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This review is from: Chasing Magic (Downside Ghosts, Book 5) (Kindle Edition)
We're back in Downside, and the status quo in terms of the drug war that has been acted out over the past 4 novels has changed, with the death of one of the two drug lords who held control of the city. The changes impact in ways True Church-employed witch and fake haunting debunker Caesaria ('Chess') Putnam simply hadn't envisioned: because whilst there are further problems arising between her love, Terrible, and her friend with former-benefits, Lex, someone else thinks the change in the status quo affords a great opportunity for a third party to move in on Downside. A third party whose drugs have some seriously bad side effects.
IT's not just the conflict that's escalating. There's Chess's relationship with Terrible, her friendship with one of the Church Elders, the impact of the sigil she carved into Terrible's chest - saving his life, but leaving him vulnerable to the effects of dark magic and with a propensity to faint that's not likely to help in his 'day job' as 'heavy' (especially with a rival looking to assassinate him), the awkwardness of Chess's friendships with high-ranking people on both sides of the drug war, and Chess's drug addiction.
The latter is a huge part of this series and Chess is a really, really messed up central character - she hates herself and is both attracted to and terrified by forming bonds with others. She wants to be liked and loved but, thanks to her abusive upbringing, not only believes that there's nothing there for others to like/love but, worse, is terrified that anyone who does seem to care for her does so ONLY because they don't see the ugly truth of her. A truth she needs to hide.
The outcome of a contentious meeting with one of the few people she cares about only seems to validate Chess's belief in her core repulsiveness.
Add to this, Chess has no clear-cut place in the world. She works for the Church and is great at channeling its magic, yet doesn't relate to its clean-cut, rule-bound nature and chooses to live outside its confines. Inversely, thanks to her powers she isn't free to be a true Downsider either: elements of the Church's involvment in her upbringing emphasised every time she speaks. Chess uses standard language rather than Downsider-speak.
Drug use is her coping mechanism: a way to anaesthetise, to feel better, to sleep, to wake. It might be killing her, but it's getting her through the day. Ish. Thanks to her friendships, Chess is on the 'pretty' side of addiction: she has (low-cost) access to good quality pills/lines. But it's still clearly an addiction. And in Kane's unflinching depiction, Chess is not exempt from degradation or the consequences of her own escalating behaviour.