This gritty urban fantasy is an interesting take on ghosts and magic in a world where the Church has taken control and trains witches and wizards.
Chess Putnam has a lot on her plate. Mangled human corpses have started to show up on the streets of Downside and Chess’s bosses at the Church of the Real Truth have ordered her to team up with the ultra-powerful Black Squad agency to crack this grisly case. Chess is under a binding spell that threatens death if she talks about the investigation, but the city’s most notorious crime boss – and Chess’s drug dealer – gets wind of her new assignment and insists on being kept informed. If that isn’t bad enough, a sinister street vendor appears to have information Chess needs. Only he’s not telling what he knows or what it all has to do with the vast underground City of Eternity.
Now Chess will have to navigate killer wraiths and a lot of seriously nasty magic – all while coping with some not so small issues of her own. And the only man she can trust to help her through it all has every reason to want her dead.
This is the third book in the series and as I hadn’t come across the previous two instalments, the first hurdle was to negotiate the backstory. However, Kane manages to reprise all the necessary connecting plot points without holding up the narrative – a fairly nifty trick, as it happens. As you may have gathered by the blurb, Chess isn’t exactly squeaky clean. She is a drug addict who also happens to be a talented witch – an interesting take on the whole urban fantasy magic-user scene, if not entirely original.
Kane is at pains to depict Chess as something of an anti-hero – in addition to being a drug addict and using her highs to feed her magical talent, she has also been around the block one or three times… And uses the full range of graphic swear words to describe said block. Chess also has a somewhat torrid love life. Fully depicted in all its… torridness. Add in some fairly gruesome descriptions of the dark magic that is practised, then you have a book that is definitely more along the lines of True Blood, rather than Harry Potter and isn’t one I’d recommend for the shelves of your fourteen year old.
However, if graphic sex and language doesn’t offend you, then this is an urban fantasy that zips forward at full tilt and doesn’t ease off until the final page. In common with some of the better written books in this sub-genre, there is a sprinkling of humour to leaven the dark nature of the magic and I enjoyed Chess’s snappy first person narrative voice – although personally I could have done with a few less ‘f’ words. And one of the sex scenes (the one in the public toilets) seemed unrealistic to the point of silliness.
The baddies were convincingly scary and I particularly liked the passages during the Church rituals, which managed to convey a real sense of menace. Kane is very good at providing detailed and threatening backdrops to her various adventures without losing pace or narrative tension, which is trickier to pull off than Kane makes it look. Overall, I enjoyed the story and felt that Chess was an interesting and mostly convincing protagonist. City of Ghosts certainly enlivened a long train journey and I shall be interested to see how Kane further develops this character.