Del Rey / June 26, 2012 / $7.99 print & digital
Magic-wielding Churchwitch and secret addict Chess Putnam knows better than anyone just how high a price people are willing to pay for a chemical rush. But when someone with money to burn and a penchant for black magic starts tampering with Downside’s drug supply, Chess realizes that the unlucky customers are paying with their souls—and taking the innocent with them, as the magic-infused speed compels them to kill in the most gruesome ways possible.
As if the streets weren’t scary enough, the looming war between the two men in her life explodes, taking even more casualties and putting Chess squarely in the middle. Downside could become a literal ghost town if Chess doesn’t find a way to stop both the war and the dark wave of death-magic, and the only way to do that is to use both her addiction and her power to enter the spell and chase the magic all the way back to its malevolent source. Too bad that doing so will probably kill Chess—if the war doesn’t first destroy the man who’s become her reason for living.
Chasing Magic is the fifth installment in Stacia Kane’s Downside series, bringing us back into the dark, treacherous world of protagonist Chess Putnam. Chess has experienced great amounts of character growth throughout these books, but in Chasing Magic the reader begins to get a clearer picture of Chess’s issues, combining her deeply troubled past with her fervent hope for a brighter future. Despite her efforts, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and here we see the next step towards finding as much of a happily ever after as could be hoped for in this alternate world.
Chess’ history of abuse has fueled much of the continuing storylines as she struggles with her self-worth at every turn. There is no doubt that she could use years of decent therapy to remedy all the wrongs put upon her from a very early age, but what this new book offers is a different form of help for the self-disparaging heroine: Love. Love becomes intrinsically tied into the main character’s idea of her value as a human, so she sees that maybe she is worth something after all as she works on her relationship with Terrible.
Love wasn’t one emotion, she didn’t think. It was a combination of a whole bunch of them, and each one had a slightly different formula. Like how if she mixed black powder with an equal amount of blood salt and powdered cat’s skull, she’d have a nice little hex-shield that would bounce curses back to the caster, but the same ingredients in different proportions would induce people to admit the truth if it got on their skin.
Love was like that, and the formulas were always changing. It never sat still and let her get used to it; she didn’t feel as if she ever quite had her balance.
While Chess contends with her own emotions, she comes to realize that love can also end up as a weapon to be used against those that are captured by it. This gives Lex more fuel to try and even up the power struggle, mainly out of whack in his mind by Terrible’s ever-threatening presence as enforcer on Bump’s side of town. With Lex having taken over from his father, he’s looking to expand his “business,” and having Terrible removed would make it far easier for him to achieve this goal.
Kane has always been consistent with her vivid descriptions of the Downside world, one that few, if any, would want to make their home after reading about it. These descriptions are more haunting with our look at the docks, in this poor, drug-riddled area. Not only is there fear, especially in Chess’ mind, about the ghosts that once came out of the water, but also of the derelict neighborhood and its inhabitants that creepily look on a freshly dead corpse as a form of sustenance. With all signs pointing to the source of the current issues being connected to this area, it becomes a place frequently visited throughout the story.
She’d never been this close to the docks before...
She’d seen a neighborhood like it once before, out by the Nightsedge Market on Lex’s side of town, up near the Crematorium. A neighborhood where the few remaining buildings almost seemed ashamed of themselves for being so, where crumbling walls and roofless rooms open to the sky were the norm
For more than one reason, Chess does not have Church involvement for most of the story, which makes it unique in comparison to the previous books. All of the others seemed to have cases that would end up tying in her work with Bump or Lex and her assignments; Chasing Magic has Chess working exclusively on something related to the drug supplies in Downside. As such, it automatically negates the need to call in the Church, for fear of exposing Chess’s knowledge and use of the drugs that may be in question. That’s not to say that the Church is ever far from Chess’s mind; in fact, what small interactions she has with her place of employment here may end up resulting in life-altering consequences down the road.
Ultimately, Chess’s addictions are able to aid in uncovering the source of the zombie-like behaviour of some of the Downside residents, as well as shedding new light on her character as a whole. She has always been able to justify her substance use with her tainted past, but Chess seems to be flirting with other irresistible forces now, like power:
And above all it was the power making her shake, the endless, bottomless
well of emotions inside her turned to energy so strong she couldn’t stand it, so strong it ripped her apart. She was afraid to let it go, afraid to let it takeover, afraid to let it have what it wanted because it wanted her, all of her, everything. It would consume her soul if she let it.
And, of course, love:
That was the problem with love, though, wasn’t it. It couldn’t be helped, couldn’t be controlled. It just roared in and took whatever it wanted, destroyed whatever it wanted; the most dangerous addiction of all, because nobody survived it intact.
But [it was] an addiction that was impossible to let go...
Ask anyone jaded by love and you might find it’s a tough call which of these would be the least destructive. And it is these matters that Chess continues to struggle with in her search for personal meaning while battling ghosts and bad guys that think they can outsmart a Churchwitch.
The entire landscape of Chess’s life seems to be changing, and this gets paralleled throughout the book with a potential for change in Downside, and even with Church matters. While it is uncertain what the future will hold for Chess, it’s beginning to look like she may be able to put her inner horrors behind her as she focuses on her (happy?) future. Then again, in this vividly haunting fictional world, it wouldn’t be wise to make any bets.
Want more? Get another Chess/Terrible fix with the Heroes and Heartbreakers Original Short Story Home: A Downside Ghost Story by Stacia Kane, now available from your favorite e-book store!
Jackie Lester imagines a day when she can make a living as a writer. Until then, she reviews eclectic books at My Ever Expanding Library and lives in small-town Ontario with her daughter.