Del Rey, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-52752-3
Chasing Magic is book five in Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series. It can stand alone in some ways, but the relationship between our heroine Chess Putnam and her beau Terrible is quite entrenched to the point that newcomers will miss out on the many nuances of their developing relationship. At any rate, read my review of the first book in the series if you want a refresher course on the background of this series.
This time around, Chess is having some pretty impressive love drama for a junkie: her ex and sometimes dealer, Lex, is now the boss of the Chinatown side of the triad gangs after his father croaked, and this puts Lex at cross purposes with Chess’s squeeze Terrible, the loyal second-in-command of the other crime boss in the city. That’s not the end of the drama: someone or something is tampering with the drug supply in the neighborhood, creating weird and violent zombie-like things that are very hard to put down. Naturally, Chess and Terrible are knee-deep in the smelly stuff.
While there is an urban fantasy (read: violent and dark) subplot here, the story also focuses heavily on Chess’s melodrama with Terrible and various assorted secondary characters. And this is where I have a problem with this book, and, possibly, the rest of the series if the author chooses to head down this route.
Let’s start with Chess. She’s a junkie. I like that concept, and I admire the author’s willingness to take the risk and create a protagonist with an addiction problem that does not act apologetic or remorseful about it. Unfortunately, her dependency on Cepts goes hand in hand with an unrelenting fever-pitch sense of frantic impotence that seizes Chess like a vise. She’s constantly behaving at the verge of a complete breakdown, so it’s actually a marvel – an increasingly implausible one – that she can get herself together and still function to the point that she gets a bonus from the Church. Chess is all “Dark! Helpless! At the verge of losing every single confrontation!” until I wish there is something – anything – to break the monotony of her hysteria.
Yes, Chess has self-esteem issues. Yet, I’m not sure that I like just how dependent she is on Terrible now that she’s decided to love him the most. It’s like he has become just one more addiction – her clinginess and her tendency to act like she’d die completely without him only contributes to her grating one-note hysteria mode.
The non-stop hysteria crosses the line to self-parody in the execution here, alas. Now, I know we are dealing with uneducated street thugs here, so cuss words are to be expected. But if I take a drink every time the word “fuck” or “fucking” comes up, I’d have died six times over from alcoholic poisoning by the last page. When Chess just adds “fucking” to every adjective that crosses her mind, the end result feels more like a juvenile delinquent given free rein to cuss than anything else. This is especially apparent when she thinks things like “fucking gross” – all that is missing is an exaggerated shudder to complete the surly thirteen-year old girl mode.
It’s the same with all the tough guys going “fuck, fuck, fuck” all the time. It’s as if the only cuss word they know is “fuck” – how about some variety, for heaven’s sake. I’m not gangster like most people and I think I still know ten times more rude and offensive words to use than these so-called hard-ass thugs. The whole thing demonstrates that “fuck” is a word that, when overused, results in unintentional hilarity, often at the author’s expense.
At the end of the day, I find Chasing Magic a joyless read. It’s so one-dimensionally miserable and dark, but it’s not the kind of dark that I can appreciate. Instead, the whole “OMG OMG OMG!” hysteria of Chess, compounded with the liberal application of “fuck” that only make everyone resemble teens trying too hard to sound tough and dangerous, makes the darkness feel contrived and even artificial.
I’d give the next book a try, but if that doesn’t work out as well, I believe it’d be time for me to say goodbye to this series. Well, let’s just wait and see, shall we?