For What It's Worth

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: The Downside Ghosts Series by Stacia Kane

It has taken me months to write this review. I just don’t know where to begin or how to describe this world, the Downside, and its inhabitants that author Stacia Kane has created.
First off, this is 100% Urban Fantasy baby. The world is urban - gritty, cruel, almost dystopian. And it’s full of fantasy - witches, ghosts, psychopomps and black magic.
The characters are complex, deeply flawed and yet full of humanity.
I can best describe my experience reading this series like this….. imagine a time portal in your living room, you step through it and you’re transported into another world and you have just minutes to figure out what the hell is going on and survive or be lost forever. This is one weird, trippy world and it just jumps right on in. It’s one heck of a ride!
The ghosts have risen from the dead and massacred the living. The Church of Real truth knew how to stop them and the Church now controls Triumph City and its citizens, leaving no room for other religions or beliefs. Out of all the things going on in this series the Church scares me the most. Here are a few quotes from The Book of Truth, the Church’s bible:

Unholy Ghosts, Chapter 1, pg 1: “And the living prayed to their gods and begged for rescue from the armies of the dead, and there was no answer. For there are no gods.” – The Book of Truth, Origins, Article 12

Unholy Ghosts, Chapter 38, pg 330: “So the sun rose on the eighth morning, and the people saw the spirits had gone. They might have thanked God, but they knew the Truth. So instead they thanked the Church.” – The Book of truth, Origins, Article 1000

Every chapter opens with a church quote. I could read a book made up entirely of Church quotes, they tell a story all their own.
I have read some reviews that call this series anti – Christian, while the books certainly may not be for you for many, many, reasons I don’t think it can be called anti- Christian. In fact I think its pro religion. The Church is being used as a guise by very powerful people to snuff out all religion and hope, thereby controlling the population. People still practice their religions away from the spying eyes of the Church – their beliefs and hope never fully extinguished. The journey back to faith and personal freedom is a key element to the series - IMO. (Of course I could be interpreting this completely wrong! – sorry Stacia)
The Church employs Churchwitches that banish the ghosts and keep the people safe. In exchange the people pay the Church taxes. If a ghost manages to escape and haunt your residence, the church will send a Churchwitch to banish the ghost and reimburse you for your inconvenience. This of course leads to false hauntings by people trying to make money and scam the Church. The Churchwitches must decide if a haunting is real and banish the ghosts if they do exist.
Now this is where the series gets messy and oh so addictive. Kane has written characters filled with raw emotion. Every single character here is flawed or damaged and to watch them try to form relationships when they just don’t know how is sometimes pure agony but in the best possible way.
Chess Putnam is a Churchwitch. The Church of Truth has saved her from a violent, disturbing childhood so now she works for them as a ghost hunter while still trying to retain some independence. She trusts that they are doing the right thing to keep everyone safe. She’s barely scraping by and is addicted to drugs. Chess is not going to appeal to everyone. She’s a hardcore drug addict and she’s not getting better anytime soon. Some people won’t be able to get past this. I was ok with it - I get it - it makes total sense to me considering her past and the world she lives in now. In fact it amazes me how trusting and kind she still is. She’s a functioning drug addict and while it doesn’t affect her job, it does encroach on her personal life and makes her have to help her dealer Bump whenever he needs a witch, to pay off her drug debts.
Ahhh, Bump…think Huggy Bear from Starsky & Hutch. He’s a flamboyant drug dealer, a pimp and overall dirt bag, and hysterically funny.
Then we have Terrible, Bump’s enforcer and now Chess’s partner (maybe more??) when she does ghost hunting jobs for Bump. Terrible is ugly, brutal in his enforcement of Bump’s rules and can really hold a grudge! And I promise you will fall in love with him. There are now blog buttons available that say Terrible Fever, and a Terrible Fever discussion group over on Goodreads to get readers through until book 4 is released. Terrible has become a very unlikely hero and sex symbol!

As if that’s not enough there is Lex the sexy enforcer to Bump’s rival drug lord and Chess’s occasional lover. Of course Chess ends up having to walk the line between three worlds: The Church, Bump and Lex.
The scenes between Terrible and Chess are some of the best I’ve ever read. I haven’t been this emotionally invested in characters or a couple in a long, long time. I was cringing…. I was yelling “No Chess!!!” and “OMG Terrible! Enough already!” at my book. I cried a few times, and I had to be tweeted through the rough parts by my friend Jenny from Supernatural Snark who had already read the series. I haven’t felt so nervous about a plot line, yet ultimately pleased about the outcome in ages.
So will you like this book?
I have no idea. Aside from a drug addicted protagonist, an ugly, stubborn hero and pimps, add a heaping cup of gruesome violence – I have a pretty strong stomach and can take most things no matter how graphic, but somehow Kane tapped into my two weaknesses…..worms and eyeballs. Are you still with me?? Good. There is also a thing called “Downside Speak” Maybe best described as a combination of Yoda and Jar Jar Binks. This…from Bump telling Chess that she can have a pill for free: “I don’t gotta charge you none for it, baby. You owes me enough already, ain’t you”……”Course …now I’m thinking….could be I know a way you pay. A way you work off your owes.”
Everyone has a different dialect and not everyone speaks in Downside so don't let that worry you. I'm just explaining yet another element of this fascinating world.
I’m not sure if I helped sell any books for Stacia Kane or just made you all run for the hills. LOL! All I can say is that this series made me uncomfortable, scared and happy all at the same time. My stomach was in knots and I think that’s fantastic! Two of my friends read it based on my glowing, frantic tweets and they both loved it but I have another friend who is struggling with book 1 and wondering when it stops being weird. It doesn’t.
Loved: I like how Chess is evolving as a character. It’s a slow process but it’s happening. Ditto for Terrible.
Nitpick: Chess and Terrible have such amazing chemistry that the book almost falls flat when they are not in scenes together. You’re just flipping the pages hoping Terrible comes back soon. Chess just never has that same chemistry with any other character.
I do wish Chess would start questioning the Church soon. I know she owes them but there have been too many coincidences lately and it’s time to open your eyes a bit.
One more teensy weensy nitpick: Why oh why were there not 3-4 more pages at the end of City of Ghosts??? So unfair….lol

Rating: I’m rating the series as a whole – 4 out of 4 stars! The first three books are out now. While there will be a fourth book released next year, the first three books complete a nice story arc so you won’t be left hanging while you wait. Stacia Kane has created an amazing world with characters that are deeply flawed yet surprisingly easy to root for.
This is my favorite new series this year.

Author's Website: Stacia Kane
Twitter: @StaciaKane
Buy the books! Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, Book 1), Unholy Magic (Downside Ghosts, Book 2), City of Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, Book 3)


  1. I've only read the first book in this series, but I really, really enjoyed it. I think it's one of my favorite UF series out there!

  2. thanks for giving me the chance to read the book in order. I totally understand about the whole down speak and chessie functioning in that world with drugs.

    Yes I admit I got terrible fever too and all thanks to you. I loved that they are flawed people and the romance between them is hot.

  3. LOL great review! yep, this is not a series for everyone, but its awesome nonetheless! I agree I wanted some extra pages at the end of City of Ghosts! =D

  4. @Natalie - you must read the next two - emotional roller coaster!!

  5. I wasn't sure I would like this series and ended up loving it! I can't wait to see what she comes up with for book 4 ;)

  6. YEAH!!!! I love this series so much. Chess being a drug addict did keep me from reading them for a while, that wasn't something I thought I wanted to read about with my heroine, but Stacia does such a beautiful job with Chess, you can't help but feel for her. And Terrible. There's not a whole lot more I can say other than I love him. Fabulous review Karen, I was nodding enthusiastically the whole time I was reading it!

  7. Omg! So gonna read these and it seems i got my library to buy them :D

  8. Great review! I was hesitant to read the series because the heroine is a drug addict and the hero was ugly. I was like really? And everyone is okay with this? But Kane does an AWESOME job of writing these characters where I accepted Chess as a functioning drug addict with no problem. I love the Downspeak and I think Bump is HILARIOUS (even if he's not trying to be). I love him. I can't wait for book 4. I need my Terrible fix.

  9. love Love LOVE this series!!!! Great Review Karen!!!

  10. @Julie, Larissa, Patti, Marq, Day - It's hard to believe how much you fall in love with this world and these characters even though you think that would be impossible. I'm so glad everyone else loved it as much as I did.

    @Blodeudd - Yay!! Come catch Terrible Fever with the rest of us!! Just a warning though - You MUST read them in order!!!

  11. @Jenny - thanks for coaching me through the drama of books two & three...sheesh - that was stressful!

  12. Gosh, I have heard so much about this serties and I ordered it already!
    I got the first two books and I cannot wait to start them!!Thanks for this comprehensive review!!

    Kelly @ I work For Books

  13. I will be reading this series next. I haven't seen one bad review on these books. Can't wait.