This past week, I’ve read Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts trilogy Unholy Ghosts, Unholy Magic, and City of Ghosts. I read the last two back to back, even staying up half the night last night in order to finish the series. (3 AM and I had to work today!)
It’s been on my mind all day. I obviously enjoyed the books to gobble them so quickly, but I’m not left satisfied and happy. No, the more I think about it, the more terrible I feel.
Terrible. If you’ve read these books, you know what a great character he is. He’s one of the main characters introduced in the first book and becomes Chess’s love interest later in a bit of a love triangle with Lex. Terrible isn’t an everyday sort of hero — and these books aren’t everyday sort of books, either. Downside is a very grim place. People live on the streets or barely have a home over their heads. They’re drug addicts, whores, drug dealers, thieves. The protagonist, Chess, did not have a happy childhood. In fact, it was horrible. Any abuse or neglect you can imagine, she suffered.
I went into the books knowing that she’s a drug addict, and honestly, at first, that didn’t bother me. It was a great character flaw and gave lots of interesting traits to explore. I figured it would give her a great character arc throughout the series. But in that regard, I was disappointed. She didn’t overcome her addiction. In fact, it worsens. In book 2, she’s getting drugs from two different dealers. Instead of popping a pill here and there, she’s downing 3 or 4 at a time, or mixing kinds. Uppers to stay awake, downers to sleep, Cepts to keep her on her feet.
It became frustrating because I knew it was affecting her state of mind and her ability to do her job as a Debunker. Plot clues that she couldn’t figure out because of the drugs. She kept forgetting things. Her addiction gave her enemies numerous opportunities to manipulate and blackmail her. Even her lover is using her and she’s using him. All she really cares about until the last book is the drugs.
Worse, though, are her lies to the one character who really cares about her. It’s a testament to how great Stacia crafted Terrible — because I got so angry at Chess for lying to him. Hurting him over and over. He’s not squeaky clean either. He’s an enforcer for Chess’s drug dealer and he busts people when they owe money. Yes, he’s killed people. But there’s a raw sense of honor in everything he does, while Chess lies and lies and sleeps with everyone but him. Anyone but him, because she might, maybe, care for him.
I don’t want to spoil the last book for anyone still reading it — I don’t think it’s been out long. Just let me say that I’m not convinced Chess can be happy, and I think that’s why I’m so…depressed, I guess. I gobbled the entire series but felt down and sad when it was over. It’s such a grim world. Nobody’s happy. Nobody succeeds, not really. There’s all this terrible darkness and filth and misery and what hope is there? How can Chess hope to succeed when she’s more addicted than ever? She’s already broken laws that would get her killed or kicked out of the Church entirely — for drugs. Now that she cares about Terrible, I can only imagine the foul deeds she’ll get trapped into to keep him safe. Or for him. Or for his boss, the drug dealer.
This is my favorite part of Unholy Magic and THE moment for me. When Terrible became the most important person in the series for me (although I was already loving him, especially when he braved the blizzard to help Chess out of her withdrawal nightmare):
“I want you, Chess. Make no mistake on that one, dig? Want you so bad. So bad I ain’t even can think of any else sometimes, ‘cept gettin you under me. Ain’t give a f*ck what pills you swallow get you through the day or what happens you ain’t got em, aye. Still want you. … But I ain’t…ain’t think I can take it, wakin up next to you on the morn, have you fake like nothin happened. Or tell me you made yourself a mistake. Or say, aye, thanks, maybe try that again on the sometime. I know how you run it, keepin it cool and no repeats, and I git it, aye? Got your reasons. … I figure you really wanted me you’d say. Like now, maybe, if you dig. I’ll f*ckin carry you down your place on a run, you tell me aye, get you on your back afore the next word comes out your mouth. But you oughta have yourself certain, causen I ain’t lookin for charity, an I ain’t lettin you go after. Once … once ain’t enough for me, dig?”
Terrible, yes he is. But she’s worse, because right after this incredible speech, she runs off to bang another guy. I know why. I understand the motivations and she does grow emotionally into book 3. But Lord have mercy, such a speech, such a man, and I just don’t think Chess can stand up under scrutiny. Not to him.
So I finished book 3 sad and discouraged. Will they make it? I don’t know. And how can it be possible that the Church has no idea (Chess’s words — maybe they do but she doesn’t know they know) about her addiction, when all her “friends” and enemies can so easily figure it out and use it against her to blackmail her into some new treachery?
So much darkness. I was hoping for a light after three books, something to shine against that darkness, but I just don’t know if they’ll make it, and that leaves me sadder than I can say.
Well done, Stacia, for driving me insane and keeping me up all night. Terrible is a character I won’t soon forget.