Unholy Magic & City of Ghosts by Stacia Kane

Last month I picked up Unholy Ghosts and was floored by its unique world-building and character development. After hearing from many blogger friends that book two - Unholy Magic - was actually better than book one, I literally went out that night bought the second and started right in. What then explains the radio-silence for the last month? For starters, book two happened. Going in I knew it would be an emotional wringer, but I just could not wrap my head around all the horrible, terrible, awful things that happen to Chess within. I literally had to stick it on the shelf, walk away, and not think about it for a few weeks. It made me that upset. A few days ago, I was finally able to get a copy of City of Ghosts and life ended up being much better. So instead of me posting one depressed, confused review and one positive, satisfied review - I'm going to do a double review for both Unholy Magic and City of Ghosts because I just don't think you can't talk about one without the other. I'm going to try to keep spoilers down to a minimum, but sometimes that might be hard.

In Unholy Magic, Chess is basically trying to solve two mysteries: 1. a Church-sponsored Debunking - trying to verify if a ghost truly is haunting a home - in this case, a television celebrity and 2. multiple hookers have been killed in Downside and Chess' dealer, Bump, wants her to figure who's doing it. Both of these cases were equally gruesome and dark and really didn't add much to the overall tone of the novel. Chess herself continues to walk a dangerously thin line while working for Bump and his awesome enforcer Terrible and 'dating' Lex, a rival gang member. To put it bluntly, everything that can possibly go wrong in this book does. Due to Chess' constant poor choices in her dating life, she utterly screws things up for herself with Terrible and the expected backlash ensues.

Okay, that was an understandably short and dirty rundown but suffice to say that Unholy Magic simply left me feeling broken and wondering if there was ANY way Chess could pull herself out of this mess. I mean, like I mentioned before, Chess has been through some truly awful things in her life and consequently turned to drug use as a coping mechanism. Fine. I'm okay with that but here she gets into some past personal history that I could barely even handle reading. Between Chess' relationship downward spiral and the yuck-factor of both her cases, Unholy Magic was pretty dang rough with nowhere soft for a reader to land. As I'm sitting here, I can see how talented an author Stacia Kane must be able to make me feel this torn and confused after reading one of her books, but man, did she really have to go that far? It just...hurt...a little too much.

Okay *deep cleansing breath* onto City of Ghosts, which opens with Chess basically walking around in an emotional daze after dealing with all the horrible aftereffects from Unholy Magic (hey! just like me!). She's surprised and a little wary when the Church Brethren call her in for a special job which would require her to work with the exclusive Black Squad and Lauren, the daughter of the Grand Elder himself. Usually Chess would use any excuse to get out of working with another Church employee (especially stubborn, spoiled Lauren) but the paycheck is too much of a temptation and Chess agrees to the money and a special binding which makes it magically impossible to discuss her work with anyone else. But of course, Bump again wants to find out who has been killing so many people in his part of town and forces Chess to 'allow' Terrible to follow her around and help since she can't directly communicate her findings with Bump. Ever since Terrible discovered Chess' betrayal, he doesn't want to touch her with a ten-foot pole and thus makes for a decidedly tense working environment for Chess and Terrible both.

It was really tough for me to finally return to this series, but am I so glad that I did. City of Ghosts was everything that I hoped would happen in Unholy Magic but didn't. Even though Chess is shattered that things went so sour with Terrible, she's determined to do whatever she can to fix things. She 'breaks up' with Lex. She tells Terrible the truth - even about things even he doesn't want to hear. Even as he continues to basically ignore her, Chess knows he's the one guy she just can't let go without a fight. And that's a conclusion I can only agree with. Terrible is an absolute winner and completely unlike any other UF hero I've come across. From his mutton chops and his Downside speech, to his appreciation for intelligence, Terrible is an intriguing package. And Chess! Talk about your layered heroine! As a character, she constantly surprises me. And even though I want to shake the girl over some of her choices, she knows when she's being an idiot and is often trying to make the best of what she's got. This passage really got to me as it sums up Chess and her choices pretty dang nicely.
She was only human, only herself. She'd never had anyone to advise her, to pat her on the back and hold her hand through life. She'd had to make her own mistakes.

And she'd made them.
Overall, this is one unique animal of a series. Stacia Kane's characters are unlike any I've ever encountered before and the world-building is astounding. That said, Downside Ghosts is a dark series and every bit of happiness and redemption is incredibly hard-won and consequently, richly deserved. Trust me on this one when I say that you're going to want to have all three books ready to go when you do decide to sit down with Chess - it'll make your life a lot easier.

series reading order:
~ Unholy Ghosts - my review
~ Unholy Magic
~ City of Ghosts

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
All Things Urban Fantasy review
Babbling About Books and More! review
The Good, The Bead, and the Unread review
Rabid Reader review 
Smexy Books review
Yummy Men and Kick Ass Chicks review

book source: purchased

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