I wasn’t sure what to expect from this prequel novella in the Downside series. I knew it would feature a young Chess, just getting started in the Church. I knew she would be untried and I knew she would already be damaged by her horrible childhood. What I didn’t expect was how much she would be colored by hope; or how sad it would be to know what her future would hold.
Basically, the story follows Chess on her first real training mission. She’s been studying with the Church for two years, but this her first foray out into the field. She must work with members of the Black Squad to solve a string of seemingly unrelated ghost-murders. The plot is interesting enough, but where I was really affected was in how Chess was portrayed.
Yes, she was damaged by her childhood. She is plagued by those feelings of inadequacy that follow her into later books. But she is not on drugs. She’s been clean since the Church took her in. The worst way she indulges is with a gulp of vodka now and then to dull the pain, but she castigates herself for it. She sees the Church as an infallible savior. The one step between safety and a life on street corners, whoring for food. She’s determined to be worthy of them. It’s just so hard.
I’ve never had an overabundance of patience with Chess or her self-destructive behavior. But here, she is somehow both naive and jaded. She carries both hope and despair. And we see these defining moments in her life as they unfold. We see the groundwork for the ill-fated tryst with Agnew Doyle referenced in Unholy Ghosts. The first tendrils of a relationship with Elder Griffen. The feelings of communion with Downside. That first Cept. Her first glimpse of Terrible. It’s a lot to take in. It makes me hurt for her. It makes me more sympathetic to where she ends up. And for all of this, Stacia Kane is brilliant.
All that being said, I don’t think this is a story for new readers. It’s for fans who already think they know Chess, to show us just how much we didn’t know. It’s an important part of the Downside world, but it doesn’t have the single most compelling element of the novels, and that’s Terrible. He is the heart of the series for me, and his absence was felt.
One day, maybe, he’ll get a novella of his own. A girl can hope, right?
Finding Magicby Stacia KaneRelease Date: June 4, 2012Publisher: Del Rey