Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF) with Romance
"The Brave Tale of Maddie Carver" (prequel, free story)
"Home" (e-book novella, 4/2012)
"Finding Magic" (e-book novella, 6/2012)
Chasing Magic (6/2012)
This post was updated on 8/18/12 to include a review of Chasing Magic.
As the book opens, Chess is given the job of determining if a ghost is haunting a school that is in the middle of Slobag's territory. Another churchwitch was originally assigned to the project, but he has disappeared, leaving behind only a mass of unintelligible notes. Neither the staff nor the students in the school cooperate with Chess until Lex stops by and gives her a passionate kiss—right in front to them. He swears he did it only to get Chess some cooperation, but she knows that he did it so that the news would quickly get back to Terrible. Lex was hurt when Chess ended their mostly sexual affair in the previous book, and he'd like to get her back in his bed. The main plot follows Chess, sometimes alone and sometimes with either Terrible or Lex, as she unravels the clues and figures out who is haunting the school and why.
This novella takes place shortly after Chess tells Terrible that she loves him, and she still has that walking-on-a-cloud feeling of early-relationship passion. As the story opens, the Church sends Chess out to investigate a complaint that a married couple has a ghost residing in their home. When Chess learns that the couple summoned the ghost—which is illegal and punishable by imprisonment—she listens to the couple's story and, influenced by her own romantic situation, makes a decision that she would not have made before her relationship with Terrible got serious. This is a nice illustration of how love is transforming Chess' outlook on life.
The sub-plots are all connected with Chess's usual relationship problems. Her drug use is getting out of control to the point that she nearly ODs, and Terrible, for the first time, tries to get her to slow down with her drugs—resulting in feelings of shame and humiliation for Chess. Lex, who has succeeded his father as the boss of his part of the Downside, has hired a killer to assassinate Terrible, and when Chess begs him to leave Terrible alone, Lex tries to get her into bed with him once again. When Terrible finds out about Chess's visit to Lex, their relationship takes another hit. Chess loves Terrible, but she wants to remain friends with Lex. Chess's continuation of her friendship with Lex, by the way, is one of the few wrong notes (for me, anyhow) in this book. Lex is trying to kill Terrible; he taunts both Chess and Terrible constantly about his previous sexual relationship with Chess—so why doesn't she just cut him loose? She justifies herself by reminding herself (and the reader) that Lex has saved her life a number of times and that she can always rely on Lex (mostly for free drugs), but if she claims to have such a deep and abiding love for Terrible, how can she keep hurting him by continuing to be buddies with Lex?
Another relationship problem comes when Chess's sole Church friend, Elder Griffin, meets Terrible for the first time and realizes that Chess has shared her power with him. He forces Chess to tell him the whole story about killing the psychopomp and bringing Terrible back to life (which she did in an earlier book) and then agrees not to turn her in to the Church because if he did, Chess would face certain execution. Elder Griffin also conveys his deep disappointment in Chess and pretty much turns his back on their friendship from that point on. Before he cuts her off, though, he helps her design a sigil that will protect Terrible from the effects of dark magic—a side effect of what Chess did to him.
Throughout the book, Chess continues to blame herself for just about everything that goes wrong in the lives of her friends. At one point she thinks to herself, that she is of no use to anyone, not to Terrible, not to her friends, "or everyone else, really, everyone she'd ever met, everyone who'd ever been unlucky or stupid enough to depend on her." (p. 260). She believes that "she wasn't good enough and never would be, that she deserved all of the pain she'd gotten in her life, all of the abuse. She'd been born bad; she'd been born with something...something wrong with her, something she could never make right. She didn't belong in the world." (p. 291) The problem is that these words—or very similar ones—are repeated constantly throughout all of the books in the series. Chess never seems to make any progress on improving her self esteem, and that's starting to drag down the story lines. At least, this time she reaches inside herself and uses that self-hate to fuel her magical powers, but usually it's just a pity party for poor Chess. I keep hoping that Kane will reach into her bag of inventive plots and come up with a solution that will put Chess on a more positive path while still maintaining her tough, independent character. Maybe Terrible could slip some antidepressants into her drug stash. With its inventive mythology and quirky characters, this has been one of my favorite series from the very beginning, and I hope that Kane will find a way to redirect Chess's emotional life.