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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

'Sacrificial Magic' Downside #4 by Stacia Kane

From the BLURB:

When Chess Putnam is ordered by an infamous crime boss—who also happens to be her drug dealer—to use her powers as a witch to solve a grisly murder involving dark magic, she knows she must rise to the challenge. Adding to the intensity: Chess’s boyfriend, Terrible, doesn’t trust her, and Lex, the son of a rival crime lord, is trying to reignite the sparks between him and Chess.

Plus there’s the little matter of Chess’s real job as a ghost hunter for the Church of Real Truth, investigating reports of a haunting at a school in the heart of Downside. Someone seems to be taking a crash course in summoning the dead—and if Chess doesn’t watch her back, she may soon be joining their ranks.

As Chess is drawn into a shadowy world of twisted secrets and dark violence, it soon becomes clear that she’s not going to emerge from its depths without making the ultimate sacrifice.

** This review contains SPOILERS for previous ‘Downside’ books **

For a little while there, Cesaria ‘Chess’ Putnam thought she had it all. After hurting him with the worst kind of betrayal, Chess and Downside thug, Terrible, are together and happier than ever. And despite their awkward break-up, Chess and Slobag’s son, Lex, are remaining friends (without the benefits). Her work for the church has just bought Chess a new couch, and for the first time in a long time she feels fulfilled in nearly all aspects of her life.
So it comes as no surprise to Chess that fate chooses this moment to start unraveling her existence.

First, a burned and sacrificed body turns up on Bump’s side of town. Chess and Terrible are trying to keep their relationship on the hush, but that doesn’t mean she can turn Bump down when he tells her to be a good witch and jump into investigating this murder . . . not to mention, Chess is still reliant on Bump for her pills and hits.

At the same time as Chess is ordered by Bump to investigate a suspicious Downside murder, a Church employee goes missing while on a job and Elder Griffin gives the left-overs to Chess. Elder Griffin also drops a bombshell that he’s hoping to be advanced in the Church; effectively leaving Chess behind.

But when Chess arrives at the scene of a haunting, Mercy Lewis Second School, she is confronted by antagonistic staff and silent students. Even more, Mercy Lewis is on Lex’s side of town . . .  and he insists on ‘popping round’ to keep an eye on his old Tulip.
Suddenly Chess’s perfect world starts unraveling and colliding; sacrificed bodies start mounting and old doubts creep into Chess’s mind. . .

‘Sacrificial Magic’ is the fourth book in Stacia Kane’s phenomenal ‘Downside’ urban fantasy series.

It has been far too long since fans last traveled to ‘Downside’. Third book, ‘City of Ghosts’, came out in 2010, and it has been a looooooong wait for this much-anticipated fourth book. However, Kane did leave Chess on a high-note in ‘City of Ghosts’, when she cemented her relationship with Terrible after the hurdle of having slept with Lex.

‘Sacrificial Magic’ picks up pretty much where ‘City’ left off, give or take a few months. Chess and Terrible appear to still be in the ‘honeymoon’ period of their courtship – spending nights at each other’s apartments, sneaking kisses on the street (to keep their romance on the down-low) and, for Chess at least, basking in the fact that they managed to overcome so much distrust and dishonesty (and near-death!) to be together;

Seeing him was like being hit in the chest. Like something exploding inside her, a quick ravenous fire that made her shiver. So bright and so hot it still amazed her that no one else seemed to notice it, that every eye in the place didn’t turn to her while she went incandescent.

So, of course lady fate chooses this moment for things to start going horribly wrong in Chess’s world.

In quick succession she finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery with Bump – when a member of his crew is found to have been burnt and sacrificed in a warehouse fire (suspected to have been started by Lex’s father and rival Downside king, Slobag). Soon after, Chess is put on a Church-sanctioned case, tying up the loose ends of a case in which the Church investigator went missing (and hasn’t been heard from since). This case takes Chess to a secondary school on Lex’s side of town, and throws the two of them together again. . .  much to Terrible’s chagrin.

As Chess starts investigating the ghost of a girl who killed herself on the Mercy Lewis school grounds years ago (the outcome of a tragic love affair between a student and teacher) Chess finds herself ducking near-misses as this vengeful ghost gains power.

I had my heart in my throat throughout a lot of this book. I am a huge Chess fangirl, even while knowing that she is the quintessential anti-hero. I know Chess is screwed up, and a product of her own self-sabotage. She’s an addict with no wish to kick her habits – but I love her anyway. I have written about this at length. . .  and because I know that Chess is her own worst enemy, I felt very on-edge during the beginning of this book. I knew that, as deceptively sweet as Chess and Terrible’s lovey-dovey relationship was, it had to come crashing down at some point. And it does. . . hard.

It’s not just that Lex happens to be thrown back into Chess’s path, creating tension between her and Terrible. It was more the fact that in this book, Chess starts to really pay attention to the imbalance in her relationship with Terrible. Chess may be a junkie, but she’s a smart woman regardless . . .  and she knows that a relationship in which she’s the addict, and Terrible is her supplier’s lackey, there is going to be an imbalance.

On the plus side, Chess recognizing the power Terrible potentially has over her and her addiction is really the first instance of Chess hating her habit. I know that Chess’s path to recovery and getting clean (if it ever happens) will be a long, rocky one. But her realizing that imbalance and resenting it, is really the first step in the right direction.

With Terrible, it’s once again Chess’s self-hatred and self-sabotage that makes the biggest dent in their relationship. I actually really liked reading all of Chess’s self-doubting narration, because it managed to reveal the roots of her terror . . .  at one point, Chess remembers all those foster ‘daddies’ who used and abused her, and a foster brother who beat her – so badly that sometimes her foster mother would give her drugs for the pain. This is one of the biggest “aha!” moments in Kane unravelling Chess’s horrible history, and it’s a doozey of a revelation. All these little teasing ties and hints are wonderful storytelling on Kane’s behalf, as readers slowly piece together Chess’s history leading to this point in time. Aptly-named, Chess is a puzzle of a protagonist, and I’m enjoying putting her pieces together.

But the words in her head were a reminder, one she didn’t need. A reminder that she was failing, that she was fucking up, that it wasn’t a question of when she would spoil everything but of how long he would put up with the way she was spoiling everything. They made her feel as if she was standing on a railing above the city, balancing there with nothing to hold on to, and if she lost her balance she’d fall off.
And she’d never stop falling.

The murder-mystery in ‘Sacrificial Magic’ is another cat and mouse whodunit, peppered with enough red herrings and curveballs to keep the reader guessing. An interesting addition to the cast in this book is a part-time worker at the Mercy Lewis School, a woman called Beulah who takes an instant dislike to Chess (and for good reason). I won’t give anything away about this character’s presence, but I get the impression she’s going to play a big part in Chess’s world from here on in, and I look forward to it.

‘Sacrificial Magic’ was absolutely worth the year-long wait. Stacia Kane delivers on all fronts – in Chess and Terrible goodness, new players on the Downside scene, revelations about Chess’s past and towards the end she delivers a game-change that is off the Richter scale! I was so pleased to learn that the fifth ‘Downside’ book won’t be as long a wait – with a tentative June 2012 release date. It was bloody good to revisit Downside and Chess again, with this fourth book Ms Kane is definitely cementing herself as an urban fantasy tour-de-force.



  1. I forgot I had this could I forget?!? Going to grab it and put in my bag to read as soon as I finish the book I'm reading now. I love Chess and Terrible - can't wait to see how their story is progressing.

    1. Forgot!?! Get reading it, quick-smart! It's sooooo good - and Terrible is so thug-lovely :)

  2. Fabulous review as always! I really need to buy this book, I keep forgetting about it :) and I love Chess!

    1. Aw, thanks :)
      Chess is fantastic - one of the best, most complicated heroines I have had the joy to read!

  3. Hell yes! You totally hit the nail on the head... chess is the ultimate ouzzle and it is a pleasure to decifer her piece by piece!

    The bits we get from her history are perfect!

    Btw, I think you will love Chasing Magic even more LOL my review is coming soon hehe

    Ps: thanks to my ipad, im commenting! YAY! LOL

    1. *GASP*!!! You've read 'Chasing Magic'?!? Wh-wh-what? How? When? WHAT!?!? Lucky duck!

    2. Got it from netgalley a while ago... The review is ready to go p lol

  4. I have the first three in this series but haven't actually gotten around to starting it yet LOL

    Need more hours in the day!


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