacrificial Magic - Downside Ghosts Book 4 / Author: Stacia Kane / Publisher: Voyager / Release Date: Out Now
Pill-popping, tattoo-twitching, ghost-busting witch, Chess Putnam is back in Stacia Kane’s fourth Downside Ghosts novel. In the fantasy world of Downside – a sleazy ghetto in Kane’s fictional city, Chess works for the government - The Church of Real Truth - who came to power when ghosts started attacking the living. The Church protects the population and reimburses those harassed by ghosts. False claims of hauntings are made in the hope of making a profit, and it’s Chess’ job to investigate and ‘Banish’ the ghost. But keeping her little drug problem - as well as her involvement with two local crime lords - a secret from her bosses is becoming increasingly difficult and could prove to be a fatal mistake.
Chess has been assigned by The Church to find out if there really are murderous ghosts in a Downside school – if so they’ll get compensation. But as usual it’s not long before she’s drawn into a murder mystery on both sides of the Downside divide and has to play a careful game between crime bosses Bump and Slobag.
Someone is sacrificing humans to gain power and Chess needs to find out who before they find her. Are the sacrificial murders linked to the school ghost? Why is Slobag’s daughter so involved in the school? Is Chess being played? Who can she trust?
In the Downside Ghosts series Stacia Kane has created a great world, with sparkling dialogue and clever street patois. You can feel the sleaze ooze off every page, while Chess’ emotions make you cringe and hurt for her. Chess is the classic dysfunctional character with a bad childhood: strong willed, a loner, an orphan – a bit like Eve Dallas in J.D Robb’s In Death series.
At the heart of the book is Chess’s relationship with Bump’s henchman, Terrible. Chess doesn’t feel she deserves a loving relationship and in one painful, drug fuelled scene she succeeds in pushing him away. But even in the world of Downside Ghosts love conquers all, and maybe, just maybe, Chess might start loving herself more in future books.
Stacia Kane is a great storyteller but she has to be very, very careful about not falling into the trap of writing too much sex in the books because sex always seems to stop the narrative. Otherwise she could end up like Laurell K. Hamilton and lose the elements of great mystery storytelling.
All in all, Sacrificial Magic is a great emotional read. We are inside Chess’s mind all the way, feeling what she feels. Sometimes it’s torturous but in the end there is always hope – and Chess knows it in her own weird way. You don’t need to have read the previous Downside Ghosts books, then, to enjoy Sacrificial Magic but you might well find yourself seeking them out afterwards.