“Facts are Truth.”
– The Church of Real Truth liturgical response
Although the series is categorized as urban fantasy, it’s so much than that. It’s provocative alternate history, it’s naturalistic fantasy, it’s a soul-crushing romance… Ultimately Kane’s Downside saga is one of the most innovative – and important – paranormal fantasy sagas I’ve ever read.
And here’s why.
Set in a near future where governments and religions have been made irrelevant, the backstory of the Downside saga sets the stage for an unforgettable story. During a seven-day span in 1997, humankind was irrevocably changed when ghosts rose from their graves and killed millions of innocents. Only one small group, called the Church of Real Truth, devoted to the theory and study of magic, had the knowledge to control and defeat the ghosts. Now, several decades in the future, the Church essentially runs the world. There are no governments and no religions: “Who wasted their lives believing in a god when the Church had proof of the afterlife on its side? When the Church knew how to harness magic and energy?” The Church has even gone as far as to vow to reimburse citizens being haunted by the wicked dead. Debunkers are brought in to either banish the offending spirits or expose those fraudulent citizens trying to cheat the church out of money.
“That bitter numbness – so soothing – in her nose and sinuses, the back of her throat… like parts of her didn’t exist anymore. Especially when her heart jumped and happiness blossomed in her chest, in her mind. Definitely like parts of her didn’t exist anymore. All the bad parts.” (Sacrificial Magic)
Chess is an enthralling character – so complex and imperfect and full of paradoxes – I absolutely love Chess and cannot get enough of her. But there is another character that I believe is even more complex and full of contradictions and even more endearing – and that’s Terrible, her love interest. A muscular giant of an enforcer covered with tattoos and scars who works for a drug dealer named Bump, Terrible is a cold-blooded killer, the most feared man in all of Downside. But Chess sees another side of him – one filled with intelligence, a deep sense of honor, and capable of unconditional love.
But can a hardcore addict love someone more than her addiction?
“That was the problem with love, though, wasn’t it. It couldn’t be helped, couldn’t be controlled. It just roared in and took whatever it wanted, destroyed whatever it wanted; the most dangerous addiction of all, because nobody survived it intact.” (Chasing Magic)
At one point, in City of Ghosts, Chess even compares sexual intimacy with Terrible to getting high: “She’d never been able to resist temptation – especially an unhealthy one – and at that moment he was another pill, another line; one she needed, one she would die if she couldn’t have, and her entire body was already vibrating in anticipation.”
Kane just doesn’t nail up some cardboard urban fantasy backdrop; she goes the route of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and essentially creates her own language. The rich vernacular of Downside is an integral part of this saga’s appeal. Here’s a taste from the latest Downside novel, Chasing Magic:
“Mine friend, him taken the speed. Bangin it. Him gone all fluffercutty, ain’t won’t leave him room, screamin them after he, screamin on ghosts in him head.”
The existential and spiritual speculation throughout all of these novels is utterly profound. Chess is struggling – flailing – to find her place in the world and the self-examination throughout is intense.
• “…she couldn’t stand having him love her, because it forced her to try to be better than she was.” (Chasing Magic)
• “She had nothing but scars; she was a scar.” (Sacrificial Magic)
The bottom line is this: readers of all ilk – urban fantasy, romance, mystery, literary fiction – will be blown away by the originality, thematic depth, and mind-blowing power of this series. Unforgettable characters, unforgettable themes, unforgettable series.
Facts are truth.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgoatallen and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.
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