Del Rey, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51559-9
City of Ghosts is the third book in Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series, but this one can stand alone pretty well. There is no carryover of plot from previous books and the soap opera between the heroine and the men in her life can be easily followed even by newcomers to the series.
Chess Putnam is back, and despite being increasingly portrayed as a drug-addled screw-up, she still manages to get the best and most dangerous assignments around. This time around, we have another case of dead bodies lying around the place – the usual. But the case seems to be a little bit more serious than previous cases as the Church forces Chess to take a magical Binding Oath that will hurt her badly should she try to blab to other people about the case. Naturally, Bump wants to know about the case, heh. Meanwhile, Terrible and Chess behave like kids around each other, with Chess constantly embarrassing herself trying to earn Terrible’s forgiveness while Terrible is like, “Whore! You’re a whore!” Of course, in this case, Chess was a bit of a whore, sleeping with another guy who was giving her happy pills for free, but there’s really no excuse for these two to start bickering and behaving like children when they are supposed to be on a scene investigating dangerous things.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just overdosed on Chess’s relentless helplessness and self-pity, but the main reaction I have after closing City of Ghosts is relief that it’s over. Reading this book and the previous books in three consecutive months is a very tiring experience, because Ms Kane doesn’t just pile on the angst, she puts on so much angst on Chess even as she has Chess constantly feeling helpless, useless, and ashamed of her weaknesses that I feel as if I’d spent three months in intense therapy, listening to Chess whine.
I think the problem here is that the bad habits shown by the author in Unholy Ghosts are seeping back into this book. Chess experiences too much negative emotions and injuries that I feel as if I had been battered back and blue by her melodrama in this book. Perhaps it is a testament to Ms Kane’s writing abilities that she manages to get me so involved in this story, but Chess in this book turns out to be once again too much for me.
I mean, yes, in the end she gets to triumph over the bad guys, but to do that, she is often subjected to much pain and mental agony, what with all her constant screaming and flailing about. When she is with Terrible, she will be trying so hard to get him to open up to her again while he behaves like a sulky little boy. Throughout it all, she swallows pills to an extent that her habit is really starting to affect her job in a manner that is starting to come off like a plot contrivance just to have Chess feel guilty and sorry. As a result, Chess is one relentless bag of neurotic angst and self-destructive behavior. It is only in the last chapter that she gets a measure of peace, but if the previous two books are anything to go by, Chess doesn’t learn much – she goes back to square one by the first chapter of next book and the whole cycle begins again.
The plot in this book is pretty weak, in my opinion, mostly because we are three books into the series by now but the Lamaru is still a shadowy organization that is starting to come off as puppet villains. It will be nice to have more insight into this organization and, who knows, maybe with a bad guy identified as the chief villain, there may actually be some interesting direction to move the series into. Instead, the Lamaru in this book is just sort of there as cardboard bad guys and much focus is put on the repetitive childish behavior of Chess and Terrible as well as Chess’s equally repetitive angst.
Perhaps the repetitiveness is the main reason for my discontent with this book. It’s a readable book, well-paced and gritty, but I’ve been subjected to Chess’s negative funk for three books now and the sameness is starting to get to me. It’s a very difficult kind of sameness to read three times in a row because Chess’s constant whining and self-destructive pattern of behavior can sometimes make me want to smack her silly. The only obvious development is Chess’s love life, and even then, it serves only to increase Chess’s accentuation of the negative aspects of her life. Somehow over the course of the series, I have started to feel less sorry for Chess and experience a greater need to drag her to a rehab center. I usually don’t mind a junkie heroine, but not when her drug addiction begins to create more trouble in her already messed-up life.
I guess I just have a low threshold for the sensory bombardment that just keeps coming in from this book, from this series actually. Shame, helplessness, disgust, worry, fear, terror… all that is accompanied by Chess’s constant lack of sleep and her need to use her happy pills to keep her going. Everything is just too negative, too much, with not enough quiet moments to balance the negative and let me release my breath.
All I can say here is that I am still tentatively on board with this series, but… well, I’d just have to wait and see, because hopefully a longer break between books may let me appreciate Chess as a character better. To all folks wishing to give this series a try, I’d suggest this: read the first book, and if you find yourself affected by the mood of the book, give yourself some space and time before you read the next two books. You don’t want to end up like me, momentarily burned out by Chess’s angst.