REPOST--Everybody's Got a Dark Side

Downside Ghosts by Stacia Kane: The Best Series You're Not Reading

The best books are not easy.  They make you think, they shove you out of your comfort zone, they challenge your preconceived notions, they burrow under your skin, and they make you see the world around you differently. Downside Ghosts by Stacia Kane does all of these things.  I love this gritty, raw, emotional, heart-wrenching, dark, and disturbing series. I love a book that can make me cry, and I finished each of the first three books with tears streaming down my face. I know I'm hooked when I think about a book all day long, and hear the story in songs I hear; I did both of those things with Chess and Terrible.
Read on for a look at some of the reasons why you should try Downside Ghosts, and let Chess and Terrible burrow under your skin....

Gritty, Raw, Frightening Setting and Stories

From the very first scene of Unholy Ghosts, the stories are frightening.  Not only is the Downside world one in which ghosts are an everyday occurrence, but the methods for capturing those ghosts (which is Chess's job) are every bit as dangerous and harrowing as actually living with them. Each book follows a main storyline that is a mystery to solve with frights to encounter along the way. Many things can be said about this series, but that it is boring is not one of them. Stacia Kane keeps us guessing, keeps us on our toes, and writes riveting stories in all of the books. I've not been able to guess the bad guy in one book, and I've been surprised at the end of each one.
By the second scene of UG we begin to see Downside for what it is: dark, depressing, and impoverished. But it is written in amazing detail that makes the reader almost able to smell the smoke from the firecans, to see the ruined buildings, to feel the desperation of the Downsiders.  We sometimes get to travel to other parts of Triumph City and learn that it’s not all so dark and broken, but Downside is the perfect place for Chess. It is a reflection of her inner darkness, and we come to understand why she calls Downside home. I don’t read a lot of dystopian fantasy, so this gritty, filthy world is different from what I usually read, and I love that. I also love that the descriptions are truly a sensory experience. Stacia Kane builds a hideous world, beautifully.

And speaking of hideous, Ms. Kane writes disgusting in a way I've never read before. There are moments in the books that I have not read a second time. I just skip over those parts. Whatever your personal gag reflex, she'll most likely hit it somewhere in the course of the series. But I love that she is not afraid to go there. Life is messy and disgusting sometimes, and we just have to suck it up and deal with it.


Great Side Characters

You can’t have a great series without interesting side characters, and Downside has them. We meet Bump, Terrible’s drug kingpin boss, and Lex, their rival’s enforcer, in Unholy Ghosts. Bump is such a creep, but I love it whenever he is on page. He does not fit the description, at all, but every single time Bump opens his mouth I see Mr. Chow from the Hangover movies. His version of Downspeech just sounds like that to me. It’s probably just me; my mind is ridiculous.
Then there’s Lex. I should hate Lex, because I love Terrible. But I don’t hate him. I see him as a perfect foil for Terrible, and I love that in a story. Lex is handsome, laid-back, powerful in a much more slick way, has this playboy vibe about him, and is completely wrong for Chess. I actually really like Lex, and I am holding my breath to find out if we are going to get more books, so that we can see how the Lex developments in the last two books will play out.
There are also great side characters in SloBag, Bump and Terrible’s rival kingpin, Blue, Lex’s sister, Elder Griffin, Chess’s mentor, and Edsel, Chess’s only real Downside friend. The characters are interesting, and their development in Chess’s life is fascinating to watch. I want to continue getting to know these people, and you will, too. I love that most of our protagonists are anti-heroes. They are people who do really awful things every single day; but they have a code of honor and they look out for who, and what, is theirs. I don't live that way, but I totally respect it.

The Fucked-Up Heroine

Chess is an incredibly difficult character to read.  There’s no way to sugar-coat it: Chess is a drug addict. Her life revolves around addiction, and her sole focus is maintaining her high, while also maintaining the façade that she is a functional, “normal” Churchwitch.  It is difficult to relate to such a character, if you haven’t lived addiction yourself.  I don’t relate.  I don’t understand where she is coming from, and it gets very frustrating.  But as frustrating as she is, I have much more sympathy for her than most other heroines, because she has actually been through hell and back. She has genuine, deeply rooted reasons for her idiotic, self-preserving actions, which we discover more and more with each book.
Her past is completely unfathomable to me, and it allows the reader to understand why Chess is so damaged, to appreciate why she has the lowest self-esteem of any character I’ve ever read, and to comprehend why she sabotages everything good in her life.  I have never wanted to fix a character so badly in my life. I want to hug her, and keep her safe and warm, and introduce her to my parents so that they can love her, the way they loved me. I just want to wave a magic wand and fix her.
But what is amazing about Chess is that, in spite of her inconceivable hardships and issues, she is brave and smart, resourceful and talented.  When given an opportunity to improve her lot in life, she grabbed that chance with both hands, and became one of the best Churchwitches around. She faces terror every time she goes to do her job, but she does it with skill and aplomb, protecting others in the process.  Our Wench, Zee, had this to say about Chess:
And Chess, is SO fucked up, but...I get it. My heart goes out to someone who has had SUCH a fucked up life, and I'm rooting for her to somehow get better. When she {snip}...I cringed...but her being so screwed up doesn't piss me off just makes me feel worse for her and want her to work her way out of this mess.
Chess is going to frustrate and confound you—I guarantee.  You are going to want to shake her, yell at her, and sit her down for a nice long lecture about making good choices.  But she is also going to awe you with her bravery, her loyalty, and her vulnerability. Take this journey with Chess, and she’ll make it worth the price of admission. Unholy Magic is tough reading.  I thought I was going to give up, as did many of the Wenches, but we persevered. And I am so glad that I did, that WE did. The emotional journey that Chess is on is amazing!  But remember that it is a journey. We see her lowest lows, but we also get to see her hope and her growth. Be patient with her; she needs it.

The Unlikely Hero

For many, many readers, though, Terrible will keep you coming back for more. He is the unlikeliest of heroes. He is not handsome. In fact, he’s often described as ugly, which is not your typical romantic-lead fare. He is a drug kingpin’s enforcer, which means that he scares, beats, and sometimes kills people for a living. He’s uneducated and he has no family, or history, to speak of. I know that does not sound like a character you are going to want to read about, let alone fall in love with, but trust me, you will.
Terrible is the kind of character whose quiet strength radiates off the page, and you just know that there is a current of power beneath the silence that you don’t ever want directed at you. He is a human, but is scary enough to be included in the same discussion with our favorite supernatural heroes. Scary only goes so far though, and that is where loyalty, respect, and care take over. Terrible protects his own with a code of honor that only someone surviving in the world of Downside could understand. 
But what sets Terrible apart, keeps me coming back for more, and has reduced me to tears more times than I care to admit, are the simple, beautiful expressions of his feelings. His words are not eloquent or flowery, which makes them all the more powerful in their simplicity. There are so many moments in the five Downside books that stole my breath because Terrible said the perfect thing. By the end of Unholy Ghosts I already knew that he was unlike any hero I had read, and that I needed to read more, but this line from the end of that book ensured that I was fully consumed by “Terrible Fever”:
 “Some dames I let do whatany they want.”

This is what our own Amanda had to say about Terrible, and it is exactly how we all feel about him:
Terrible is not only an unlikely hero, but who could ever expect to hear the emotion that comes out of him? Not in the most eloquent way, but it is the only way he knows how. His lack of eloquence only makes my heart melt more. At one point, he says, while trying to talk about their relationship, "I'm not good at this shit..." I would beg to differ!! He is excellent at that shit. TBH, it's becoming more clear to me, he is reminding me of Bones for depth and honesty of emotion. Difference being that Bones is smooth, Terrible is not, but it's all there between the lines in that Downspeech of his.

Bottom Line

I hope I’ve convinced you to give Downside Ghosts a try. I’m going to be totally honest: they are not for everyone. They are scary in places, there are some disgusting things, the drug theme is difficult (but fascinating, really), there is coarse language, and they are graphic. But if you are open-minded, patient, have a strong stomach, and are able to see beauty and hope within the most difficult situations, you just might love Chess, Terrible, and Downside as much as we do.

What do you think? Have you read Downside Ghosts? Do you love them as much as we do? Are you ready to give them a try now? Share your thoughts below!


  1. Barb, this post is just...... I have no words for how SPOT ON it is!! FLOVE it!!!!

    1. Also, makes me even happier about my blog name :D I do love Terrible <3

  2. Well put! I love this series and I wish more people would read it! I was hesitant to give it a try because of the druggie thing, but it some how works. In later books, reasons are given for the drug use, but I do kind of wish Ms. Kane had included more explanation in the first book, just to sway the people who were on the fence about the series.

    I also almost gave up during book #2, but I'm so glad that I didn't. This is definitely one of those rare series that stayed in my head and heart for weeks afterwards.

    1. Thanks, Krista! ITA about wishing that the explanations about Chess's history came sooner. I can't remember if it's in Sacrifical Magic or Chasing Magic, when she talks about first taking Cepts, but from then on I had nothing but sympathy for her. It hurts my heart everytime someone *coughAnneCough* says they don't really like Chess, because I now think she is amazing and it's a miracle she's as functional, brave, talented as she is!

  3. This post covers it so well what it is about Downside that tears us apart and makes us whole again. Thanks for reminding me of that and also for the quote from when I was in the throes of Terrible Fever. Reading my words brings up a lot of emotions about Terrible that got buried in the time since I've read them.

    @ Zee--Your name is perfect, and I'm so glad you picked it too!

    @ Krista--I agree, there comes a point for some people in the middle of book 2 that they are not sure whether to continue. Upon hearing that, and knowing that the end of the 2nd book is emotional, I would declare, "You're almost there! Read them for Terrible!" The 3rd book is, naturally, my favorite...I'd been waiting for them to finally hook up!

  4. Great post! I am so looking forward to reading these books soon, and this post just makes me more excited about them. Because they are so dark, I've been waiting for a time when real life wasn't kicking my butt and I could handle the darkness. Still waiting, but soon! (I would have tackled them over the summer if I hadn't been absolutely addicted to an extended wallow in the Outlander books.) I've been reading so much gushing about Terrible from the Wenches that I'm veeeeeerrrrrryyyyyyyy curious!!!

  5. I 100% agree with this post. Krista, I am reading book 3 right now and as the other Wenches can tell you, I very nearly gave up on them, but the Wenches convinced me to read at least through book 3. And, I'm enjoying the story quite a bit now. Chess still isn't my favorite heroine, or character for that matter, but I love the world that's been created.

  6. Great post! It sums up many of my feelings about this series!

    I know how many of you feel. I read book one and I liked it, the world was fascinating, but between the drugs and a couple other things I wasn't completely sold on the series, yet. Book 2 was emotional, and while it didn't sell me on the series, it sold me on Terrible. I liked him before, but I was in love with him at that point. Then I read book 3 and was a goner. I remember being on a car trip, reading as it was getting dark and getting to the scene where they are in the tunnels and literally yelling out loud because I was running out of light. I ended reading by the light of my phone all the way home so I could find out what happened next.

    1. Oh, Stephanie, a book wench after all our book Wench hearts! We all have stories of NEEDING to finish a book and some stupind thing tries to get in the way. I was hooked on the series by the end of book one, but I wasn't happy about it until after City of Ghosts. CoG is SO wonderful! Painful, but wonderful, my favorite combination!

  7. Great post Barb!!
    I'm so glad you convinced me to continue with the series after book 1 grossed me out. You got that right, she writes disgusting unlike anyone else! LOL But its so worth skimming those parts because the good parts are SOOOO good! Terrible is so amazing but him and Chess together and all their fucked-up-ness and that they can find the right way to be together is what grabs my heart and makes me love them so much. And why not root for the underdog?

    1. "Why not root for the underog?" Exactly! I love that. And so glad you persevered and loved them! Chess & Terrible really are amazing together. They, along with another very fucked-up couple I'm reading right now, give me hope for the rest of us.

  8. Wow Barb! That was a fantastic post and it was so spot on! This series is very different, but so worth it. I hope that the next two books get picked up! And Zee, I LOVE your name!

  9. Great post Barb. You nailed it and I loved it and loved the books for all those reasons you listed. I barely made it through the first book but I'm not one to leave things halfway done even when I don't like a certain thing/book. Then I kept going and it got interesting.
    I'm not (and never was) a drug addict, but Stacia Kane managed to drag me to Chess's side and although I couldn't relate I saw through her eyes, heard with her ears and felt with her heart. And I absolutely love Terrible. Dig?

    1. You know, I never thought I would understand why a drug addict does the things she does. What's the point of it? But Stacia Kane made me understand exactly why Chess does what she does, why she wants to be numb. I understand what her point is, and I love that! I would never make that choice for myself, but I didn't have to live her horrible, unimaginable life, and that's the point; I don't judge her for her choices, but I do admire her courage, talent, and strength.

  10. Such a great post Barb,you did justic to these books.I remember I couldn't go on with the first book,I think I read about a third and stopped,it was so gloomy,but then you (I think it was one or two of the Wenches) told me to go on.I did and I'm not sorry,I have to thank those who encouraged me to continue reading.This is a different kind of story and at the end of book 1 I was hooked.

  11. Excellent post Barb. I have now read the first one and I loved it. A lot. I am looking forward to reading the rest, as these books are definitely my kind of story. I actually didn't find it too gory, which was a pleasant surprise. I am so in love with Terrible after just one book. He is really a great main character and I love that even in his fucked up world he has his own code of ethics. Chess I so agree with you. I just want to wrap her up and protect her from all the bad in the world. I have enjoyed her story so far an want to carry on to find out what happens.

  12. Excellent post! I'm a huge Stacia Kane fan and am in love with this series! When I worked for Borders, I would pimp it to whoever would listen. I even got my mom into it! :) Chess is damaged, but it makes sense and you root for her to get better and realize she deserves happiness. And yes, Terrible is truly one of the best heroes ever. His words to Chess make my heart flip. Everything you said was spot on, what a perfect love letter for the series. I hope more and more will start reading it.


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